Shortly after 9 p.m. on Thursday—minutes after sirens blared across central Israel and a loud boom overhead shook the area—senior Egyptian intelligence officers became outraged during a meeting with Hamas officials in Gaza.
“Just so you know,” they leveled at Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar and Ismail Haniyeh, “if Israel decides to launch a comprehensive military operation in Gaza, we won’t do a thing to stop it, even if it decides to simultaneously topple Hamas and conquer the Gaza Strip.”
The dramatic exchange was relayed by a senior Egyptian official who attended the meeting.
“The atmosphere at the start of the meeting was very relaxed and cordial,” the Egyptian official said. “A short while before the meeting, we had returned from Israel with answers. We believed Hamas would accept them, and facilitate a more stable and long-term ceasefire. A few minutes later, an assistant to the Egyptian delegation entered the [meeting] room with a worried look on his face and handed the Egyptian delegation leaders his cell phone.
“The smiles were immediately replaced with grim faces; the delegation heads turned to Sinwar livid and told him: ‘How far do you think you will get with this double game of yours? We are sitting here to hammer out the details of a ceasefire with Israel and behind our backs, you are authorizing your people to fire missiles at Tel Aviv?’ ”
The tones grew even more tense, the Egyptian official continued.
“If Israel decides to launch a comprehensive military operation in Gaza, this time we won’t do a thing to stop the Israeli attack, even if the Israelis decide to dismantle your rule in Gaza by assassinating each and every one of you. While [Israel] is retaking Gaza, Egypt and its allies in the region won’t lift a finger to stop the Israeli response.”
According to the Egyptian official, Haniyeh and Sinwar were no less surprised than the Egyptians upon hearing about the missile launch at central Israel.
“Hamas is not behind the launch,” Sinwar reportedly told his Egyptian guests, adding that his organization would conduct a thorough investigation to find those responsible. Sinwar asked the Egyptian officials to contact Israeli leaders and inform them that no order had been given to fire rockets at Israel—and certainly not at Tel Aviv.
The Egyptian intelligence officials were unconvinced and continued to assail Sinwar. “You are lying! The blood of Gazans who will be hurt in the Israeli response is on your hands! By your own hands, you will bring about the destruction of Gaza and the fall of your regime, and you’ve also gambled with our own safety in Gaza by shooting at Tel Aviv while we are here!”
Sinwar responded to the allegations, glumly telling his guests: “I won’t ask you to risk your lives by staying in Gaza, but before you leave we ask that you contact your Israeli counterparts and stress to them that the missile launch was not intentional and certainly wasn’t planned, and that Hamas isn’t seeking an escalation but to wrap up the remaining loose ends on the cease-fire understandings.”
The Egyptian official added: “A short while after we left the Strip, Sinwar contacted the delegation heads and told them that Hamas operatives carrying out maintenance duties near the launch batteries placed in western Gaza, in preparation for a future clash with Israel, apparently fired the missiles mistakenly. According to Sinwar, Hamas detained one operative, and promised to detain others and bring them to justice.”
Hamas also acquiesced to the Egyptian demand that it cancel Friday’s “March of Return” border demonstrations, which it conducts weekly, and that its so-called “March of a Million,” planned for late March, either refrains from violence or is also canceled altogether.