Iran Takes Charge in Gaza

Feb. 17 2017

On Tuesday, Hamas announced that it had selected Yahya Sinwar as its new “security minister.” This makes Sinwar, a convicted terrorist who had been in an Israeli prison until 2011, the senior figure in Gaza, where he will succeed Ismail Haniyeh, who will in turn replace Khaled Meshal as head of the Hamas Politburo in Qatar. The selection of Sinwar suggests that Hamas will seek both more cooperation with Islamic State’s Sinai branch and a thaw in relations with Iran, which split with Hamas when the two found themselves backing different sides in the Syrian civil war.

Herewith, two views on the implications of this development:

Yoni Ben Menachem writes:

Sinwar is not satisfied with Hamas’s military achievements during [Israel’s 2014 campaign under the name of] Operation Protective Edge. He advocates a strategy of kidnapping Israeli soldiers and civilians as the shortest path to getting [Hamas’s] security prisoners freed. . . . Sinwar’s desire to . . . do better than his predecessor [Ismail] Haniyeh will likely lead him to terror activity. It will be of a kind to which Israel cannot react with restraint, thus igniting a new round of fighting in Gaza. . . . [H]e wants to inflict a “preemptive strike” on Israel by infiltrating forces into the “enemy interior” by sea or through the attack tunnels. He is also planning to take over Gaza-belt Israeli communities, hit Ben-Gurion Airport, and assail population concentrations in Israel’s soft underbelly with thousands of rockets.

For his part, Pinḥas Inbari, while agreeing that Sinwar is likely to lead Hamas into Iran’s arms, believes war to be less imminent:

Iran chose to take back the reins in Gaza because of the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. Iran fears that at [recent] talks in Washington, President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu [agreed upon] an aggressive option vis-à-vis Iran. . . . [T]he announcement’s timing [was] Iran’s way of conveying a message before the Trump-Netanyahu talks.

If that’s the case, don’t expect that Sinwar’s “election” foretells a new escalation from Gaza against Israel. Just the opposite, Iran will restrain Hamas in order to keep the Gaza front available for Iran’s own needs, and Iran’s alone.

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Iran, Ismail Haniyeh, Israeli Security, Khaled Meshal, Politics & Current Affairs

Winning Islam’s War of Ideas, Saudi-Style

March 19 2018

Since September 11, 2001, U.S. policymakers have understood the need to confront jihadism not only militarily but also ideologically; yet, writes John Hannah, they have had little success. Now Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’ reformist crown prince, appears willing and able to take up the fight, and Hannah urges Washington to support his efforts:

By an order of magnitude, al-Qaeda in 2018 enjoys a larger presence in more countries across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia than it did the day the Twin Towers were felled. . . . What’s consistently been missing from America’s strategy have been powerful partners in the Muslim world who can reliably be counted on to speak out authoritatively on matters of Islamic theology in ways that the United States simply cannot. That’s where Saudi Arabia comes in. It’s the birthplace of Islam and host to the faith’s two holiest mosques. Combined with abundant oil wealth, these assets bestow on the Saudis a measure of soft-power influence unrivaled in the Muslim world. . . .

For months, the crown prince and his closest advisers have relentlessly hammered the theme that Saudi Arabia’s modernization requires an embrace of “moderate Islam.” He’s slammed the extremist ideology that the kingdom did so much to empower after the Iranian revolution and acknowledges that “the problem spread all over the world.” . . . At home, the powers of the kingdom’s notorious religious police have been scaled back. Prominent hardline clerics have been jailed. On the all-important issue of female empowerment, the pace of change has been breathtaking. . . .

Now the U.S. imperative should be pressing Mohammed bin Salman to take his campaign for moderate Islam on the road. . . . There should be multiple elements to such an effort, but some immediate tasks come to mind. First, school textbooks. The Saudis promised to eliminate the hate-filled passages a decade ago. Progress has slowly been made, but the job’s still not done. Mohammed bin Salman should order it finished—this year. Behind the scenes, U.S. experts should provide verification.

Second, working with trusted partners in indigenous communities known for their religious moderation, the Saudis should conduct a thorough audit of the global network of mosques, schools, and charitable organizations that they’ve backed with an eye toward weeding out radical staff and content. Third, [they should] initiate a worldwide buyback of Saudi-distributed mistranslations of the Quran and other religious materials notorious for propagating extremist narratives.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Moderate Islam, Politics & Current Affairs, Radical Islam, Saudi Arabia, War on Terror