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The Gaza Strip and IDF Counter Measures Update July 2008

July 29, 2008
Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
at the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center

The lull in the fighting became effective on June 19, 2008 , at 06:00 . The core elements of the lull arrangement are the cessation of terrorism from the Gaza Strip, the cessation of IDF's counter-activities in the Gaza Strip, and the opening of the crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel . The ceasefire along the Israeli-Gaza Strip border was supposed to re-launch the Egyptian-brokered negotiations on the release of Israeli captive soldier Gilad Shalit (as demanded by Israel) and promote dialogue on opening the Rafah Crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt (as demanded by Hamas).

2. One month into the lull arrangement, the interim report shows a significant decrease in the number of rockets and mortar shells fired at Israel , and indicates that the ceasefire is generally upheld in western Negev population centers and in the Gaza Strip. However, the ceasefire has occasionally been violated by rocket and mortar shell fire from rogue terrorist organizations which oppose the lull (those are mostly local Fatah networks, with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad violating the lull only on one occasion). The cessation of the intensive fighting which had been going on before the lull, allowed the residents of Sderot and of western Negev population centers, as well as Gaza Strip residents, to return to normal life. However, they are still plagued with uncertainties and concerns about their future.

3. The ongoing violations of the lull by terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip prompted Israel to embrace a response policy of closing the crossings for short periods of time (from several hours to two days) in response to Palestinian violations. However, seeing as Israel is interested in maintaining calm in the western Negev , it has so far avoided military retaliation for violations of the lull, even though suggestions to that extent were raised among the military and political leadership.

4. Hamas's conduct thus far has clearly shown that it is interested in upholding the lull, hoping to enjoy its fruits, primarily opening the crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel and Egypt . Opening the crossings, the “lifeline” of the Gaza Strip, would ease the economic and social pressure exerted on the Gaza Strip since Hamas seized power in June 2007. In Hamas's view, that would let it reinforce its political influence internally and externally, position itself as a dominant power which acts in a responsible and considerate manner towards the residents, while taking advantage of the lull to promote its military buildup process.

5. In view of that, Hamas operatives have refrained from participating in firing rockets and mortar shells at Israel . Publicly, Hamas leaders have stated time and again that the lull is a Palestinian national interest which rests on a Palestinian consensus. On several occasions, Hamas members arrested Fatah operatives who were involved in firing at Israel and confiscated their arms. However, Hamas carefully avoids military confrontations with the rogue organizations, particularly the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). It does not want to be perceived as collaborating with Israel and compromising the “resistance” (which is one of the key values in its ideology). Accordingly, Hamas's enforcement of the lull arrangement on the rogue organizations is not decisive enough, and sporadic violations of the lull continue on a regular basis.

6. The cessation of the IDF's operational activity in the Gaza Strip, as stipulated in the lull arrangement, is being used by Hamas and other terrorist organizations to advance their military buildup and increase their readiness for a likely scenario of a future confrontation with the IDF. Since the beginning of the lull, weapons and ammunition have been smuggled into the Gaza Strip on a similar scale to the pre-lull times, despite an improvement in the Egyptian activity against the smugglers. Furthermore, Hamas has significantly accelerated its training activity and its military buildup, publicly announcing it on Palestinian and Arab media.

7. To summarize: the lull arrangement has put an end to the intensive daily fighting which took place in the Gaza Strip and in western Negev population centers, to a considerable degree making it possible for Israelis and Gaza Strip residents to return to normal life. Israel and the Hamas movement, the two key parties of the arrangement, have a vested interest in the continuation of the lull; however, Hamas does not care to forcefully exercise its full authority on rogue terrorist organizations (mostly Fatah networks). Thus, the lull arrangement erodes, reflected in sporadic fire on Israel to which Israel responds by temporarily closing down the crossings. In addition, there has been no progress so far regarding two key issues pertaining to the lull: the negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit, which is clearly an Israeli interest, are delayed by Hamas, which considers it to be a bargaining chip to secure the profits of the lull; the negotiations for opening the Rafah Crossing, which is clearly an interest of Hamas, are also being delayed, as the Egyptians, being aware of the complexity of the issue and of its importance to Hamas, do not rush to find a solution for it.

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