Gaza: Still the Same Old Egypt?
By: Ibrahim al-Amin
Published Saturday, November 17, 2012
The first Israeli strike was severe. Ahmed al-Jaabari was assassinated. He was Hamas’ Imad Mughniyeh. His loss may have been even greater to the movement, given its organizational constraints and exceptionally centralized decision-making processes, but it can be recovered nevertheless. Jaabari put plans in place to fill the vacuum.
On another level, around 20 storage sites housing Hamas’ strategic missile arsenal were targeted by 22 Israeli airstrikes. Israel sounded confident about the success of the operation, but the resistance forces have not issued statements detailing their losses or clarifying the facts. All evidence indicates that the raids caused major damage.
Another consequence of the strike relates to the resistance forces’ reaction to the opening salvos of Jaabari’s assassination and the bombing of the missile stores. This forced all leaders and members of the resistance, especially in Hamas and Islamic Jihad, to become much more cautious than usual. Their prime concern was to avoid taking steps that would subject them to further losses.
This led to some paralysis and loss of initiative. They were wary of risk after it became clear that the enemy had achieved serious breakthroughs on the intelligence front – whether human or technical – enabling it to assassinate Jaabari and then target the missiles. Israel also sought to target a number of other important military commanders at the same time. This compelled the resistance forces to resort to backup plans and employ different means for communicating with and deploying fighters. The result was considerable confusion during the first 20 hours of the assault.
It is not being denied that the resistance’s missile arsenals have been badly depleted, but it is clear that it retains a reasonable amount in reserve – as developments over the past 48 hours have demonstrated. For the resistance, the most important thing now is to choose the right moment to access that reserve and to use it in a manner that achieves the main current objective of retaliation: to cross red lines. Hence the targeting of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Every Fajr-5 missile firing is a qualitative escalation in its own right.
But how can the resistance continue the battle?
Here, the discussion inevitably goes back to the thinking of the leadership that controls decision making in Egypt and Gaza, a discussion that is fast becoming confined to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Palestine: What does the Egyptian government intend to do, and what can Hamas not ignore?
The other resistance groups are not expected to pursue separate agendas that challenge any decisive understanding reached with Hamas. Even when these groups were sounded out by European and some Arab countries about the possibility of reaching a quick truce, their reply was direct and clear: “Reach agreement with Hamas, and then come back to us. Our demands will not exceed Hamas’. But pending an initiative, the decision to retaliate on the ground is fully operative.”
Some points need to be made about the Egyptian government in this regard.
First, the decision to expel the Israeli ambassador and recall the Egyptian ambassador cannot be called a surprise. It was the very minimum expected of a government that came to power after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak who was fully enlisted in the campaign against the resistance.
Second, as with recalling the ambassador, moves like sending the prime minister or other ministers to Gaza or opening the Rafah crossing do not answer the question about Egypt’s strategic decision. For the Palestinians, they do not mark a radical change in policy.
Third, the steps taken by Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi and his aides can be seen as attempts to appease the Egyptian revolutionary masses who overthrew Mubarak and brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power. These steps seek to contain any backlash from a public that will not tolerate a rerun of the last Israeli assault on Gaza. But is this enough for the Palestinians?
Since Wednesday evening, Egyptian intelligence has engaged leaders of the resistance groups in Palestine to form a cease-fire agreement. In other words, it’s repeating the same old moves. Similarly, the sole aim of the Egyptian leadership’s contacts with other Arab states and the Europeans and Americans has been to press Israel to re-commit to the truce.
Post-Mubarak Egypt is thus re-assuming the role of Mubarak’s Egypt: that of mediator between torturer and victim. However sympathetic the humanitarian stance may be, if it does not translate into politics, then Egypt has not changed.
The only step that could disprove this assessment would be the opening of the borders with Gaza – not just for humanitarian aid, but for all the forms of assistance that the resistance now needs in the Strip, including volunteers.
While power has shifted in Egypt, it does not look as though the former regime has fallen.
Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.