DEBKA (h/t Susan K) The conversation, which finally tipped the scales for a ceasefire, took place on a secure line Wednesday morning, just hours before it was announced in Cairo. The US and Israeli leaders spoke at around the time that a terrorist was blowing up a Tel Aviv bus, injuring 27 people.
Obama’s pledge addressed Israel’s most pressing demand in every negotiating forum on Gaza: Operation Pillar of Cloud’s main goal was a total stoppage of the flow of Iranian arms and missiles to the Gaza Strip. They were smuggled in from Sudan and Libya through southern Egypt and Sinai. Hostilities would continue, said the prime minister, until this object was achieved.
Earlier, US officials tried unsuccessfully to persuade Israel to accept Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s personal guarantee to start launching effective operations against the smugglers before the end of the month. The trio running Israel’s Gaza campaign, Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, were willing to take Morsi at his word, except that Israeli security and intelligence chiefs assured them that Egypt has nothing near the security and intelligence capabilities necessary for conducting such operations.
When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Jerusalem, she tried assuring Netanyahu that President Obama had decided to accelerate the construction of an elaborate US system of electronic security fences along the Suez Canal and northern Sinai. It would also cork up the Philadelphi route through which arms are smuggled into the Gaza Strip.
US security and civilian units will need to be deployed in Egyptian Sinai to man the fence system and operate it as an active counter-measure for obstructing the smuggling of Iranian weapons supplies.
The prime minister said he welcomed the president’s proposal to expedite the fence project, but it would take months to obtain Egyptian clearance. Meanwhile, the Palestinians would have plenty of time to replenish their weapons stocks after Israel’s Gaza campaign. It was therefore too soon to stop the campaign at this point or hold back a ground incursion. Soon after, President Obama was on the phone to Netanyahu with an assurance that US troops would be in place in Sinai next week, after he had obtained President Morsi’s consent for them to go into immediate action against Iranian smuggling networks.
This development is strategically significant for three reasons:
1. Once the missile and arms consignments depart Iranian ports or Libyan arms bazaars, Tehran has no direct control of their transit from point to point through Egypt until they reach Sinai and their Gaza destination. All the same, a US special forces operation against the Sinai segment of the Iranian smuggling route would count as the first overt American military strike against an Iranian military interest.
2. President Morsi, by opening the Sinai door to an American troop deployment for Israel’s defense, recognizes that the US force also insures Israel against Cairo revoking or failing to honor the peace treaty Egypt signed with Israel in 1979.
3. In the face of this US-Israel-Egyptian understanding, Hamas cannot credibly claim to have won its latest passage of arms with Israel or that it obtained guarantees to force Israel to end the Gaza blockade.
However, according to the Daily News Egypt, the armed forces have denied that Egypt agreed to allow the deployment of United States troops in the Sinai peninsula as part of the Egyptian brokered Gaza ceasefire agreement.
The official spokesperson for the armed forces released a statement which stated “there is no truth to what has been published on Israeli websites on plans for the deployment of US troops in the Sinai as part of the ceasefire agreement in Gaza between Hamas and Israel.”
Izzat El-Risheq, a spokesperson for Hamas, also denied the reports and said the ceasefire agreement has been published for all to see. On his Facebook page he said the reports are “an Israeli attempt to mitigate the impact of defeat.”
A phone call did occur between the two leaders on Wednesday, the details of which have been published on the White House website. According to the statement, during their conversation Obama “reiterated his commitment to Israel’s security,” and “said that the United States would use the opportunity offered by a ceasefire to intensify efforts to help Israel address its security needs.” The statement did not contain any reference of US troops being deployed to Sinai.
The spokesperson for the armed forces added, “the armed forces emphasises the established parameters of Egyptian national security policies to maintain national sovereignty and does not accept foreign forces or bases on its territory.”
He added, “the only foreign force in the Sinai is the multinational force… which has operated there since 25 April 1982, after the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai.” The multinational force and observers are tasked with observing the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.