"Hamas may find other ways to delay hostage exchanges"

Adv. Lt. Col. (res) Avi Kalo credit: Amit Photogenim
Adv. Lt. Col. (res) Avi Kalo credit: Amit Photogenim

Former head of the IDF Intelligence Corps. MIA Department Lt. Col. (res.) Avi Kalo tells "Globes" why Hamas is playing games with the hostage return agreement.

Throughout Saturday night all of Israel was on tenterhooks as Hamas kept delaying the second round of hostages to be released from Gaza, claiming that Israel had violated the terms of the ceasefire. Only after the open intervention of Qatari and Egyptian mediators was the agreement realized and the hostages were eventually released.

Adv. Lt. Col. (res.) Avi Kalo, who between 2014 and 2017 headed the Missing in Action Department of the IDF Intelligence Branch and today leads the Middle East Aerospace & Defense consulting and research practice at American growth consulting leading firm, Frost & Sullivan tells "Globes" about the difficulties of an agreement when both sides have zero trust in each other and how trust in the mediators is the only control mechanism.

How did it happen that until the last minute, it wasn't clear whether the hostage release would take place and what will happen in the next rounds of release?

"Israel and Hamas are openly promising to destroy each other and there is no reality of agreements. It is bringing about huge volatility in events," says Kalo, who criticizes the failure to tie up the loose ends that created a lot of embarrassment: "The Red Cross said 'the people are in our hands' and in the end they were not in their hands. How could this be? Did they issue an incorrect and unprofessional message."

Kalo insists that in the past, things were different. He recounts,, "In the Shalit deal there was 15 pages of a full summary of the agreement. And here? It is not clear if there is an agreement at all in the legal sense. This creates a situation where it is difficult to refer to the details of the agreement and there is no clear reference. What is needed sometimes is a violation mechanism: what is defined as a fundamental violation, really just like a contract for an apartment, and what are the penalties?"

Kalo adds that because there is zero trust between Israel and Hamas, this creates huge problems in fulfilling the agreement. "In agreements between parties with zero trust, there is usually an arbitrator, who can decide who violated what. You need to make sure that there is one that is well-defined, and advance the control mechanism by 24 hours. There needs to be external control over the lists of those released before the round takes place. It is not a secret, public lists have already been published. The checklist needs to be tightened and strengthened, and mechanisms built to secure the continuation of the process. Only the mediators, including the boots on the ground in Egypt, can see to the implementation of the agreement. Because of the lack of trust, there is so much fragility and impermanence to such an agreement."

Why is Hamas behaving like this?

"First of all, if we look at this in the most lenient way towards Hamas, we have to remember that there are communication difficulties here. Sinwar is sitting underground and it is physically difficult to communicate with him. The Egyptians come and go and it takes hours, and in the meantime there are people with him and they are pressuring him.

In addition Hamas also has strategic interests related to its survival. "Hamas wants to extend the duration of the hostage deal beyond 4 days, and will do everything within the limits of its power, despite the watchful eyes of the mediators and Israeli pressure, to prolong the time. Hamas's hope is that maneuvers will end and the war will end without its overthrow from power. Because of the massacre, Hamas has to deal with its survival, and that is not what they planned. Hamas planned the release of prisoners and an uprising in the West Bank. But Israel 'went crazy', and added another set of considerations above the prisoners, and this is the question of survival. The international and regional community is not standing by Hamas, and therefore they discover that they have power limitations and very few tools," says Kalo.

"Hamas is trying out its powers"

In this situation, explains Kalo, what Hamas did last night was "trying out its powers to see if it could extend the time. But you have to understand that as soon as they received a jolt from the Egyptians and the Qataris, they fell into line. It also indicates their weakness as a result of the fighting. Later they might try to find other ways to delay the process, but it seems they recognized the limitations of their power in this process. Hamas understands that the world and its allies are sensitive to the issue of vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly who are being held hostage, and are not prepared for it to play games."

However, Kalo says, "It is not certain that Sinwar's perception of the reality underground is complete, and to what extent he understands the system of constraints that Qatar has as his patron. After all, Biden is sitting on Sheikh Tamim (the Emir of Qatar) and pressuring him."

In addition, says Kalo, there is "The well-known and cynical psychological warfare of Hamas. There is an interest here in keeping Israel tense and confused until the last moment, and of course exhausting and exasperating families as much as possible. In the end, all the exasperation serves the purpose of eroding and harming Israeli society as a whole. It was also the purpose of the massacre on October 7. This whole reality of semi-agreements is with a non-normative actor, and that is an understatement."

What does this tell us about the situation in Israel?

"Israel did not enter this process under any illusions, and is not surprised by this. Unlike October 7, Israel is no longer surprised, and prepared for this and not deterred by this. What is more, Israel needs to learn not to inform the families ahead of time, and to tighten the mechanism for violating this agreement. If there are none, then they need to be created.

"Fixed times and advance planning are needed, and a penalty for any violation. And of course, tightening the dialogue with the mediators, including on the ground with the Egyptians who are actually implementing the agreement. It was published that the vehicles in which the hostages left in were stoned, and we need to take care of their safety, so that nothing happens to them on the way south. The Red Cross is not exactly a fighting force."

Qataris are friends with everybody that nobody wants to talk to

How does this effect the mediators - Qatar and Egypt?

"An incident like this mainly jeopardizes Qatar's reputation."

Kalo stresses that he is no expert on Qatar but explains the basic source of power of the small Gulf state, which only has 330,000 citizens. He says, "Ultimately, the Qataris have managed to become a power thanks to trade in two things: the first is energy, like gas and oil. That's how they get money and their source of their wealth. The second is mediation: Qatar has always been friends with those no one else is willing to talk to: the Taliban, al-Qaeda, militias in Iraq, the Houthis. They are players in all fields, and their main asset is the ability to bring agreements from them all.

"However, in our case, Sinwar is harming their reputation, and this harms their influence as a mediator and hence their broader interests than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. From Qatar's point of view - why lose points? After all, they have already reached agreements that were agreed upon by the Hamas leadership in Doha (the capital of Qatar, where most of Senior Hamas officials reside). Sheik Tamim is also worried about his personal image, the kidnapping of children does not help him."

Kalo emphasizes that what we experienced is an "unprecedented event: in terms of deadlines, the complete lack of trust between the parties, the intensity of the emotional charge and all of this is managed under fire. I don't remember a negotiation that was like this anywhere in the world, with such intensity and global influence, including by the US as a superpower and on the shipping routes of the world. The consequences of the war in Gaza on the international arena create a lot of weighty considerations, and hence everyone's nerves are stretched to the limit."

Egypt, as mentioned, is carrying out the agreement in practice - accepting the hostages from the Red Cross and transferring them to Israel. But Kalo says that, unlike Qatar, "They are not exactly friends of Hamas. The Muslim Brotherhood, the parent movement of Hamas, has been outlawed in Egypt. Therefore, relations between Hamas and Egypt are mainly practical. Although there is reasonable communication, and there must be when there is a feral child in the neighborhood, there is also a lot of resentment and suspicion. It's not like the relationship with Qatar, which is the ideological, economic and political patron of Hamas. It's completely different. You can mix the mediators together, but everyone has a different relationship with Hamas."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on November 26, 2023.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2023.

Adv. Lt. Col. (res) Avi Kalo credit: Amit Photogenim
Adv. Lt. Col. (res) Avi Kalo credit: Amit Photogenim
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