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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Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

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

 

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy