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With One Eye on Syria, Israel Reluctantly Seeks Gaza Truce

With One Eye on Syria, Israel Reluctantly Seeks Gaza Truce

Friday, 17 August, 2018 - 11:30
As public pressure mounts on Israeli leaders to crush rocket barrages from the Gaza Strip, they’re opting to try the diplomatic route while a greater threat looms: Iran’s presence in postwar Syria.

To keep his military focused on the northern front, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pursuing a long-term truce with Hamas. Yaakov Amidror, a former Israeli national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the negotiations, carried out through intermediaries, serve both Israel and Hamas.

As President Bashar al-Assad’s war against opposition forces winds down, Iran is working to strike lasting roots in Syria, increasing its sphere of influence and giving it an arms-transport corridor stretching from Tehran to Beirut. Israeli officials fear Iran could use Syria as a forward base to threaten the Jewish state, similar to the challenge from Lebanon with Iran’s proxy militia, Hezbollah.

Iran’s nuclear program, ballistic missiles, support for anti-Israel groups and calls for the Jewish state’s destruction lead some Israeli officials to view it as a near-existential threat. In recent months Israel frequently has attacked Iranian bases and other military targets in Syria to pressure Tehran to retreat.

To keep Gaza from becoming a distraction, Israeli officials are backing Egyptian and United Nations efforts to broker a truce with Hamas. The idea would be to trade military quiet for the easing of an Israeli blockade imposed more than a decade ago, according to a person familiar with the talks who spoke on condition of anonymity. If all goes well, later stages could involve international investment in Gaza and the release of Israelis held hostage there.

In a July 19 Washington Post opinion piece, Trump advisers Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt and US ambassador to Israel David Friedman signaled that if Hamas stops seeking confrontation with Israel, Gaza could receive massive international aid.

More isolated than ever, Hamas in recent months has sponsored weekly protests at the Gaza border fence that have focused popular anger toward Israel and away from the group’s governance of Gaza. Shunned by the West as a terrorist group, Hamas is distrusted by Saudi Arabia and Egypt because of its Muslim Brotherhood origins, and broke with the Palestinian Authority in armed clashes in 2007.

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN envoy to the region, has been shuttling among Gaza, Egypt and Israel trying to jump-start humanitarian projects in the strip.

“If we leave things unchanged we’re heading into another war, which will be nasty,” Mladenov said in an interview.

Not everyone is on board with the cease-fire talks. Mahmoud Abbas’s West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, which boycotted a White House summit in January seeking aid for Gaza, has raised a number of objections to the current effort. It sees international plans to rebuild Gaza as a plot to circumvent the Palestinian Authority and divide the two Palestinian territories.


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