Brighton, UK – 31 December 2012
By Inês Klinesmith
Hamas to cash in political credibility earned during Israel-Gaza conflict
The military capability that enabled Hamas to launch to its first ever medium range strike on central Israel is set to expand as organisation leaders use their newly gained political credibility to forge closer political ties with non traditional allies in the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi was at the forefront of talks that helped end fighting between Israel and Hamas-related elements in the Gaza Strip on 21 November.
But that momentum, and the political clout enjoyed by Egypt’s Islamist president, has waned in the midst of a fresh political crisis in Egypt. Tens of thousands of Egyptians turned out for violent protests across the country in the weeks leading up to the final vote on the country’s controversial draft constitution, which was ratified on Tuesday. The latest round of civil unrest grew out of sweeping reforms and expanded executive powers Morsi granted his own office.
And though talks with Israeli officials continue in Cairo, experts say they may amount to nothing due to Egypt’s weakened political and economic state. Likewise, recent discoveries by Italian authorities of arms shipments bound for Gaza point to Hamas’ intent to pursue armed conflict with Israel as a means of gaining formal recognition for a Palestinian state.
According to experts, the use of missiles like the Iranian-made Fajr 5 by Al Qassam brigade in Gaza has enabled Hamas to push the boundaries with Israel – and even gain credible political real estate. Israel’s reticence to launch a ground offensive demonstrated an unwillingness to escalate the conflict as it did in the 2009 Gaza War.
It was this recent Hamas offensive, says University of Sussex’s Jan Selby, that enabled the organisation and its affiliates to “establish credibility as a resistance movement, internationally and internally.” Hamas’ unprecedented display of firepower, demonstrated through its Fajr 5 launches against central-west Israel, brought Hamas one step closer to “equalising the huge imbalance of force between the two sides,” said Selby, who is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations.
Experts say the recent round of Hamas strikes against Israel have also convincingly shifted alliances between the Gaza-based organisation and sympathetic actors in the region.
Hamas cannot existentially threaten Israel
While the Fajr family of missiles is openly manufactured and exported by Iran as a balance to Israel’s military power, political analysts like Amnon Aran of City University in London maintain that the arms exports are nothing more than a show of force. “Hamas cannot existentially threaten Israel,” Aran told DefenceReport, but a capable military threat in Israel’s midst suits Iran’s regional power aspirations.
Likewise, Hamas has enjoyed a long-standing alliance with Egypt though this has cooled since President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in the face of growing Islamist opposition.
President Morsi’s administration has been forced to scale back pro-Hamas sentiments, choosing instead to demonstrate ‘symbolic solidarity’ by sending Prime Minister Hesham Kandil to Gaza during cease fire negotiations.
There has also been a perceptible shift of allegiance within Hamas – away from Syria and Iran – towards Qatar which serves as the nucleus of power for the Muslim Brotherhood. This has given Hamas a critical political boost at a time when the Muslim Brotherhood has increased its political leverage and influence in MENA.
Hamas turns to Qatari connections to back Gaza statehood initiative
Hamas wanted both to avenge its military leader and show they are willing to raise the stakes
According to international relations expert Kees Van der Pijl of the University of Sussex, Hamas’ leaders “want to make a bolder stand against Israeli occupation of Palestine, and from that angle it would seem plausible that Hamas wanted both to avenge its military leader and show they are willing to raise the stakes.” Hamas commander Ahmed Jabari was killed on 14 November in the Israeli air strike that led to the most violent outbreak of hostilities between the two sides since the 2009 war.
Hamas’ political credibility has also increased substantially due to recent Qatari financial injections. A USD 400 million (GBP 248 million) pledge by Qatari Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani to Hamas in October was the first step in spreading what Qatar hopes will be a growing Islamist influence in the region.
These rapidly burgeoning alliances contrast with the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) efforts to garner increased political recognition for a Palestinian state.
According to Van der Pijl, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the PA are being ignored. Their “attempt to regain ground in the UN will probably lead to nothing once the dust has settled after a vote,” the IR expert told DefenceReport.
He added that “Qatar also appears to be behind the decision to exhume (Palestinian leader) Yasser Arafat’s remains. Evidence that he was poisoned by polonium would expose traitors in his close entourage and current Fatah leadership and undermine that leadership; potentially even throw it into a deep crisis.”
Such a revelation would likely be the death knell for the weakened Fatah movement, which has been severely tested in recent elections, and surpassed by Hamas in parliamentary elections in 2006. Fatah has been criticised for its failure to reform and its inability to effectively unify Palestinian interests.
For regional actors and potential Palestinian allies alike, Hamas’ clear and decisive action during the recent offensive with Israel represents a recognisable step towards achieving Palestinian statehood.
While Hamas’ dependence on Iranian arms politics is diminishing, Egypt’s influence on Hamas politics is just as rapidly dissipating – all while the PA is being sidelined in Ramallah.
City University’s Amnon Aran admits that US pressure on Israel has traditionally been the most effective counterbalance to Israeli policy against Hamas. But that dynamic is changing in Palestine, Aran told DefenceReport.
If the Palestinians are able to really run an effective non-violent campaign, that will, in the medium run, seriously delegitimise Israel
As an indirect byproduct of Hamas’ media-grabbing military actions, Palestinians have accrued enough political clout to influence world opinion. They can now begin to do this, Aran said, through non-violent means to challenge Israeli policy. “Through violent effective means the Israelis can always respond, but if the Palestinians are able to really run an effective non-violent campaign, that will, in the medium run, seriously delegitimise Israel.”
Failed past efforts by the international community to promote a Gaza political initiative may also bode poorly for the PA’s goal of gaining political collateral through the UN. Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby has admitted that past talks have been a failure, though he has promised to pursue Palestinian statehood through the UN Security Council.
The UN has endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem. While past breakthroughs in talks have historically originated from traditional allies in Egypt, Jordan and the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation), experts now say a lasting breakthrough must include intervention from Arab States and the EU.
Despite November’s hard won cease fire, a permanent solution for the Palestinian territories has not been achieved.
Feature photo / “Hamas mural in the West Bank” – discarted.com
Inset photo / “Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby” – UN
Inês is an investigative journalist specialising in military policy and international affairs. She is based in Bristol, UK.