Dr. Tarek Fahmy, head of the Israeli Studies unit at the National Centre for Middle East Studies, gave 'Ahram Online' his opinion on the latest Israeli “aggression” in Gaza, the parties involved, Egypt’s key role in resolving the crisis, and the implications this will have on the upcoming Israeli elections.
The three days of heavy fighting left 48 people dead and over 300 injured before ending with a ceasefire agreement, brokered by Egypt, which was brought into effect Sunday 7 August.
However, tensions remain high as ever between the bitter rivals, casting doubt on the stagnating peace process, as Israel prepares for Knesset elections in November.
Mourners carry the body of Palestinian Anas Anshasi, 22, after he succumbed to his injuries sustained in last week's Israeli air strikes, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on August 12, 2022. AFP
Ahram Online: Israeli occupation forces have been targeting senior leaders from the Islamic Jihad; however, we have yet to hear about any attacks on Hamas officials, another major faction in the Gaza Strip. Why is this?
Tarek Fahmy: Islamic Jihad is a much bigger threat to Israel. The faction’s senior political and militant leaders are classified as a threat, with the militant leaders, located in the north and the south [of the Gaza Strip], such as Tayseer Al-Jabari, commander of the northern region, being the greater threat. Islamic Jihad, after having witnessed an increase in its numbers, has prompted Israel to eliminate them. This [Islamic Jihad] cannot be compared with Hamas, the ‘de facto government’ in Gaza.
Hamas, having received support from regional players, such as Egypt, Qatar, and the US envoy, has managed to leverage itself into a new position, in exchange for adopting a relatively less radical and more political stance that remains in line with its [Hamas’] interests. The main priority now [for Israel] is to eliminate senior leaders inside the Islamic Jihad group; any other factions in the area such as Hamas are excluded at this time.
AO: We know Israel’s decision to launch an attack on Islamic Jihad has escalated tensions between Israel and Palestine. How will the ongoing events affect the peace process and security in the region?
TF: There is no peace, only economic security and physical safety, political peace is off the table. As the ongoing events will only create more instability, further inflaming tensions between the two sides and reducing the chances of building any foundation for further talks. Yes, the truce was very important, but it was placed amid growing concerns over the dangerous circumstances created by the events.
However, any prospects for security in the region, plagued by instability, remain uncertain as there are no grounds for negotiations within this context. I think it is important to point this [lack of foundation] out. I also think any talks about regional security or the peace process will be delayed until further notice.
AO: Israel announced the activation of 25,000 reserve troops to bolster its forces in the Gaza Strip. What does this mean for the parties involved and does it send any implicit messages?
TF: This announcement can be interpreted in many ways as it sends more than one message to more than one side. Israel wants to show Palestinian factions that it will not hesitate to escalate the scope of its operations in the Gaza Strip, and that it will not tolerate the concentration of faction forces in areas of close-proximity to Israel’s presence.
It also sends a positive message to the Israeli people that the Israeli Defence Ministry and its Minister Benny Gantz are capable of protecting the Israeli public against external aggressors. Gantz has already done this by successfully launching a series of military excursions in Gaza, emphasising that there is no complacency when it comes to state security.
Additionally, by further bolstering his position as Israel’s Defence Minister, Gantz is quickly establishing himself as a central figure in the conflict and a major player on the Israeli partisan political map.
AO: How will this affect the upcoming Israeli legislative elections in November?
TF: This military operation has not had any effect on [Prime Minister] Yair Lapid’s polls; the Defence Ministry was responsible for managing the entire operation. As for the notion that he [Lapid] benefited from these events, this is not the case. I believe there was a general consensus (not Lapid’s decision) between both military and political currents on the decision to escalate operations in the Gaza Strip.
As for the elections, I believe Netanyahu is going to dominate; he will be the next “King of Israel”, unless something else tips the scales. As a result, the left leaning Yair Lapid will not have any influence [in the elections]. The main beneficiary here, as occupation forces continue to escalate in Gaza, is Defence Minister Benny Gantz.
Additionally, Aviv Kochavi, the Commander-in-Chief of “Israel’s Occupation Forces” is expected to be leaving his post. The military authorities in Israel have a new political vision when it comes to dealing with Palestinian factions, Hamas in particular.
AO: Do you think the American government may intervene if there is any further escalation?
TF: No, I don’t think this will happen. The American administration as usual has remained an outside observer and has offered nothing to help resolve the crisis. President Joe Biden thanked Egypt’s President El-Sisi for his role in reaching a ceasefire agreement. But other than this, America has yet to provide any clear vision or conception of reaching a solution at this time due to the nature of the events. Therefore, the notion that the American administration can perhaps mediate [between both sides] or provide a roundtable for discussion is very unlikely due to a myriad of reasons.
AO: Islamic Jihad, despite an escalation from the Israeli side, has yet to target any vital or strategic locations in Israel. Why is this?
TF: They [Islamic Jihad] avoided targeting many areas, instead focusing their attacks on urban areas, such as Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion Airport. Despite this, there have been no casualties on the Israeli side so far and the airport remains fully functional. So far, they haven’t crossed any red lines; they have yet to target any military sites, locations or government quarters.
As for the missile strikes, most of them have been taking place within limited airspace for “precautionary considerations”, since Islamic Jihad have fewer forces on the ground.
AO: What role might the Egyptian government play in resolving the crisis?
TF: Egypt has played a central role in resolving the conflict, having mediated between both sides. Egypt has also taken a holistic approach to the crisis, building a foundation for better policymaking by launching the “Gaza reconstruction project” and reopening the Rafah Border Crossing with the Gaza Strip as well as reaffirming the need to reach a mutual understanding and agreement on a variety of common strategic and political goals.
In the end, I believe Egypt’s role in maintaining peace in the Palestinian political landscape is becoming increasingly important, especially in the Gaza Strip.