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

Mahmoud Abbas’s Appointment of a New Deputy Chairman Won’t Prevent a Violent Succession Struggle

Feb. 24 2017

Last week, amid ongoing concern over his refusal to choose a successor, the aging president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) elevated two of his associates to important positions within his Fatah party. Mahmoud al-Aloul, a PLO veteran who was close to Yasir Arafat’s inner circle, was named deputy party chairman, and Jibril Rajoub, who served as the head of Arafat’s Preventive Security Force in the West Bank, became the secretary general. The move, writes Yoni Ben Menachem, has calmed some of the internal tensions within Fatah, but only in the short run:

Both . . . Aloul and Rajoub, are unacceptable to the Fatah Central Committee as possible successors to Abbas as PA president or Fatah chairman. As soon as Abbas is in a state of incapacity, a harsh and violent succession struggle will ensue. . . .

Aloul and Rajoub are already making the most of their promotions to try and clear their path to the PA leadership and remove any obstacle in their way. . . . [The two] are themselves keen political rivals. But, although each sees himself as Abbas’s [rightful] successor, they appear to have a common interest in getting rid of [the current PA prime minister, Rami] Hamdallah, as quickly as possible. He does not belong to the Fatah movement and was appointed to the post because of his personal ties with Abbas. . . .

Abbas will have to contend as soon as possible with a pack of Fatah figures who want to succeed him. The pound of flesh he tossed to Aloul and Rajoub in the form of senior positions in the movement’s leadership will only satisfy them for a very short time. They will not stop trying to undermine him—especially Rajoub who is known to be a tireless subversive in Palestinian politics. Also involved in the effort will be [Abbas’s longtime rival Mahmoud] Dahlan and Marwan Barghouti, [the mastermind of the second intifada, who is currently in an Israeli prison], who are likely to join forces, and General Majid Freij, who has already forged ties with the new CIA chief Mike Pompeo.

The current calm in the Fatah leadership is only temporary. Despite Abbas’s new appointments last week, it could collapse at any moment.

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority, Politics & Current Affairs