A Year of “Protest” on the Gaza Border Has Achieved Little—but Not Nothing—for Hamas

March 14 2019

This month marks the one-year anniversary of Hamas’s “March of Return.” The weekly demonstrations were meant to culminate in a massive storming of the fence separating Gaza from Israel, after which participants would ostensibly “return” to the homes their ancestors fled in 1948. While part of the campaign has been peaceful, other parts have involved shooting and throwing Molotov cocktails at Israeli border guards, using balloons and kites as incendiary devices aimed at Israeli villages, and sporadically firing rockets and mortars. Michael Milstein evaluates the success of these tactics:

A year into the campaign, Hamas cannot claim a stellar performance. On the one hand, Israel was forced to deal with events on the Gaza border, and the organization succeeded in positioning the issue at the heart of Israeli discourse. . . . Furthermore, Hamas attained some civil successes, leading to a certain easing of civilian conditions in the Gaza Strip over the last few months; the most important [of these] was securing the Qatar-financed payments for civil-servant salaries and the Gaza Strip’s electricity bill, which led to the doubling of the electric supply from four to eight or more hours a day.

On the other hand, the eased conditions are still overshadowed by the profound basic problems that Hamas is unable to resolve, above all, unemployment (especially among the young), the devastated civil infrastructures, and the restrictions on entering and leaving Gaza. As Hamas is well aware, unresolved, these contribute to a highly volatile domestic situation. Moreover, the concessions achieved are seen as disproportionate to the heavy human toll exacted by the campaign [at the border fence]. . . .

More moves on Israel’s part [to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza], even if limited in scope—such as easing restrictions on movement, jumpstarting infrastructure projects (especially for water and electricity), and attracting foreign aid—could help ease the tensions. Such moves have the power to temper public anger and increase Hamas’s motivation to enforce its rule. This is a complex decision, throwing into stark relief the polar opposite alternatives plaguing Israel: to promote the easing of civilian restrictions, which plays into Hamas’s hands by acknowledging its rule without any progress on the issue of Israel’s MIAs and POWs, or to raise the probability of a new broad military offensive whose end is impossible to predict.

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More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security


The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey