Israel received warnings from Washington and Cairo that its peace treaties with both Egypt and Jordan would be “endangered” if it sent ground forces into Gaza to confront Hamas this week, Israel’s Channel 2 reported Thursday.
The warnings played “a central role” in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to agree to a ceasefire on Wednesday without having ordered a much-anticipated ground incursion. The warnings were conveyed to Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, who played a key behind-the-scenes role in the ceasefire talks, the report said.
Channel 2 also reported that Egypt’s President Mohammad Morsi rejected an American request to speak to Netanyahu as he mediated the negotiations that on Wednesday brought eight days of conflict between Israel and Hamas to a halt. So firm was Morsi in rejecting the notion of speaking to his Israeli opposite number, the TV report claimed, that the Americans didn’t even bother telling Netanyahu about their attempt to foster direct contact.
Morsi has been hailed by Israeli and American leaders for his “responsible” role in mediating a ceasefire in the conflict. It has also been noted that he publicly uttered the word “Israel” for the first time at a meeting with the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week. Last month, he sent an ambassador to serve in Israel, filling a post that had long been vacant. However, he has refused any direct contact with Israel, and while confirming that he sent a formal letter to President Shimon Peres with the new envoy, claimed not to have sent an earlier letter publicized by the Israeli president.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, asked about the reported concerns over Israel’s two peace treaties with Arab states, told Channel 2 that its report was “inaccurate.”
Netanyahu called up tens of thousands of reservists and threatened to expand Operation Pillar of Defense. But he ultimately eschewed a ground incursion — to the delight of Hamas, and to a mixed response inside Israel where concern over Israeli casualties in a ground offensive was offset by fear that the air assault was not sufficiently crippling as to long deter Hamas from resuming rocket fire into Israel.
Some infantry troops said they were ordered into action twice during the operation, only to be called back at the last moment.
Most of the reservists were gradually returning home on Thursday.
Several spoke publicly of a sense of “shame” that they had not been sent into battle to help defang Hamas — in contrast to 2008’s Operation Cast Lead, which featured a substantive ground operation.
In a photograph circulating widely on Facebook Thursday, 16 IDF soldiers arranged their uniformed bodies on the sand to spell out the Hebrew words “Bibi loser” — in a deft physical critique of “Bibi” Netanyahu’s failure to send ground troops into Gaza.
In Egypt on Thursday, meanwhile, Morsi issued constitutional amendments granting himself far-reaching powers and ordering the retrial of leaders of Hosni Mubarak’s regime for the killing of protesters in last year’s uprising.
He decreed immunity for the panel drafting a new constitution from any possible court decisions to dissolve it. He granted the same protection to the upper chamber of parliament, which is largely toothless. Both bodies are dominated by Morsi’s Islamist allies.
Several courts are currently looking into cases demanding the dissolution of both bodies. Parliament’s lower chamber, also dominated by Islamists, was dissolved in June by a court decision on the grounds that the rules governing its election were illegal.
The Egyptian leader also decreed that all decisions he has made since taking office in June and until a new constitution is adopted are not subject to appeal in court or by any other authority, a move that places Morsi above oversight of any kind. He already has legislative powers after the powerful lower chamber was dissolved days before he took office June 30.
The decree for retrials appeared aimed at launching a new prosecution of Mubarak. It says those who held “political or executive” positions in the former regime would be affected. Mubarak was convicted in June to life in prison for failing to stop the killing of protesters during last year’s uprising against his rule, but many Egyptians were angered that he wasn’t convicted of actually ordering the crackdown and that his security chief, Habib el-Adly, was not sentenced to death. Several top police commanders were acquitted, and Mubarak and his sons were found not guilty of corruption charges.
Morsi’s decrees came as thousands of demonstrators gathered in downtown Cairo for the fourth day running to protest against Morsi’s policies and criticize the Muslim Brotherhood, the fundamentalist group from which the Egyptian leader hails. They come one day after he won lavish praise from US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for mediating an end to eight days of fighting between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, whose parent group is the Brotherhood.
Morsi also on Thursday fired the country’s top prosecutor by decreeing with immediate effect that he could only stay in office for four years. Abdel Meguid Mahmoud has been in the job for close to a decade. Morsi fired Mahmoud for the first time in October, but had to rescind his decision when he found that the powers of his office do not empower him to do so.
Mahmoud, a Mubarak-era appointee, has faced widespread accusations that his office did a shoddy job collecting evidence against dozens of police officers who were tried and acquitted on charges of killing protesters during the uprising.
Thursday’s decisions were read on state television by Morsi’s spokesman, Yasser Ali.
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