As soon as the Israeli guns are pointed at Gaza, Egypt begins its diplomatic activity to achieve a ceasefire. It is as if the Egyptian government is constantly waiting for this moment to prove its existence as a guardian of the Palestinian cause. There have been many Arabs who have played the Palestinian card to prove their patriotism and national commitment to their people and to their Arab competitors. How many times have we seen the Egyptians achieve a truce between the Israelis and Palestinians, but then the Israelis violate the truce soon after. We have not heard the Egyptian political and diplomatic sides blame Israel or hold it responsible as a terrorist occupier that is besieging the Gazans and starving the civilians residing there. We have not heard them call on the world to take a clear stance against the constant Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip. However, after each attack, we hear the Americans accuse the Palestinians terrorism rather than the occupation.
For the sake of argument, we did not expect the Egyptians to voice a position condemning the Israelis and if anyone asks, they say they cannot take this step because they must keep the lines of communication open with Israel in order for Israel to rein in the attacks or reduce their intensity. While this may be partly true, the truth of the matter is that the Egyptian government (like most Arab governments) is against armed Arab resistance against the Israelis, while some Arab governments, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, consider resistance terrorism. Moreover, many Arab governments believe that the resistance in Gaza stems from the Muslim Brotherhood, which is a banned organised in Egypt and has been declared a terrorist organisation by many Arab governments. This means that political quackery dominate the justifications for continuing to appease the Israelis and having normalised relations with them. The problem with the Arab governments, including the Egyptian government, is that they are not certain of Israel's ability to decisively win the war against Gaza quickly, and the longer the war continues, the more the Arab governments feel pressured from the media and the public.
Egypt will reach a new, short-term unwritten truce with the two sides in this latest escalation, in anticipation of the next Israeli attack (it had previously reached a ceasefire at dawn on 6 May 2018). However, this time, we notice that the Israeli attack was not accompanied by intense threats as was the case a month ago, when the Israeli Prime Minister was in the US and made harsh threats against the Palestinian resistance. At the time, the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip did not live up to the threats for the following clear reasons:
- The Israeli political elections were around the corner and the Israeli prime minister was afraid to prolong the escalation and further provoke the Palestinian resistance out of fear of the outcome of the elections. The prime minister was focused on winning the elections and avoiding anything that would cost him votes. He would have lost votes if the resistance fired destructive rockets at the Israeli cities or at vital Israeli facilities and factories.
- The Israeli army was not ready for a long-term war, especially since the Palestinian resistance has grown stronger than it was in 2014 and possesses more advanced missiles. The war in 2014 lasted 52 days, how long would it last now? Moreover, the level of discipline within the Israeli army has dropped, as well as the morale, due to the repeated failures in Gaza and southern Lebanon.
- The people in Israel are not in a state of unity and high morale that would allow them to absorb the effects of the war. The people are mainly concerned with their daily lives and personal standard of living more than they are concerned with the affairs of public live. They are aware that their state is no longer capable of carrying out quick and decisive military operations, and that the Arab soldier no longer surrenders at first sight of an Israeli tank on the border.
All these factors still exist except for one, as the elections are over and Netanyahu has been reassured by the results and is certain he is staying in office. He is no longer concerned about losing the elections and he can focus his attention on activities and measures that may relieve some of the internal pressure on him related to his corruption charges. He may now believe that a successful war against the Gaza Strip would make him a hero and absolve him of all the charges directed against him, or that it would rally the public behind him to ease the judicial pressure on him.
Since the other factors are still present, the Israeli military decision remains subject to these factors. The Israeli military and security officials are strongly involved in the decisions regarding war and ceasefire and they are more aware of the army's capabilities than Netanyahu. They are also probably rational and appreciative of the balances of power than politicians. The military officials are expected to agree to an air strike on Gaza, but they will not lean towards a ground war due to the army's inability to raid the Gaza Strip quickly and successfully. If the Palestinian resistance can respond strongly to the killing of civilians and destruction of homes, the political and military officials will find themselves in a fait accompli forcing them to accept the Egyptian ceasefire initiative as they await another round of exchanged fire. This is exactly what has already happened.
This is article first appeared in Arabi21 Arabic in on 9 May 2019
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.