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Israel Again Fails to Break Palestinian Unity Deal

Israel’s month-and-a-half long invasion of Gaza, aimed at breaking up the Palestinian unity agreement, failed to accomplish that goal and has actually strengthened Hamas’ standing. Now, the Netanyahu government appears to have launched another effort to split Hamas and Fatah by accusing Hamas of plotting a coup against the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank—and claiming that Israel intervened to protect the PA.
Shin Bet announced on August 19 that they had broken up a Hamas terror plot in the West Bank and in Jerusalem, aimed at launching a third Intifada via attacks on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and in towns across the West Bank. Israel claims the Hamas-led attacks would also include a coup to topple the Palestinian Authority. The Shin Bet announcement named two leading Hamas officials, Salah al-Arouri and Riyad Nasser as the coup plot leaders. Al-Arouri is based in Turkey and Nasser is in the West Bank.
According to the Shin Bet claims, 93 Hamas members in the West Bank were arrested in a broad sweep to preempt the plot. But the timing of the Shin Bet announcement has prompted serious skepticism. The reported arrests took place in May and June—after Israel shut down the peace talks with the Palestinians—in protest against the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement—and was making preparations for the Gaza assault following the deaths of three yeshiva students in the Hebron area.
The August 19 announcement by Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, coincided with Israel’s withdrawal from the ceasefire talks in Cairo. The Israeli pullout of the Egyptian-mediated negotiations preceded the resumption of rocket fire into Israel by the Gaza Resistance Committees. Hamas denied that it was responsible for the rocket fire. The Israeli Defense Forces responded by conducting targeted assassinations of four top Hamas military wing leaders in Gaza.
There are two possible motives behind the Israeli resumption of the Gaza bombings. First, Israeli sources insist that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is desperate to end the Gaza war—but he must be able to credibly claim a victory. The killing of top Hamas military commanders may give him the ability to claim success and accept the long-term ceasefire being negotiated in Cairo.
Second, there are factions inside the Israeli government and security establishment who do not want the fighting to end and who may have seen the resumption of the rocket fire as an opportunity to re-launch a much more ambitious invasion and re-occupation of Gaza aimed at wiping out Hamas’ infrastructure there altogether.
The IDF general staff has presented Prime Minister Netanyahu with a detailed invasion plan involving a “US-style” shock and awe bombing campaign followed by a full-scale ground invasion by many divisions and an eventual occupation of the Gaza by at least one full IDF division for 1-3 years. The plan was modeled on the March 2003 US invasion of Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein. The IDF commanders argued against their own proposal, but did present the full plan to the war cabinet, along with an estimate that as many as one million Gaza civilians would likely be killed in the course of the operation.
There are deep splits within the Israeli security establishment over how to resolve the Gaza situation. The war party in Israel believes that they still have the tacit support of Gulf Arab states and Egypt to crush Hamas. They are at the same time aware that the Europeans are opposed to what they see as Israeli violations of international law and would react sharply to further Israeli incursions, especially the kind of “shock and awe” carpet bombing plan presented to Netanyahu.
The Israeli efforts, still aimed at driving a permanent wedge between Hamas and Fatah, have a tremendous backfire potential—especially regarding Israeli-Egyptian relations. Egypt’s President al-Sissi has made clear that he sees Hamas as an extension of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood which he has vowed to crush. But it would be a serious mistake if Israeli planners conclude that Egypt will be a party to a new onslaught against Gaza. Further Israeli military actions may well cause a serious Cairo-Tel Aviv split, which could extend to the Gulf Arab states as well. The “enemy of my enemy” logic can only be stretched so far.
After taking a back seat to Egypt in the ceasefire negotiations, the Obama Administration has now taken a far more active, albeit behind the scenes role in the Cairo talks, backing some of the Palestinian demands for Israel to lift the siege and blockade of Gaza. This is the actual backdrop to Secretary of State John Kerry’s scheduled visit to Israel this week.

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