The flare-up during the past week along the border of the Gaza Strip had faded by Wednesday. The rise in the number of losses – first a Palestinian, then an Israeli and then a Palestinian toddler were killed – made it clear to the sides that the situation was liable to lurch out of control. The outgoing year, the quietest experienced by Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip for more than a decade, could have ended with a major deterioration into violence.

This is where Cairo entered the picture. As in previous cases in which tensions rose throughout the year that has passed since Operation Pillar of Defense, the Egyptians sent threatening and unequivocal messages to Hamas to hold its fire. The Egyptian army also issued a statement this week in which it claimed that it had thwarted an attack by a Hamas man from Gaza who planned to detonate a booby-trapped car next to the headquarters of the Egyptian security forces in northern Sinai.

Hamas apparently got the message: As if it weren’t enough that Cairo was accusing the organization of undermining the quiet with Israel, now Hamas was also said to be colluding in the terrorist campaign being waged against Egypt by Sinai-based Islamist organizations. In response to the Egyptian ultimatum, Hamas blocked the activity of the smaller Palestinian groups, one of which was responsible for the sniper attack that killed an Israeli civilian, Salah Abu Latif, on the border of the Strip on Tuesday. Caught between fear of a confrontation with the Israel Defense Forces and, even more, fear of the generals in Cairo, whose decision to block the Rafah tunnels has already caused mortal damage to the Gazan economy – Hamas pulled back. […]