Thursday, October 03, 2013

3-Oct-13: Evolving threat to Hamas rule in Gaza comes from not-so-intuitive source

The glory days of Hamas/Qatar passions just a year
ago [Image Source: NY Times]
Egypt's Sinai peninsula has been seriously chaotic for years. Killings are a part of the area's daily routine, and as we have noted here numerous times in the recent past [for instance: "15-Jul-13: In Sinai, the rising tension erupts in shooting and killing, hardly noted anywhere except in the region" and "5-Jan-13: The headaches from Sinai grow in intensity" among many others], things became significantly worse once the Mubarak regime was overthrown and Egypt got itself a Moslem Brotherhood-controlled government.

That has of course receded into history. With Egypt under military rule now, the terrorists who have held growing sway over Sinai for at least the past two years find themselves under serious threat from Cairo. But they're not the only ones under threat.

On Monday, five Egyptian policemen killed in the latest of a series of targeted terror attacks in Sinai. Six more were injured [Maan News Agency]. On Tuesday, three buses ferrying security personnel around the Sinai came under attack on the road from Rafah to el-Arish from roadside bombs. The buses were damaged, and several of the security people were injured [Maan News Agency].

Tensions were already high because the Egyptians are keen to secure the area in advance of their major celebration on October 6 of what they regard as the Egyptian achievement in the Yom Kippur of forty years ago. But control is still elusive and this morning, masked gunmen shot and injured three additional Egyptian soldiers in northern Sinai. But this time, the authorities in Cairo made clear they are raising the stakes.

Major General Ahmed Wasfi, who commands Egypt’s Second Army, had already warned last night (Wednesday) that the patience of Egypt's dominant military was wearing thin... but the key aspect is in knowing to whom his warning was directed: the jihadists of the Gaza Strip.

As Avi Issacharoff writes in an important analysis today ["Egypt drafts plans to launch strikes on Gaza terror targets"], the authorities in Cairo have drawn up plans to attack targets in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip if the current escalation in violence against Egyptian security forces in Sinai does not cease. The Egyptians make it clear that they lay the blame on "terror groups operating from the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory" in Issacharoff's words. They have been flying their own drones over Gaza in recent days, presumably adding to the air traffic already there by reason of Israeli UAV activity. The Egyptian military say they have photographed a number of Hamas sites, chiefly in Rafah and Khan Yunis, the towns that are closest to Gaza's border with Egypt.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy gave similar warnings last week. And as the war of words goes on, so does the steady destruction by Egyptian forces of tunnels linking Sinai and Gaza. They believe they have put 90% of those Hamas-controlled and Hamas-taxed underground passages out of business.

Issacharoff quotes Israeli and Egyptian intelligence saying
Most of the terror groups operating nowadays in the Sinai Peninsula have some sort of organizational basis in the Gaza Strip. Some of the groups have weapons caches there, while others operate training camps. In addition, the Egyptian military has specific information indicating that members of prominent terror outfits, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, are hiding in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. One of the organizations, Jaysh al-Islam (the Army of Islam) enjoys close relations with the Hamas leadership. [Times of Israel]
Life has suddenly gotten quite complex for the terror-addicted 'statesmen' of Hamas.

They must be wondering what became of those glorious days of a mere handful of months ago when an Arab spring and a Moslem Brotherhood flowering seemed to presage great times ahead. Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar and his entourage, visited Gaza exactly a year ago, amid promises of $400 million in aid for housing complexes, new main roads, prosthetic centers, a transformational infusion of cash (in the words of the New York Times) and more. That euphoria must seem now to belong to a bygone era.

Underlining this, perhaps, is a report from Qatar in the past week that arch-terrorist Khaled Mashaal, nominally the head of the Hamas "political bureau"
has agreed to the idea that he and senior Hamas officials in Qatar will move to another city, most likely Tehran, Beirut or Khartoum. According to [Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar], Mashaal lives in Qatar under siege conditions or under house arrest and, according to his associates, has complained that he could not move freely because of the security around him. In addition, he was told several times that travel is a risk for him. [Ynet, September 27, 2013]
Important to keep in mind the numerous negative consequences about the prospect of an isolated and beleagured Hamas, not least of them being that this may impel even more firmly into the always-waiting embrace of their Iranian sponsors and masters.

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