A weekend of relative calm on the Gaza border might be the first fruit of a deal between Israel and Hamas. Plus, Netanyahu visits Oman which recognizes Israel and calls for further dialogue. Meanwhile, another Mossad spy thriller thwarts an Iranian assassination plot in Denmark.
Israel-Gaza Deal Promises Easing of Blockade and Violence
An unusually quiet weekend on the Gaza border is the first sign of progress in a long-term deal between Israel and Hamas that promises to end the weekly border violence that has persisted since March and left more than 160 Palestinians dead.
A draft of the agreement published by Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reveals that Hamas will commit to controlling, if not completely stopping the border protests, while Israel will agree to lift at least 70 percent of its blockade on the Gaza strip.
The reported sense of calm only meant that there were no deaths and fewer injuries reported, not that nobody showed up to protest. Close to 7,000 Gazans still gathered near the border, but fewer approached the fence or clashed with Israeli troops. The Gaza Health Ministry reported 87 were lightly wounded, a drastic drop in casualty statistics in previous weeks, including last week’s 7 deaths, rocket barrage and 80 airstrikes against Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets.
One reason last weekend saw less violence is likely due to the presence of an Egyptian monitoring team at the protest, as reported by Ha’aretz. They were there to ensure that Hamas was keeping their promise to end the violence, tire burning, and fire-kite launching at the border. Egypt, in fact, is the key mediator between Israel and Hamas, one of the few states that can bring both parties to the negotiating table.
The new deal between Hamas and Israel, brokered by Egypt, rests on Hamas’ promise to end the border clashes and Israel and Egypt’s promise to significantly ease the blockade and restrictions placed on the Gaza Strip since Hamas took power. The combination of Israel’s blockade and Hamas’ rule of the Gaza Strip has brought the 2 million Palestinians to the brink of a humanitarian crisis exacerbated by the collapse of infrastructure, such as water treatment, and raging unemployment—conditions that have driven many to participate in the Hamas-organized protests.
To avoid reaching a total collapse in Gaza, or full-scale Israeli military action, the new deal strikes at the heart of Gaza’s crumbling infrastructure—fuel access and salary payments for civil servants. To make this possible, Israel cut a deal with the Arab state of Qatar to transfer funds to Hamas; an agreement that was only possible after Israel received guarantees from Qatar that the money will be transferred only for salary payments and not to the military branch of Hamas.
In addition to Israel lifting the majority of the blockade and allowing essentials such as fuel inside Gaza, they will reportedly expand the fishing zone to 14 nautical miles and allow 5,000 Gazan workers under 40 to enter Israel for employment. Likewise, Egypt will open the Rafah border crossing. Concessions on both sides are likely to be incremental over time.
Despite these reported agreements, neither Hamas nor Israel have publically verified the deal. Egypt is also allegedly working on a peace deal between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to resolve their internal feud that has complicated all negotiations.
For the southern border communities in Israel, a breakthrough in peace cannot come soon enough. The constant threat of rockets, incendiary devices and gunfire has taken its toll throughout the year inciting constant tension and leaving thousands of acres burned.
This week, hundreds of students from those border communities are marching over several days to Jerusalem to protest what they say is the state’s apathy toward their security situation.
Residents inside the Gaza Strip also stand to gain much from cessation of the violence and a chance to begin reinvigorating a stagnant economy, if Hamas holds to their end of the bargain.
Oman Says it’s Time to Accept Israel
A surprise visit to the Arab Gulf state of Oman two weeks ago by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a cadre of high-ranking Israeli officials is already yielding results including recognition of the state of Israel from Oman’s leaders.
“Israel is a state present in the region, and we all understand this,” said Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, the sultanate’s minister responsible for foreign affairs. “The world is also aware of this fact. Maybe it is time for Israel to be treated the same [as others states] and also bear the same obligations.”
Reuters reported that these comments came after Netanyahu held an unpublicized discussion with Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said.
Official recognition of Israel from Oman comes as a surprise and is against the norm of Arab states rejection Israel’s legitimacy, but it also matches a recent pattern of Israel’s warming ties with the Gulf states, such as with Saudi Arabia. While there is no official political channel open between Israel and Oman, common goals such as opposing Iran on a geopolitical level are likely to be partially responsible for these relationships once considered extremely unlikely.
The talks have resulted in more than friendly statements. Oman has expressed interest in helping find solutions for the Palestinian conflict and Israel is following up on the visit by sending a minister to discuss building a railway that link Haifa with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also visited Oman just days prior to Netanyahu. Netanyahu’s visit was the first official contact between the two states since 1996.
Israel Thwarts Iranian Denmark Attack
The Israeli Mossad intelligence service tipped off Danish intelligence last week to an Iranian intelligence service plot that allowed them to foil the assassination of three Iranians in Denmark.
An Israeli official claimed that it was their intelligence that prevented Iranian agents from assassinating three anti-regime Iranians living in Denmark leading to the arrest of at least one Norwegian national of Iranian descent and the recall of the Danish ambassador to Iran, according to a report by the Times of Israel.
The Danish Security and Intelligence Service did not confirm that the intelligence came from Israel, saying only that it “cannot comment further on the ongoing investigation.” Israel frequently touts its intelligence service’s work when tipping off other countries to planned terrorist attacks.
Ha’aretz reports that in response to the espionage allegations, Iran denied all charges and accused Israel of running a conspiracy against Iran. The Iranian foreign minister called it the case “a clear attempt by the Zionist regime [Israel] to torpedo relations between Iran and the EU,” and offered to help Denmark investigate the incident.
The Danish Foreign Minister described the planned operation as “totally unacceptable,” and added that he was discussing sanctions with “partners and allies,” including the EU.