The geopolitics of the conflict in Gaza: Hamas' calculations (II)
Dmitry MININ | 20.11.2012

The geopolitics of the conflict in Gaza: Hamas' calculations (II)

Part I

"This will open the gates of hell!"

Hamas (an acronym for Harakat al-Muqāwama al-Islāmiya - the Islamic Resistance Movement) emerged a decade ago as a regional branch of the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, of which Gaza was a part of until 1967. The founding father is considered to be Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was assassinated in 2004. There are indications that the Israeli security forces had a hand in the formation of Hamas, at the time trying to counter the Islamists and the secular socialist-oriented forces in the Palestinian resistance. If only they knew then who they nurtured. This now, however, both sides prefer to forget. It gained political power in the late 80's during the first intifada. After winning the elections in Gaza in 2006, Hamas gained full control of Gaza from 2007, when at the same time, in the West Bank of the river Jordan; power belonged to Fatah, the group founded by Arafat.

Hamas has been on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations since 1997. In addition to being more militant than Fatah, it is known for its attention to the social status of the population and is less prone to corruption. The formal leader of Hamas remains Khaled Meshaal who moved in early 2012 from Damascus to Qatar, the real "prime minister" in Gaza is Ismail Haniyeh, a close ally of Sheikh Yassin. There is a barely concealed rivalry between them. Hamas says it is ready to recognize the borders of 1967 and live in peace with Israel, but it is no hurry to recognize it.

Israeli experts point out that as a result of the "Arab Spring" Hamas has significantly increased in military-technical and political terms. Moreover, in recognizing their responsibility for launching rockets at Israel, which it avoided until recently, Hamas has demonstrated that it no longer fears a direct confrontation with the Israeli military machine.(1)

This increased confidence is based on a number of factors.
Having dealt with the finishing of its dependence on Damascus, Hamas has gained much more powerful patrons in the Islamic world. In October, this year the Emir of Qatar was the first head of state in its entire modern history to visit Gaza, and he granted a gift of $ 400 million to Hamas, which immediately raised their status among Palestinian voters. After him the Turkish Prime Minister T. Erdogan planned to go as well. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Tunisia visited Gaza, and in the near future in accordance with the decision of the meeting held in Cairo, the Arab League plans to go there with a delegation of Arab ministers.

Given the re-orientation of Hamas from Syria and Iran to what Washington considers more acceptable regimes, voices were heard in the in the United States about the possible admission of informal contact with the movement. This White House is strongly encouraged, in particular, by the leaders of Qatar and Turkey. The prospect looms, even if still distant, of the gradual international legitimization of Hamas.

As a consequence of the post-revolutionary chaos, Cairo largely lost control of the situation in the Gaza Strip adjacent to the Sinai Peninsula. This gave Hamas a vital strategic foundation. It placed in the Sinai its training camps and even workshops for manufacturing and repairing weapons, invulnerable to the Israeli Air Force, which is bound by Camp David peace treaty. Moreover, in recent months there have been cases of actually firing of rockets at Israeli targets from the peninsula territory, though not much damage was inflicted.

Hamas, if not directly challenging the Israeli military machine, does not shy away from a collision with it, causing minor disturbing stings to Israel, and for their own reasons. Just as Israel, in unleashing the conflict and taking on full responsibility, forced Washington to clearly and plainly identify themselves with Tel Aviv, Hamas has made it clear also that Cairo and other Arab capitals take its side.

It is known that before recent events, its parent organization the Muslim Brotherhood, which happens now to be in power in Cairo, had shown some restraint in relation to their own child, based primarily for tactical reasons of gaining legitimacy in the West. Cairo, for example has rejected the Hamas offer to establish a free trade zone between Egypt and Gaza and expressed dissatisfaction with the actions of Islamic extremists who attacked the Egyptian border guards in the Sinai and prevented the unfettered movement of fighters and weapons into Gaza. Israel's actions have removed all the old antagonisms for the Islamists in Cairo not to support their "little brothers."

These calculations have partially materialized. Egyptian President Morsi, having previously tended towards a pragmatic course, sent Prime Minister Hesham Kandil to Gaza, practically under Israeli fire.  Egypt has recalled its ambassador to Israel, condemned the actions of Tel Aviv as naked aggression and promised more support to the Palestinians. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has demanded a further tightening in his approach to Israel from the country’s president. They also announced that they are developing a draft law for a unilateral revision of the peace treaty with Israel. (2)Given their dominance in the national parliament, the chances of passing such a law is very high. Not being able to successfully confront Israel militarily, Cairo, for example, might just open the border with Gaza for "refugees", through which in the opposite direction weapons would inevitably flood, which Hamas desperately needs. Fuad Muhammad Jadallah, Egyptian Presidential Adviser on Legal Affairs, speaking on air on one of the Arab TV stations spoke of the need to immediately establish a Palestinian state and to start  supplying arms to the Palestinians to enable them to successfully confront Israel.(3)

Hamas as well as Israel, but for different reasons, are not too interested in the success of the vote promoted by Abbas on the status of Palestine at the UN General Assembly, as they consider it insufficient and believe it will perpetuate the present situation. In addition, it is believed that this whole thing is mainly targeted on improving the personal prestige of Abbas and Fatah. At the same time, opposition to the Israeli war machine enhances the credibility of Hamas among Palestinians and the chances of winning the ever-delayed elections for all of the Palestinians, when they finally take place. Due to the controlling conditions of the Gaza blockade, the movement is not in a position to deliver on the promise to raise the living standards of ordinary Palestinians and is gradually losing its popularity. War can always be attributed to the actions of the enemy, and it unites people around Hamas again.

However, the attack on the commander of the military wing of Hamas'  “İzzeddin Al-Qassam Brigades," Ahmad Jabari, was a surprise to the Palestinians, a day after Egypt announced it had mediated the cessation of all attacks on Israel from Gaza. Jabari was travelling in a car in broad daylight, without expectation of a sudden attack, and not observing any precautions. (4) His murder, as was proclaimed in Gaza, "opened the gates of hell." On the Palestinian side of the operation "a pillar of cloud," got its own name - "Firestone".

The Palestinians in Gaza have never had as many weapons as they have now. The Fajr-3 missile and the Fajr-5, imported by them from Iran, may have little striking effect, but they are the first able to reach the outskirts of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Although Israel announces as false Palestinian claims that they shot down an F-16, but even The New York Times says credible evidence has been provided by them on YouTube. Hamas does not seek an elusive military victory, it needs a "diplomatic victory", which it has already largely achieved. (5)

The Israeli press wrote: "We should not neglect the fact of the launching of missiles at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Since the 1948 war, no Arab state (except in Iraq in 1991) dared to do something that the Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad have been allowed to do. “(6) It does not matter where the missile landed - in the sea or on land, in the park or on the beach. What is important from a psychological point of view is that an imaginary barrier has been overcome. And in any war of attrition the psychological aspect is very important.

In this case, a spokesman of the armed wing of Hamas warned: "The shelling of Tel Aviv, and the Al-Quds (Jerusalem), which did not happen before, is not all of the surprises we have at our disposal."(7)

A ground operation against Hamas in Gaza can be a repeat of the sad experience of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006. The Islamists in Gaza are no less powerful, trained and motivated than Hezbollah, which forced the then Israeli army, perhaps for the first time in its history, to withdraw due to high battle losses in southern Lebanon, and without solving any of the objectives... In Hezbollah`s favor was the mountainous terrain, which offers excellent facilities for ambushes and mine laying. Gaza, by contrast, is flat lowland. At the same time, dense buildings prevail there and this does not allow for the deployment of heavy military equipment, without total destruction. Of course, the State of Israel can easily find hot heads, capable of this, but the situation in the world has changed, and such actions may finally blow up the entire Middle East.

According to a statement from the military wing of Hamas, in the case of a ground operation by IDF soldiers entering 300 meters into Palestinian territory, only then will it be resisted.

These concerns and not just the international pressure may possibly explain an obvious hitch in the actions of Israel, which had already announced the start of the ground operation.

Cease-fire negotiations are currently underway in Cairo, with the assistance of Egyptian mediators and experts of the International Crisis Group, and a compromise may end in a tripartite agreement. Hamas will undertake to take "extremist elements" under control, and at the same time Egypt will facilitate the crossing regime of the border with Gaza at Rafah, and Israel will take similar steps at the commercial terminal of Kerem Shalom controlled by them. (8)

However, the strength of such agreements, given the far-reaching strategic intentions of the parties, is hard to believe. Opposites meet. But no matter who wins in this deadly game of blood, the losers will be, as usual, ordinary people, both Arabs and Jews.

(to be continued)