Desperate Hamas

AS Israel continues effort toward peace deal with PA, Hamas is becoming increasingly isolated, desperate and therefore increasingly more dangerous.

Hamas gunmen in the northern Gaza Strip 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Hamas gunmen in the northern Gaza Strip 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
Hamas is under pressure. The terrorist organization’s relations with Egypt were not particularly good even under president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Now the situation has gone from bad to worse after Egypt’s military junta forcibly took power away from the Brotherhood.
The Egyptian military has launched a major offensive along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt as part of a larger campaign to rein in the lawless Sinai Peninsula. Egyptian forces have stepped up the bulldozing of tunnels – the lifelines connecting Gaza’s economy to the outside world – which are thought to be escape routes used by Islamists and Beduin after staging attacks on Egyptian soldiers and police.
Accounts from inside Gaza tell a story of severe economic hardship for many Gazans. Popular uprisings and the strengthening of Salafist or global jihad groups within Gaza are a real possibility.
Egypt has, of course, refused to upgrade relations with Gaza, leaving Hamastan in its pariahdom status. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy warned last month of a “harsh response” if Hamas in any way threatened Egypt’s national security. Gazan fishermen have been repeatedly harassed for approaching Egypt’s maritime border.
On the West Bank, meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority has reasserted itself, garnering extensive media coverage and international support for its willingness to return to the negotiating table with Israel. PA President Mahmoud Abbas made headlines after telling German Deutsche Welle TV that negotiations have not reached a dead end and insisted that though there was strong Palestinian opposition, he spoke for the entire Palestinian people.
And the PA has tangible results to show for its willingness to talk. So far, 26 Palestinian prisoners – most of whom are terrorist murderers responsible for the deaths of innocent Israelis – were released in the first of three stages of prisoner releases. Two more groups of prisoners are to be released in coming months.
Hamas, in contrast, is on the decline on the West Bank.
Since 2006, when the main Palestinian Islamist party won a sweeping victory in local elections in most West Bank cities, Hamas has gradually become a persecuted, marginal movement with dwindling public support.
Just in recent weeks the PA raided the homes of leading Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists and launched an operation to track down Islamists in Jenin.
Nor has Hamas succeeded in opening official offices outside Gaza. Last month, Jordan reportedly refused to accept hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from Qatar – one of Hamas’s few supporters – in exchange for allowing Hamas to open offices in the Hashemite Kingdom.
Just last week, senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk criticized Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas’s political bureau, for choosing to side with the Syrian rebels, thus effectively disengaging the organization from Syria.
It is on this backdrop of political decline and conflict that Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s recent comments should be interpreted.
On Saturday, Haniyeh called on Arabs and Muslims to prepare for what he referred to as “the great al-Aksa intifada” against Israel. Apparently speaking out of a sense of desperation, Haniyeh resorted to the tried and true tactic of Arab leaders of redirecting frustration at Israel.
Haniyeh blamed the Jewish state for taking advantage of the peace talks to Judaize Jerusalem and the Aksa Mosque and warned that Israel would not be able to bear the “fire and rage” that could erupt as a result of its “crimes” against Jerusalem and the mosque.
Haniyeh’s threats should not be taken lightly. The discovery of a long tunnel running from the outskirts of Khan Yunis to Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha – the third of its kind to be found this year – is a reminder of Hamas’s intentions. In the warped internal logic of Palestinian politics, a successful terror attack or a kidnapping of an Israeli soldier or civilian would succeed in strengthening Hamas’s popularity.
As the government continues to work toward a negotiated peace agreement with the PA, we must also be wary of a Hamas that is becoming increasingly isolated and desperate and therefore increasingly more dangerous.