July 15, 2014
By Avi Melamed
The current round of violence between Israel and Hamas is caused by the simplest reason imaginable, yet very few are aware of it. MONEY.
Let’s start with a clarification. Today, the real boss in the Gaza Strip, is a massively armed military force of about ten to fifteen thousand Palestinians known as the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades. Ezzedeen Al-Qassam is often presented as the military wing of Hamas – the rulers of the Gaza Strip. However, that definition should be revised to more accurately reflect the current reality. Today, the militia – the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades, who rule the Gaza Strip – have a political wing, named Hamas.
It is the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades (who possess the weapons) – not the Hamas political leadership – who planned, initiated and perpetrated this round of violence. And the reason for that is money – or to be more accurate – the lack of money.
Short background…Over the past two years Hamas has experienced one disaster after another which has led the movement to a crisis unprecedented in its history.
Hamas lost the support of its major sponsor, the Iranian regime.
Hamas found itself on a collision course with Egypt which resulted in harsh Egyptian actions that suffocate Hamas’ major income source, the tunnels industry, which provides Hamas with more than $1,000,000,000 USD annually (for more on that topic please read my article Hamas’ Kingdom of Crime.)
Under Hamas’ rule the social and economic challenges of almost two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip has deepened. This has resulted in increasing criticism of Hamas.
Hamas’ deepening crisis also results in the strengthening of other organizations inside the Gaza Strip, like the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Salafi-Jihadist groups. The growing strength of these competing organizations is manifested by the fact that more and more these groups allow themselves to perpetrate terror attacks against Israel even when the timing or circumstances are not right for Hamas.
To add to its troubles, Hamas recently sustained some disappointment in the military arena. Primarily because Israel successfully uncovered and neutralized a couple of the tunnels that were dug by Hamas from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory for the purpose of kidnapping Israeli soldiers to be used as cards to negotiate for the release of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.
Long story short, by April 2014 Hamas finds itself on the floor – economically suffocated; politically isolated in the Arab world; failing to gain international legitimacy; and to top it all off facing growing criticism both inside the Gaza Strip as well as in the Arab world for taking the Gaza Strip from one disaster to another. This deepening crisis inevitably results in bitter and escalating debates within Hamas and the growing appearance of widening inner rifts within the organization.
These circumstances led Hamas to sign – for the fourth time – a reconciliation agreement with the Palestinian Authority, resulting in the establishment of a so called “Technocrat Unity Government.”
Hamas – who markets itself as a success story – knows that the Arab world is aware that they signed the agreement out of weakness – not strength. However, Hamas’ leadership took the bitter medicine hoping that the agreement would give Hamas the oxygen (including time, money, ability to reorganize, gain better control, quell the growing criticism, etc.) it desperately needed. Hamas also hoped that signing the agreement with the PA would give them time to regroup and prepare for better circumstances and timing where – under the guise of a different excuse – Hamas would throw the reconciliation agreement into the garbage and take over the Palestinian areas in the West Bank, similar to the way they took over the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority in the bloody coup of June 2007.
But the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas did not play according to Hamas’ plan. He made it clear that in a Unity Government, and under the authority of the Palestinian President, there is no place for the existence of military entities other than the Palestinian Authority forces. In other words, Abbas demanded that the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades be dismantled. Needless to say, from Hamas’ perspective, that was not going to happen. And there was something else Abbas did, he refused to pay the salaries of some 46,000 Hamas government officials and police officers. Protests, demonstrations, acts of violence (according to some reports protesters shot at ATM machines located in the Gaza Strip), and threats made by Hamas, did not make Abbas change his mind. The Hamas government, unable to make payroll, was now under increasing panic; failing to provide these people with their salaries could be the last straw and might result in a massive eruption inside the Gaza Strip which could risk the continuation of the Hamas regime’s rule.
That is the background for the eruption of the current violent round between Hamas and Israel.
The question you may ask is – what is the connection between the specific issue of unpaid salaries and the current violence? The answer is simple. The people who haven’t been paid are related to the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades one way or another – most of them are actual relatives of either Hamas members or of Ezzedeen Militants.
One should remember an important fact – Hamas established a government in the Gaza Strip that is – first and foremost and above all else – a Kingdom for Hamas…and their friends and family.
Under Hamas’ rule in the Gaza Strip, Hamas created a corrupt system, and the major beneficiaries are of course, Hamas members and supporters. The Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades are a major axis in this corrupt system. The people they “recommend” to be hired are hired and they decide who will work where. And the people that are hired for governmental positions – many times fictitious ones – are paid generously. This is how the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades expanded its control and influence over hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, thus strengthening its power. (On Hamas’ kingdom in the Gaza Strip read my article The Gaza Strip – Mercedes Benz and iPhone 5’s).
Lack of money is lack of power. Lack of power is lack of money. As far as the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades are concerned, the only way to stop the downward spiral was to initiate a new round of violence. They were so desperate to do that that they broke two of Hamas’ ground rules:
First, they kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers. Hamas is eager to abduct Israeli soldiers for the purpose of a swap deal. Theoretically, Hamas could easily kidnap Israeli civilians as well to that end. Yet, thus far Hamas has avoided such acts because they estimate that such an act will undermine Hamas’ efforts to gain international legitimacy – even the supporters of Hamas in the world would find it difficult to justify kidnapping and executing civilians. The abduction and killing of the Israeli teenagers was a fact imposed on Hamas’ political leadership and it put them in a corner. On the first days following the abduction Hamas’ supreme leadership expressed public support for the act. In the back rooms however, the picture was totally different. Hamas’ leadership was deeply embarrassed. As the world decisively condemned the act, the Hamas leadership changed its tune; Hamas denied any connection to the kidnapping and its leaders almost desperately tried to lower the media profile, hoping to distance Hamas form the kidnapping and the murder.
Second, the current violent round is taking place in the midst of the month of Ramadan – Islam’s sacred month. Throughout its governing of the Gaza Strip, Hamas has strictly avoided military escalation during the month of Ramadan. As far as Hamas is concerned it is, from all perspectives, the worst timing possible to initiate violence (because of the religious, cultural, social, etc. aspects related to Ramadan). The Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades broke that rule too.
The Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades gradually conducted the escalation while keeping a constant eye on the issue of the unpaid salaries. Had the Palestinian President paid the salaries, it is very likely that the escalation process would have been stopped and this outbreak of violence would have been prevented.
Understanding the circumstances and reasons that have led to the current round of violence is important because in different arenas – diplomatic circles, the media, political discourse, etc., the current round – like previous ones – is often associated with concepts like “ending the Israeli occupation” or “free Palestine” or “Israeli aggression vs. Palestinian resistance” and other narratives that may sound romantic – yet rarely have any connection to reality.
Hamas’ crisis is deeply rooted in one fundamental reason. Hamas’ way, ideology, policy and ambitions are leading the organization, and the Gaza Strip under its dominion, towards a dead end. Hamas’ relevancy as an ideological and political movement is decreasing because Hamas offers Palestinians no real, productive and constructive means to successfully confront the enormous social and economic challenges that the Gaza Strip, and the people that live there, face. It is exactly the same reason that Hamas’ mother movement – the Muslim Brotherhood – experienced its crisis. Similar to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas also received the opportunity to lead and rule, and similar to the Muslim Brotherhood experience in Egypt and Tunisia, Hamas has failed to offer the Palestinians a future and hope. The only difference is that Hamas is still in power – for now.
Given its lack of ability to offer real and constructive means to successfully meet the challenges inside the Gaza Strip, Hamas is left with one tool that keeps it relevant – and that is violence. And it is the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades who have the weapons – not the political leadership.
The current round of violence between Israel and Hamas is rooted in very cynical, unromantic reasons. It has nothing do with the “struggle for freedom” or “ending the Israeli occupation.” It is about money, domination and power. Understanding that is important because this insight may offer a better ability to find solutions that may reduce or contain the flammable potential of instability developed in the Gaza Strip under Hamas’ rule.
*Al- Muqawama is a yearning for an alternate world order in the spirit of radical Islam, eradication of Western influence in the region, and most importantly, an unrelenting struggle against Israel until it is annihilated.
Former Israeli Senior Official on Arab Affairs, Intelligence Official and educator, Avi Melamed today is an Independent Middle East Strategic Intelligence Analyst, regional expert and lecturer specializing in the current affairs of the Arab and Muslim world and their impact on Israel and the region.
Avi has most recently been appointed the Fellow of Intelligence and Middle East Affairs for the Eisenhower Institute in Washington DC.
In the public sector, Avi has held government and Counter-Terrorist intelligence positions, including serving as Senior Advisor on Arab Affairs to two Jerusalem mayors.
He has held Intelligence and Counterterrorism field positions in delicate areas on behalf of the Israeli Defense Forces, the Israeli government, and Israeli security and intelligence services including the Mossad, Shabak, and 8200.
Avi is the founder and creator of Feenjan – Israel speaks Arabic, a website in which he reaches out to the Arab world in Arabic about Israel.
Fluent in Arabic and having spent many years in Arab speaking areas, Avi’s briefings are based on years of field experience, policy design and intimate connections throughout the Arab world.
Avi has degrees from The Carmel Institute for Military Research, George Mason University, and The Hebrew University. Avi is a frequent contributor in Arabic, Hebrew and English to many news outlets including Al-Arrabiya, Al-Jazeera, BBC, CBN, I-24 News, the Times of Israel, USA Today, etc.