The current round of violence in the Gaza Strip started in a different way than usual and ended like all its predecessors. On Wednesday night came the first reports in the Arab media of feverish talks between Egyptian intelligence and Islamic Jihad’s leadership about a truce.
Towards midnight a heavy barrage of rockets was fired from Gaza into Israel’s central plain. A “diplomatic source” in Jerusalem stated that “Jihad is begging for a truce” and it is clear that “quiet will be answered with quiet” (which is to say that Israel wants this too) and the air force embarked on a final, extensive attack in the Gaza Strip, in which this time civilians in the town of Deir al-Balah were also killed.
On Thursday morning it was already clear that after two days of fighting the sides were heading back to the parameters of a truce. As could have been expected, not a whisper came out of Jerusalem. The politicians step out to the forefront only after successful actions by the Israel Defense Forces. They leave the official statements about the fighting to the people in uniform lest, heaven forbid, any stain of defeatism besmirch their suits and ties. It was, therefore, the Home Front Command that issued the instruction to return to routine in the southern part of the country, and then the IDF spokesman, in a telephone briefing to reporters, who in turn informed the Israeli public that the truce had indeed gone into effect. A barrage of five rockets into the south Thursday before noon could be considered part of the braking distance, the period that elapses until stability is achieved, with which we are familiar from previous rounds.
– Haaretz Weekly 12/11
However, unlike in most of the other rounds, this time Israel can sum up the events of the past week as a relative success, even if the fulsome praise being heaped on the army now sounds excessive (and is in particular ignoring the fact that this time the IDF was up against the smaller of its two enemies in the Gaza Strip). The amy’s main partner in this outcome was the larger of the Palestinian organizations, Hamas, which for its own reasons decided not to join the battle against Israel this time.
The move by Hamas, which decided not to launch a single rocket even after the deaths of more than 30 Palestinians in air force attacks, is exceptional and important. Hamas, according to Military Intelligence, has for quite some time now been interested in moving in the direction of a prolonged truce with Israel. The elimination of the main trouble-maker, Al-Quds Brigades Commander Baha Abu al-Ata, could now lead to that. However, Israel, which does not negotiate directly with Hamas, will have to fork over the goods: significant easements in the movement of merchandise and people from the Gaza Strip, along with acceleration of large projects for rehabilitating Gaza’s collapsing infrastructures.
As usually happens, Abu al-Ata is winning a certain amount of glorification after his death. Intelligence sources in Israel describe him as a talented terrorist, very active, who never stopped strengthening his organization in the Gaza Strip and planning additional terror attacks. There are contradictory views of the extent of his ties with the Islamic Jihad leadership in Damascus, and through that leadership to Iran. On the one hand, he maintained independence, refused to submit to authority and often took steps contrary to the expectations in Damascus and Tehran. On the other hand, the salaries, raw materials and weaponry mostly came into Gaza from the outside. And in surprising proximity of time, before dawn on Tuesday morning there was an (apparently unsuccessful) attempt on the life of the No. 2 man in the Jihad command, Akram Ajouri.
What is known for certain, though, is that Abu al-Ata was marked in Israel as an obstacle standing in the way of a long-term arrangement in the Gaza Strip. The name given to the operation for his assassination is Black Belt, and its aims were defined thus by the IDF: a harsh blow to Islamic Jihad, creation of a distinction between Jihad and Hamas (by means of the latter’s refraining from joining in the rocket fire), and aspiring to a quick end, while “shaping a different security reality, on the way to a long-term arrangement.” The final authorization for the assassination was given in the cabinet meeting at the beginning of last week.