October 26, 2012
Number 10/12 #06
Southern Israel suffered through an intense rocket barrage from Gaza earlier this week, with more than 80 rockets fired in a 24-hour period, before an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire took hold yesterday. Hamas has been itself taking credit for many of the rocket launches, a break with its behaviour over most of the past year. This Update explores why, and whether the visit to Gaza by the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad al-Thani, the first by any Arab leader since Hamas took power there in 2007, had anything to do with it.
First up, Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff of Haaretz stress the extent to which this represents a major changes in Hamas’ strategy. They say things in Gaza appeared to be under relative control, with Salafist groups doing sporadic rocket fire, but often under pressure by Hamas to stop so as to avoid risking escalation. They say that Hamas suddenly appears to be less afraid of Israel’s reaction, possibly because of the backing from Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood-led Egyptian government, and this may test the, until now, “cautious and responsible military policy” of the Netanyahu government, especially in the lead-up to the election. For all that they have to say, CLICK HERE.
Next up, Khaled Abu Toameh, noted Israeli Palestinian affairs reporter, explores in more detail the confidence that Hamas appears to be displaying. He notes that the al-Thani visit is viewed as “a huge political and moral victory for Hamas” effectively ending their international isolation. He also notes that Hamas apparently believes they have support from the Egyptian government, and that Israel cannot afford to respond strongly to its attacks for fear of jeopardising relations with Egypt. Abu Toameh has more relevant comments, and to read them all, CLICK HERE.
Finally, noted American foreign policy pundit Walter Russell Mead looks at how the al-Thani visit might affect the ongoing Fatah-Hamas rivalry. He also notes that Hamas is now starting to be challenged within Gaza by even more radical Salafist groups. His conclusion concerning the current state of play is that Fatah looks likes become irrelevant, like so much of the Arab world’s old guard, and Hamas is trying to use Qatar to make itself into an internationally acceptable Palestinian party, modelled on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. For his depressing read on where things appear to be heading, CLICK HERE. More on the implications of the al-Thani visit in a Wall Street Journal piece here. Plus, analyst Seth Mandel concurs that the visit seems to signal that the Arab world is starting to choose Hamas over Fatah.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Accounts of the rocket barrage from residents of southern Israel.
- Jonathan Schanzer on Hamas’ recent efforts to re-shuffle both its leadership, and its international patrons.
- Sudan has blamed Israel for an attack on a weapons factory. Sudanese opposition says the factory is run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Plus, Mitch Ginsburg of the Times of Israel suggests that if Israel was responsible, they had good reason given Sudan’s role as a vital link in the supply chain of arms to Hamas.
- Israeli PM Netanyahu has announced an electoral alliance between his Likud and Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party. Some analysis of the implications of this move comes from Seth Mandel and Jeffrey Goldberg.
- Isi Leibler writes about Israel’s troubled relations with Turkey.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Sharyn MIttelman explores the flaws and problems with a controversial Israeli poll being presented in some media outlets as suggesting Israeli support for “apartheid”.
According to initial information, Hamas is responsible for at least some of the rockets that wounded three migrant workers and caused heavy damage to homes in the Gaza envelope communities.
Haaretz, Oct.24, 2012
Maybe it’s the support it received from the official visit of the Qatari emir, maybe it’s Hamas’ feeling that it has restrained itself for too long in light of the Israeli assassinations of extremist Jihad activists in Gaza – what is apparent, based on the heavy rocket attack from the Strip on Wednesday morning, is that Hamas has changed its policy on attacks against Israel. According to initial information, Hamas is responsible for at least some of the rockets that wounded three migrant workers and caused heavy damage to homes in the Gaza envelope communities.
For a long time there has been a steady escalation on the border of the Strip. But until Wednesday morning, it still seemed that things were under a certain degree of control.
The main clash was between Salafist Jihad organizations, which launched rockets against Israel, and the Israel Defense Forces, which struck at firing squads and occasionally assassinated activists who were involved in attempts to carry out attacks via Sinai.
Hamas played a double game: Sometimes it financed the activity of some of the organizations, sometimes it took steps to restrain them, when it felt that their initiatives were liable to bring about a large-scale military campaign by Israel and endanger the stability of Hamas rule.
On several recent occasions, Hamas activists were also hit (and once civilians as well) in air force attacks. On Tuesday night, three activists in rocket-launching squads were killed by Israeli attacks, including two Hamas members. Hamas announced that it would take revenge – and did so this morning when it launched the rockets. The organization even assumed belated responsibility for detonating a roadside bomb on Tuesday, which seriously wounded the company commander of the Golani Brigade, Capt. Ziv Shilon.
In places where the Iron Dome system is effective, like Ashkelon, the Katyushas were intercepted. When it comes to firing on communities closer to the fence, protection is partial at best and the result was the wounding of the migrant workers in the chicken run of one of the communities. Apparently Hamas is less afraid of Israel’s reaction. The relatively close relations with Egypt, along with the Qatari visit, are instilling a self confidence that is liable to turn out to be mistaken and exaggerated.
But in this equation there is also another significant side, Israel. In the almost four years of his government’s tenure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has adopted a cautious and responsible military policy on all the fronts. Despite his image, Netanyahu refrained as much as possible from embarking on large-scale military campaigns.
The periodic rounds of violence on the Gaza border were characterized by a great deal of Israeli rhetoric, but there was no launching of ground forces deep into the area. The Israeli threats, combined with the air force attacks, sufficed each time to convince Hamas to impose order in the Strip before the conflict got out of hand.
Now the rules of the game may change. Netanyahu is entering an election campaign, in which one of his main cards is the prolonged (relative) security calm on the borders. When the residents of the Gaza envelope are interviewed on the radio and ask where the government is, a prime minister who is running for reelection will find it difficult not to take stronger action.
You don’t have to go too far back in order to recall a precedent. Early in December 2008, a center-left government of Kadima and Labor was in power here. The senior members of the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, along with most of the heads of the defense establishment, were opposed to a military campaign in Gaza.
But when the cease-fire with Hamas collapsed, as the coalition parties were preparing for elections and their leaders were being criticized for their inaction, the government’s attitude changed.
At the end of that month Israel embarked on Operation Cast Lead. Probably neither Netanyahu nor even Hamas want to see that happen, but the story is definitely liable to repeat itself.
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
Jerusalem Post, 24/10/2012
Recent rocket attacks on south Israel are a sign of Hamas’s growing confidence in wake of emir of Qatar visit, Morsi support.
Hamas’s involvement in the current rocket and mortar attacks on Israel is a sign of the Islamic movement’s growing sense of confidence, especially in the wake of the visit to the Gaza Strip of the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad al- Thani.
Tuesday’s high-profile visit, the first of its kind by the leader of an Arab country, is seen as a huge political and moral victory for Hamas. The emir’s visit marks the beginning of the end of years of isolation for Hamas, particularly in the international arena.
But now that Hamas has the backing – and financial support – of a wealthy and influential country like Qatar, it can afford to do almost anything it wants.
Hamas knows that in addition to the backing of Qatar, it also enjoys the support of many Arabs and Muslims thanks to the Arab Spring, which has resulted in the rise to power of Islamist groups, most significantly in Egypt.
Today, Hamas leaders enjoy the full backing of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi who, unlike his predecessor Hosni Mubarak, considers the Islamist movement in the Gaza Strip a legitimate and acceptable player in the region.
Hamas feels confident that Morsi would not remain idle if Israel retaliated against the rocket fire with a massive military operation in the Gaza Strip. The least that Hamas expects from Morsi in response to such an operation would be to sever Egypt’s diplomatic ties with Israel.
Some Hamas officials are convinced that Israel’s response to the attacks would not be too strong because the Israeli government wants to avoid a further deterioration in its relations with Cairo.
The Islamist group also believes that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is not interested in another Operation Cast Lead three months before a general election in Israel.
But Hamas may also be motivated by criticism it has been facing from other Palestinian groups.
In recent years, Hamas has refrained from direct involvement in attacks on Israel, most of which had been carried out by Islamic Jihad and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip. In some cases, Hamas even worked hard to prevent these groups from launching rocket and mortar attacks, mainly to avoid giving Israel an “excuse” to invade the Strip, since it fears another massive IDF operation could put an end to its rule over the area.
Still, Hamas has to prove to its critics and political rivals that, contrary to their claims, it has not abandoned the “armed resistance against the Zionist enemy.”
Even Fatah has often criticized Hamas for cracking down on those who carry out attacks against Israel.
That’s why Hamas is prepared, whenever the circumstances permit, to show Palestinians and the rest of the world that its presence in government should not be interpreted as a change in its ideology.
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Walter Russell Mead
“Via Media”, Oct. 25
As we mentioned yesterday, the visit to Gaza by the emir of Qatar signals the beginning of a new era in Palestinian politics. The emir promised $400 million in reconstruction projects for the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip, while Fatah—the old guard of Palestinian politics—is slipping into irrelevancy.
Once upon a time, the secular-leaning Fatah led the Palestinian resistance to Israel, but that mantle was taken up by the more conservative and militant Hamas as Palestinians lost faith in Fatah in the 2000s. Today, Fatah’s institution-building program is paralyzed, crippled by the loss of funding from the U.S. and the EU after Palestine’s ill-advised bid for UN membership. Thousands of protesters took to the streets in the West Bank last month, hurling their shoes at images of Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamas also faces a growing challenge: more conservative Salafi groups are questioning Hamas’s tight-fisted governorship of Gaza. One group, the Al Nour Party, inspired by the success of the Egyptian organization of the same name that won almost 28 percent of Egypt’s recent parliamentary elections, says it wants democracy to come to Gaza.
Hugh Naylor reports for the National:
“Hamas has become a one-party dictatorship in Gaza,” Mohammed Abu Jamiaa, an Al Nour Party leader, said at the group’s headquarters in Khan Younis earlier this month. “But we respect democratic politics and all we seek to do is enter the political system in a democratic and peaceful way, and we seek to implement Sharia in a democratic way.”
Other Salafis fight in militant groups: An Israeli airstrike killed two such fighters earlier this month, and today four militants, some of whom were from Hamas’s militia, were killed by more Israeli airstrikes after dozens of rockets fired from Gaza landed in Israel.
We seem to be witnessing several things at once: Fatah is becoming irrelevant. Hamas is divided, with its militant wing continuing to participate in attacks on Israel and its leadership bidding for sponsorship from Qatar and trying to establish itself as an internationally acceptable Palestinian political party like Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. The Salafis are rising: they sense a political opening in Gaza and are encouraged by the success of similarly conservative parties elsewhere in the Middle East, but they too are divided by fighters who want to strike the Israelis and others who think peaceful Islam and democracy can work together for Palestine.
It all looks like a very complicated game of musical chairs. But it’s clear that the old guard—Fatah and the PLO—are being pushed aside in the new world of Arab politics.