Hamas has known better days.
It is now ready to consider what it rejected
for so long: setting up a joint administration of the Rafah crossing with the
Palestinian Authority, the same authority it kicked out in 2007 when it took
over the Gaza Strip.
Hamas has since repeatedly turned down calls to let
the PA return as stipulated in the agreements concluded with Israel and the
However, beggars can’t be choosers, and Hamas hopes that
such a move would placate the Egyptian Army and induce it to open the crossing
more often. It would bring sorely needed relief to the population of Gaza, now
openly grumbling against the organization. But there is no question of letting
the European inspectors come back, since Hamas considers the agreements null and
Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood set up in 1987, had
placed great hopes in the then newly elected Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi,
the candidate of the Muslim Brothers. It confidently expected the Rafah crossing
would henceforth let people and goods flow in both directions; it also counted
on the support of the new regime against Israel and against its rival, the
It did not happen. Morsi, busy tightening his
control on all public institutions while trying to tackle the disastrous
economic and social situation of the country, let the army deal with the growing
threat of terror in the Sinai Peninsula.
The Egyptian Army, now engaged
in an all-out war against jihadist terrorism in Sinai, knows Hamas only too well
and has scores to settle.
During the Mubarak years Hamas grew close to
Iran, which funded its activities and supplied it with arms through Sudan.
Coached by the Revolutionary Guards, Hamas set up a vast network to run arms,
missiles and explosives through the Egyptian mainland to the peninsula and then
to Gaza via underground tunnels.
Needing local help, Hamas recruited
Sinai Beduin disenchanted with a central regime that neglected and oppressed
them. Hamas terrorists were caught in Sinai and sentenced to jail.
number of jihadist organizations inspired by al-Qaida took advantage of the
unsettled conditions to infiltrate the peninsula and set up their own cells,
with the tacit consent of Hamas, which saw in them potential allies against
“Tawhid and Jihad,” the group responsible for the attacks in
Sharm el-Sheikh and Taba, was the first Salafist organization established in the
area. It was followed by a host of smaller movements.
Each of these would
recruit its own Beduin and set up its own military and ideological
With the fall of Mubarak and the disintegration of the
security apparatus in Sinai, seasoned terrorists from Iraq and other Arab
countries joined the fray. The civil war in Syria and the closure of Hamas
headquarters in Damascus dealt a near death blow to the Iranian-Sudanese route,
badly hit by operations attributed to Israel.
The fall of Libya’s Muammar
Gaddafi opened another way to Sinai. Hamas and jihadist organizations found a
common ground to move weapons from the dictator’s arsenals through Sinai to Gaza
via the tunnels. In fact, Hamas believed that jihadist groups bent on attacking
Israel would provide camouflage for their own activities, and that Israel would
refrain from retaliating in order not to violate Egyptian
Interestingly, this ultimately led to the opposite, with the
Egyptian and the Israeli armies having a common interest in stopping
During the interim military regime which followed the fall of
Mubarak, the army demonstrated its incapacity to do something in Sinai. The
pipeline supplying gas to Israel and Jordan was sabotaged 14 times; jihadist
groups, moving with impunity, attacked road blocks set up by security forces as
well as police stations.
Following Morsi’s election, the army did try to
do something, but never got the green light for a large-scale operation. There
are indications that the president intended to reach an agreement with Hamas and
possibly with jihadist organizations and turn them against
Egyptians, however, were getting increasingly angry with Hamas,
especially after it was revealed a year ago that members of Izzadin Kassam (the
military wing of Hamas) had crossed into Sinai through the tunnels in January
2011 at the height of the demonstrations against Mubarak and, together with
their Beduin allies, had driven to Cairo to lead concerted attacks on a number
Among the some 20,000 prisoners freed were Salafists from
Sinai, Hamas terrorists such as Ayman Nofel and the head of the Hezbollah cell
arrested in 2009.
In less than three hours the newly freed Hamas
terrorists had reached Gaza; Hezbollah gunmen took the longer route home and
reached Beirut four days later via Sudan.
It turned out that a number of
Muslim Brothers had escaped at the same time. Prominent among them was one
Mohamed Morsi, who is still considered an escaped felon.
Needless to say,
Hamas and its media have been vocal in their condemnation of Morsi’s ouster. In
fact, Mahmud Ezzat, a deputy of the (imprisoned) supreme guide of the
Brotherhood, fled to Gaza and is said to be coordinating opposition from
The Egyptian Army, which has launched an unprecedented campaign
against terror in Sinai, enjoys wide popular support. There is great anger
against Hamas, accused of supporting both terrorists and the Muslim Brothers.
The organization is suspected of having aided and abetted the terrorists who
murdered in cold blood 16 soldiers near Rafah last year.
Hamas does its
best to reject these accusations, and Musa Abu Marzuk, the movement’s No. 2,
claims that “it would be illogical for Hamas, which depends on Egypt, to act
On the other hand, the Palestinian Authority is only too
happy to pour fuel on the flames. While demanding that the Palestinian
Presidential Guard be allowed to resume its rightful place at Rafah, it points
out that Hamas media are rooting for the Brotherhood.
Israel, for its
part, shows understanding for the needs of the Egyptian Army and does not
protest its operations alongside the Gaza Strip, though they go beyond the terms
of the military appendix of the peace treaty. So far both armies are united in
their fight to eliminate terrorism from Sinai.
Hamas has been hit hard.
The Brotherhood is down in Egypt and the country has turned against Hamas. The
steady destruction of the tunnels combined with the 500-meters-wide security
zone set up along the border are asphyxiating Gaza, where a new political
movement calls for the toppling of Hamas.
It is not likely to happen
Some say the Egyptians will invade Gaza. This is not likely
As to the third option – a desperate Hamas will turn against
Israel – that is even less likely. It should be noted that Israel has quietly
increased the amount of goods it lets into the Gaza Strip, and is even allowing
the import of cement and building materials.
The writer, a fellow of The
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt