By agreeing to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal, Hamas has temporarily renounced a part of its “terrorist identity” and relinquished its ability to carry out attacks against Israel, a senior Israeli official said Tuesday.
The group hasn’t abandoned its radical and violent anti-Israel ideology, but for practical reasons decided to swap armed resistance for retaining control over the Gaza Strip, said Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Yossi Kuperwasser, the director-general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry.
“By accepting the ceasefire, as proposed by Egypt, Hamas has actually made a strategic decision,” Kuperwasser said. “They realized that in order to keep Gaza under their control, they will have to give up — at least temporarily, but hopefully for a long time — their nature as a terrorist organization. They won’t carry out their attacks; they will continue to speak like a terrorist organization. But they will be forced to give up their ability to carry out their attacks.”
Israel and Hamas on Monday accepted a three-day truce, in which both sides committed to immediately halt any military actions and to meet in Cairo for talks intended to lead to a long-term ceasefire. Jerusalem is adamant that its key demand in these talks is the demilitarization of Gaza. “Israel will bring to these discussions our top priority, which is preventing Hamas from rearming,” a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Monday morning, a few hours after the 8:00 a.m. ceasefire went into effect.
In return, Israel is ready to somewhat ease the blockade on Gaza. “These restrictions [on border crossings and imports of goods] are a function of the hostility and the violence. If the hostility and the violence were to cease it would give Israel room to move on the restrictions that are primarily there for security reasons,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The creation of a reliable international mechanism to monitor imports and exports and oversee the demilitarization of Gaza is “what we’re worried about most,” Kuperwasser said. If Israel is satisfied with security guarantees and an arrangement to disarm terror groups in the Strip, it would be willing to “enable the reconstruction and [allow for] better economic conditions in Gaza,” he said.
‘What we are looking for is creativity and maybe a little bit new ideas because the old ideas didn’t work’
Security arrangements and the “control of what’s coming in and out of Gaza would be strictly supervised,” Kuperwasser added. Especially in the beginning, Israel would have to be very cautious, lest Hamas gets its hands on material that could use to attack Israelis, he said.
How exactly Israel’s demand to link the rehabilitation of Gaza to its demilitarization could play out has yet to be determined, said Kuperwasser, a former head of the military intelligence’s analysis and production division. “What we are looking for is creativity and maybe a little bit new ideas because the old ideas didn’t work,” he said.
Clearly Egypt would have to play a major role regarding inspections at the Rafah crossing on its border with Gaza, he said. And the international community needs to ensure that cement and other materials entering the Strip designated for civilian projects are not used to construct terror tunnels, he said. “A totally different structure of supervision should be in place. We shall see how this can be done.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas can also play a limited role in the coastal enclave’s rehabilitation, Kuperwasser allowed. “But we can’t say that we can fully trust just [Abbas]. It has got to be something more robust than [Abbas’s security] forces.”
Israel is not in the position to determine who should rule Gaza, according to Kuperwasser. Many in the international community want the PA’s security forces to be stationed at the Rafah crossing, and this is indeed a possibility, he said. At the same time, it is unlikely that Abbas’s men will be deployed in Gaza itself, he surmised. “I don’t think this is in the cards right now. The strategic decision of Hamas was to give up some of its terrorist identity in return for keeping control of Gaza. That was the strategic decision Hamas has made, so I’d be quite surprised if in that context they will let [Abbas’s] forces to enter Gaza itself.”
Addressing reporters during a conference call organized by The Israel Project, Kuperwasser said he was confident that the current ceasefire would hold longer than previous such efforts. “Hamas has realized not only that they’re not gaining anything from the continuation of the fire, but that they’re losing a lot.”
Hamas started the current war because it hoped to force Egypt and Israel into easing the blockade on Gaza, he said. The group now understood that it cannot achieve this goal by firing at Israel but that it will have to also have to discuss Israel’s security concerns in the negotiation room.
After 28 days of fighting, Hamas assessing the situation and realized that it lost thousands of rockets, 32 tunnels and hundreds of fighters, Kuperwasser said. After 1,868 Palestinians were killed and 9,567 injured, after tens of thousands of buildings were destroyed, Hamas risked losing the ability to explain to Gazans why they should suffer so badly without getting anything out this war. “I guess that this lesson has been learned by Hamas,” he said, “and I hope that this will make the ceasefire last for a longer period than previous ones.”