Between the conflicts in Gaza in 2008 and 2012, many events have taken place and the shape of the regional map has changed to a large extent, including the major players, but the facts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have remained the same, including the division between Gaza and Ramallah. Now, after the January 25th revolution, everyone is anticipating how the new Egyptian President will act towards the latest events in Gaza, given that his regime stems from the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which has traditionally close ties with Hamas.
Many see the current war in Gaza as a test for the Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi; a test which has suddenly exploded from nowhere at a time when attention was focused on Syria and the horrors that are happening there. Many Western views suggest that Israel and Hamas are seeking to discover the nature of the new Egyptian regime’s policies, and how it will react to the first major crisis that affects Egypt’s borders directly. Will the Egyptian President rush headlong into an adventure that would endanger Egypt; a country still seeking to restore its internal stability, or will he act as a statesman, managing the delicate balance of Egyptian public sympathy for Gaza? Many Egyptian interests are at stake, in light of the balance of forces, the international connections, and the country’s urgent internal needs.
It seems that the new Egyptian President, or the new Egyptian regime, has passed the test so far. Mursi has acted as a statesman who does not resort to adventurism or uncalculated steps that may gain temporary popularity among his audience. Rather, he has resorted to diplomacy and communication with all parties, and has sought to involve the influential international and regional actors that can exert pressure. This is in order to achieve calm on the ground and to stop the ongoing war which both sides are aware will not lead to anything, even if an Israeli ground invasion occurred.
Cairo has so far been able to walk this tightrope, using the available cards in its hand to prompt influential international parties, especially the US, to take an active role in resolving the conflict and reaching a comprehensive settlement.
Here it must be noted that the signs are not moving towards an escalation or a ground invasion. The Western world, which considers the Israeli bombardment to be justifiable in response to rockets fired from Gaza, has sent more than one indication to Tel Aviv that a ground invasion may alter attitudes and may be more difficult to support, as the British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.
We must also consider the words of Khaled Mishal, head of the Hamas political bureau, who delivered a press conference in Cairo at the same time as an Israeli delegation was also present, trying to establish conditions for a truce. To summarize Mishal’s most important points, he said that Hamas was not reckless, and that it does not want an escalation or a ground war. This means that he is seeking a truce, and so he threw the ball back in Israel’s court. It was also noticeable in Mishal’s speech that he was keen to send a message to the Egyptians, namely that Hamas knows Egypt’s internal priorities, and that it is keen on the security of Sinai. This message was delivered in order to dispel Egyptian fears of security chaos, due in part to the situation in Gaza and the tunnel network there.
Hamas’ situation has undoubtedly changed. Its regional ally for many decades, the Syrian regime, is now out of control. Hamas could no longer justify a relationship with a regime that massacres its own people, and so it closed down its office in Damascus. Now it is forced to rely more on Cairo, and this will impose new changes, in one way or another, because of the nature of Egypt’s different interests. The Syrian regime used to see Hamas as a mere tool or playing card in regional disputes, and had no interest in a solution [to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict]. Yet Egypt is interested in finding a viable solution on the ground, thus providing the necessary environment for Hamas to devote itself to development issues and reduce security risks in the future.