Tuesday was filled with statements from every side of the Gaza conflict claiming that a cease-fire announcement was imminent. We treated these claims with skepticism for good reason. Several major issues need to be addressed before Israel will be willing to risk a quiet period that Hamas and its affiliates could try to use to replenish their supplies.
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First, if Hamas or any other Palestinian entity can threaten Israel's major population centers with long-range Fajr-5 rockets, what guarantees can Egypt or another third party make to neutralize that supply and prevent further shipments? Second, how much can Israel trust its own intelligence on the Fajr-5 supply in Gaza? Third, can Israel trust a Muslim Brotherhood-led Egyptian government to interdict weapons transfers and secure the border against the popular will of the Egyptian people who are demanding an end to the blockade?
Not surprisingly, the cease-fire effort on Tuesday fell through. The much-touted press conferences were canceled and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be spending Wednesday in Cairo trying to mediate between the two sides. Meanwhile, airstrikes and rocket attacks continue, leaflets are being dropped in the outskirts of Gaza City telling residents to take shelter in the city center and Israeli ground forces remain poised for action.
Even if a cease-fire is announced at some point, one major outstanding issue will remain: Iran. Israeli President Shimon Peres, speaking to a primarily American audience, said in a Nov. 19 interview with CNN that Israel is not going to war with Iran, but that Iran is sending Hamas long-range missiles and urging Hamas to fire them. Peres labeled Iran a "world problem" because of its activities financing, training and sending arms to militant groups such as Hamas.
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The Iranian connection to the current crisis is one that Stratfor has emphasized from the beginning. But for an Israeli president to explicitly call an American audience's attention to Iran's role in the crisis at this delicate stage of the cease-fire talks, the dynamic of the negotiation shifts. With this statement, Israel broadened its conditions for a cease-fire. It not only is demanding verification of the status of the Palestinian rocket arsenal but also is effectively demanding an end to Iranian involvement in Gaza and a reliable third party to monitor it.
By calling Iran a "world problem," Israel is essentially telling the United States that Iran is "your problem." But Israel faces a dilemma here as well. Israel is already wary of U.S. diplomatic outreach to Iran and wants Washington to maintain heavy pressure on Tehran through sanctions, covert action and potential military action. Israel is also nervous about its northern frontier destabilizing from the eventual fall of Syrian President Bashar al Assad's regime and does not want to see an acceleration of the conflict there.
Though Israel and the United States are in agreement when it comes to containing Hamas, they have considerable differences on the issue of how to deal with Iran. As long as Iran retains militant levers in the region and feels a need to demonstrate that leverage from time to time, Israel faces an immense challenge in preventing Iranian support from reaching militant proxies in its immediate periphery.