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A Pause for Negotiations in the Israel-Hamas Conflict from Stratfor

The latest thoughts of George Friedman of Strafor on the situation in Gaza. Click here for a previous report.

“<a href=”http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/pause-negotiations-israeli-hamas-conflict”>A Pause for Negotiations in the Israeli-Hamas Conflict</a> is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

The Israeli-Hamas conflict has entered into a negotiation phase. Both sides  want talks. Hamas wants them because any outcome that prevents an Israeli ground  assault gives it the opportunity to retain some of its arsenal  of Fajr-5 rockets; the Israelis want them because the cost of an  invasion could be high, and they recall the political fallout of Operation Cast  Lead in 2008, which alienated many European and other governments.

No matter how much either side might want to avoid ground warfare,  negotiations are unlikely to forestall an Israeli assault because Hamas’ and  Israel’s goals leave little middle ground.

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One of Hamas’ main goals in this current round of fighting is to retain  enough Fajr-5 rockets to allow it to threaten the Israeli heartland, the Tel  Aviv-Jerusalem corridor. If they succeed, Hamas will have gained a significant  lever in its relations with the Israelis. The Israeli goal is to deny Hamas  these rockets. The problem for the Israelis is that this requires a ground  assault in order to have any chance of success. The Israelis may think they know  where the rockets are, but they cannot be certain. Airstrikes can target known  facilities, at least those where rockets are not stored in hardened underground  bunkers. But only by going in on the ground with substantial force will the  Israelis have the opportunity to search for and destroy the rockets.

Finding middle ground will be difficult. The retention of the Fajr-5 both  dramatically improves Hamas’ strategic position and gives Hamas the chance to  further weaken the Palestinian National Authority. Hamas cannot agree to any  deal that takes the rockets away — or that does not at least leave open the  possibility that it could have them. Meanwhile, Israel simply cannot live with  the Fajr-5 in the hands of Hamas.

Lack of International Involvement

It is interesting to note the remarkable indifference of most countries that  normally rush to mediate such disputes, the United States chief among them.  Washington has essentially endorsed the Israeli position so strongly that it has  no option to mediate. The Turks, who had been involved with the Gaza issue  during the flotilla  incident of May 2010, have taken no steps beyond rhetoric in spite of  relations with both Hamas and Israel. The Saudis have also avoided getting  involved.

The Egyptians have been the most active in trying to secure a cease fire:  Beyond sending their prime minister into Gaza on Nov. 16, as well as their  intelligence chief and a group of security officials, Cairo then hosted a  delegation of senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad members to further this goal. But  while the Egyptians have a great interest in preventing an Israeli ground  invasion of Gaza and are crucial to the Israeli imperative to prevent weapons  smuggling via Gaza, there is little more they can do at present to mediate  between the two sides.

If no one seems to want to serve as mediator, it is because there is such  little room for negotiation. It is not ideology but strategy that locks each  side into place. Hamas has come this far and does not want to give up what it  has maneuvered for. Israel cannot allow Hamas a weapon that threatens the  Israeli heartland. This situation is too serious for the parties to reach an  agreement that ends the hostilities for now but in reality simply pushes back  the issues to be addressed later. No one is eager to mediate a failure. U.N.  Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has said he will go to Gaza in the coming week,  but he will not be in a position to find middle ground.

Israel will not budge on this. Hamas could be compelled to relent under  threat from its core financial supporters in the Arabian Peninsula, but these  states, such as Qatar, are all far more concerned with the threat posed by Iran.  The fact that these rockets likely originated with Iran ought to give them  incentive to lean on Hamas.

Dubious Prospects for Negotiations

It is important to bear in mind that the war is already under way. Israeli  airstrikes are intense and continuous. Hamas is firing rockets at Israel.  What has not yet happened is a direct ground attack on Gaza by the Israelis,  although they have been mobilizing forces and should now be in a position to  attack if they so choose. But the Israelis would much rather not attack. They  fear the consequences — measured both in human casualties and in political  fallout — that would certainly follow.

Thus, both sides want a negotiated end on terms that would leave the other  side in an impossible position. While Hamas might be able to live with the  status quo, Israel cannot. A negotiated end is therefore unlikely. Still, both  sides are signaling their willingness to talk, and however forlorn the  possibilities, there is a chance that something could be arranged.

We remain of the opinion that this current pause will be followed by a ground  assault. Only by expanding the discussion beyond the Fajr-5 to a broader  settlement of Hamas-Israeli issues could these negotiations succeed, but that  would require Hamas recognizing Israel’s right to exist and Israel accepting the  equivalent of a Palestinian state run by Hamas in Gaza — one that might spread  its power to the West Bank. The more expansive the terms of these negotiations  get, the more dubious their prospects for success — and these negotiations  start off fairly dubious as it is.

Read more:  A Pause for Negotiations in the Israeli-Hamas Conflict | Stratfor

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Update on the Israel-Gaza Conflict from Stratfor

This report originally appeared on Stratfor, which describes itself as follow:

Stratfor is a subscription-based provider of geopolitical analysis. Individual  and corporate subscribers gain a thorough understanding of international  affairs, including what’s happening, why it’s happening, and what will happen  next.

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The bulk of its reports are available only to paid subscribers, but a reasonable number, including this one, are free:

“<a href=”http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/update-israel-gaza-conflict”>Update on the Israel-Gaza Conflict</a> is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

Summary

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

An Israeli rocket fired from the Iron Dome in Tel Aviv on  Nov. 17

New intelligence indicates forces in Gaza may be manufacturing long-range  rockets locally. If this is the case, a significant ground force offers the  Israelis the best chance of finding and neutralizing the factories making these  weapons. Meanwhile, Israel continues its airstrikes on Gaza, and Gaza  continues its long-range rocket attacks on major Israeli population centers,  though Israel claims its Iron Dome defense system has intercepted most of the  rockets.

Analysis

Israel appears to be positioning itself for a ground operation, perhaps as  early as the night of Nov. 17. The Israeli Cabinet on Nov. 16 approved Defense  Minister Ehud Barak’s request to call up 75,000 reservists, significantly more  than during Operation Cast  Lead in 2008-2009. The Israeli army meanwhile has also sought to strengthen  its presence on the borders with Gaza. Primary roads leading to Gaza and running  parallel to Sinai have been declared closed military zones. Tanks, armored  personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery and troops continue to stream to  the border, and many units already appear to be in position.

During Operation Cast Lead, the Israelis transitioned to the ground phase  around 8:00 p.m. on Jan. 3, 2009. Going in during dark hours allows the IDF to  take advantage of its superior night-fighting equipment and training, including  the use of night vision goggles and thermal optics.

The Israeli air force remained active throughout the night of Nov. 16-17,  striking at targets across the Gaza Strip including key Hamas ministries, police  stations and tunnels near the border crossing with Egypt. The IAF reportedly  carried out strikes in Rafah’s al-Sulan and al-Zahour neighborhoods, as well as  east of the al-Maghazi refugee camp. According to IDF reports, the air force  carried out a rapid and coordinated military strike, targeting approximately 70  underground medium-range rocket-launching sites in the less than an hour. The  IDF claims direct hits were confirmed. The IAF will increasingly target Hamas  militant defenses ahead of any ground invasion. Already the IAF has bombed  militant defensive positions, particularly in the northern part of the Gaza  Strip.

Meanwhile, Hamas and other militant factions in Gaza have been actively  striking back at Israel. More than 80 rockets have been launched from Gaza over  the past 24 hours. Of the rockets launched Nov. 17, approximately 57 landed in  Israel. According to the IDF, a total of 640 rockets have been launched since  Nov. 14, with 410 landing in Israel. A long-range rocket was fired from Gaza  toward Tel Aviv at approximately 4:45 p.m. local time Nov. 17 but was  successfully intercepted by the recently deployed Iron Dome anti-rocket defense  system in the area. Hamas continues to target areas around Ashkelon, Ashdod and  Beersheva, with the Iron Dome system intercepting five rockets over Ashkelon at  5:15 p.m. The majority of rockets launched from Gaza appear to be of shorter  range than the Fajr-5. The IDF has stated its Iron Dome interceptors have so far  successfully intercepted 90 percent of the rockets, though this may be an  exaggeration.

One of the long-range rockets was intercepted by the newly installed Iron  Dome battery in the Tel Aviv area. A Stratfor source has indicated that the  rocket was not a Fajr-5, but was a locally manufactured long-range rocket in  Hamas’ arsenal.

If militants in Gaza are now able to locally manufacture their own long-range  rockets that can target Tel Aviv and other major Israeli cities, it would be a  worrisome development for Israel. Thus far, Israel has been able to focus its  efforts on limiting the supply of these rockets to Gaza through interdiction  efforts, such as the alleged Oct.  23 strike on the Yarmouk arms factory in Sudan. But if Palestinian militants  can manufacture long-range rockets in Gaza, it will be much more difficult for  Israel to restrict Gaza’s inventory of these rockets. Beyond rocket launch  sites and caches, which Israel is currently targeting with its airstrikes, it  would need to target production sites and those who would be responsible for  manufacturing the rockets.

Furthermore, it will be significantly harder for Israeli intelligence to form  an accurate picture of the number of these rockets locally constructed in Gaza.  We have already seen that Israeli intelligence likely did not anticipate how many long-range rockets had  escaped its first wave of strikes, and the fact that Hamas may have been  producing these weapons could explain Israel’s lack of complete information.

Hamas recognizes that these long-range rocket attacks have only increased the  likelihood and intensity of an Israeli ground incursion. A significant ground  force offers the Israelis the best chance of finding and neutralizing the  factories making these long-range rockets as well as the shorter-range Qassams.  Hamas and the other militants therefore are actively preparing their defenses  for the anticipated incursion and are likely laying improvised explosive  devices, setting up road blocks and defensive emplacements and sorting out their  ranks and tasks.

Hamas has already announced that its Al Murabiteen units, consisting of five  brigades spread across Gaza, will be concentrated in the border region to limit  Israeli penetration into the Gaza Strip. Learning from Hezbollah’s example in  2006, special units of Hamas are relying heavily on tunnels to maintain  communications. Should Israel be drawn into more densely populated areas of Gaza  in pursuit of weapons storage and manufacturing facilities, Hamas has also  reportedly prepared its suicide bombers, known as Istishadiyeen, to raise the  cost for Israel in an urban battle.

Read more:  Update on the Israel-Gaza Conflict | Stratfor

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