Avi Melamed
Real Knowledge is a True Asset

Hamas’s Cruel Dilemma

This is the second part of a two-part article, “Operation Pillar of Defense: Geopolitical Ramifications.” In Part 1 , Rocket Attacks on Israel: Sirens in Israeli Cities Must Echo in the West, I described the militant axis nurtured and operated by the Iranian regime known as “the axis of Resistance.”  I outlined the way Hamas has been dragged – in the latest round and in previous instances – by other Palestinian terror organizations in the Gaza Strip into escalating their attacks on Israeli targets.  I also gave an overview of the process of growing tensions between Hamas and other groups in the Gaza Strip and the ramifications of that process (for more information on that specific issue please read The Gaza Jungle Hamas is Under Stress and Other Predators Smell It.)

Until this point Hamas has avoided imposing its authority on the Islamic Jihad Organization (IJP) and the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) in the Gaza Strip. Hamas did not aggressively force these terror organizations to comply with their agreement regarding the coordination of terror activities.  According to this agreement, all terror organizations are supposed to consult and get the authorization of Hamas before launching any kind of operation against Israel.   Hamas did assert its power over the less powerful Salafi Jihadist groups.

However, Hamas is rapidly approaching a critical juncture and the organization must make a decision.  The choice is to impose its will and authority on all terror organizations in the Gaza Strip at the risk of an inner violent confrontation – or avoid a confrontation with these organizations and risk a new military round with Israel which could jeopardize Hamas’ rule and which could cause a crisis between Hamas and Egypt on whom Hamas is deeply dependent.

And all of this is connected to the Iranian military nuclear project.

Attempts to reach a peaceful solution through diplomacy in the conflict between Iran and the West regarding Iran’s military nuclear project at this point seem unsuccessful.  Thus, international sanctions on Iran are being intensified and the use of a military option to force Iran into compliance with international demands and resolutions seems to be a real option.  Iran needs to improve its maneuverability and negotiating position, and the way to do that is by increasing its efforts to set a fire in the region through using its proxies – and the Gaza Strip is the perfect stage.  Most analysts predict it won’t be long before the next violent round is generated from the Gaza Strip.

Thus, Hamas is facing a cruel dilemma:

On the one hand, if Hamas chooses to impose its will on other Palestinian terror organizations in the Gaza Strip, they risk an armed confrontation.  A joint-front comprised of IJP, PRC and Salafi Jihadist groups would present a serious challenge to Hamas.  Hamas’ biggest nightmare is an armed brutal confrontation against other Palestinian terror organizations inside the Gaza Strip.  The bloodshed caused by such a confrontation could seriously jeopardize Hamas’ rule in the Gaza Strip for a variety of reasons:

First, many of the Palestinian terror organizations militants in the Gaza Strip are originally – and sometimes even simultaneously – Hamas’ members.  Many of these militants have brothers and relatives who are Hamas’ members and militants.  An armed confrontation between the Palestinian groups inside the Gaza Strip will literally be a war between brothers, and will lead to the total disintegration of the Palestinian fabric.

Second, such a confrontation will cause Hamas some serious political damage in the Arab world; it will undermine Hamas’ claim to be recognized as the leading legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Third, it will seriously damage Hamas’ efforts to gain international recognition. Scenes of brutal confrontations inside the Gaza Strip will make it difficult even for Hamas’ most devoted supporters in the world to advocate for Hamas’ legitimacy.

On the other hand, if Hamas chooses not to impose its will and assert its authority, Hamas will soon find itself working against its own interests in a new military round with Israel which will be caused by attacks perpetrated by other Palestinian terror groups.  Hamas sustained serious damage during the most recent round.  Hamas needs a long time to recover.  A new round within a short period of time will seriously jeopardize Hamas’ rule.

And Hamas’ troubles do not end there.

The solidarity expressed by some Arab leaders – but not front line leaders with the exception of Egypt – during the most recent violent round should not mislead you.  Relations between Hamas and the truly important factors in the Arab world are tense for a number of reasons:

First, the Arab world is engaged with and embroiled in its own huge challenges.  The Arab world is taking its very first steps in a long, painful and dangerous process of healing.  The Arab world has neither the energy nor the willingness to endlessly deal with the Palestinians and their issues.  In fact, to a large extent, the Arab world is sick and tired of the Palestinians.

Three interesting facts in that context:

  1. During the most recent violent round no significant mass demonstrations of support for Hamas took place in the Arab world.
  2. A mere two days after the ceasefire was achieved Egypt experienced massive riots following the controversial decision made by its President to weaken the power of the Judicial Authority in Egypt. The Gaza Strip which only two days before dominated media headlines, sunk in the abyss of Arab amnesia.
  3. The Arab world is not really impressed with Hamas’ declarations of triumph.  The gloomy reality of Gaza’s people cannot be ignored – and the Arab world holds Hamas responsible for that.

Second, the interests of the two major power factors in the Arab world – the Muslim Brotherhood Movement and the Arab Gulf States with Saudi Arabia as the leader – do not necessarily overlap with Hamas’ interests.

The Muslim Brotherhood is gaining momentum across the region.  In some Arab states the Muslim Brotherhood has become the leading political force.  Hamas, who defines itself as part of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, expects to gain the Muslim Brotherhood’s unconditional and automatic support.  Yet, it seems as if Hamas does not read the map very accurately.

The Muslim Brotherhood knows that the name of the game is pragmatism and the ability to provide their citizens with real answers to the huge economic, social and political challenges.  It is the Muslim Brotherhood’s biggest challenge to date.  The Muslim Brotherhood’s ideological spine is the concept that Islam is the real solution for the challenges.  Failing to meet the needs of the people by providing real solutions will backfire on the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology and will risk their ability to stay in power.  The voters could punish the movement.

The keys to the Muslim Brotherhood’s success are investments, loans and funds.  Those are to be found in two places – the West and the Arab Gulf States.  The Muslim Brotherhood needs the cooperation of the West and of the Arab Gulf States – and in order to receive it the Muslim Brotherhood must be regarded as a stabilizing – and not a destabilizing force.   As of now, the West formally defines Hamas as a terror organization which generates constant instability.  The Muslim Brotherhood, especially in Egypt, cannot provide unconditional support to Hamas because it contradicts the need of the Muslim Brotherhood to be viewed as a stabilizing factor. Therefore, Hamas must be tuned to the Muslim Brotherhood needs.  Otherwise Hamas will learn that the Muslim Brotherhood grants them no special privileges.

The Arab Gulf States, and mainly the powerful Saudi Arabia, are not big fans of Hamas to say the least.  As a matter of fact, during the most recent violent round, Saudi Arabia did nothing more than make a statement condemning the Israeli aggression.

The Arab Gulf States are angry with Hamas for a variety of reasons, and mostly because Hamas allows Iran access to the Gaza Strip and thus provides Iran with a powerful card to play.  The Arab Gulf states have only one issue on their current security and political agenda – to stop Iran’s race towards military nuclear capacity.  Thus, from the Arab Gulf states perspective, Hamas is an ally of their bitter, dangerous enemy.

Hamas also desperately needs funds, and today they have two potential sources.  One is Turkey. However, that option is limited given the fact that Egypt – who competes with Turkey over leadership in the Arab world – would not be in favor of strengthening the Hamas-Turkey connection.  Hamas knows it risks the Egyptian cold shoulder should it pursue the Turkey channel.  And Hamas cannot allow itself Egyptian discontent.

The Arab Gulf states are the only real option left for money and they don’t give free meals.   Though Hamas made a move in the right direction by detaching itself from the Iran-Syria axis, it’s not enough. The deal is simple.  In return for the Arab Gulf States money and recognition, Hamas must eliminate Iran’s influence in the Gaza Strip – and they have to do it fast.

Hamas is aware of the cruel dilemma ahead, and knows that the scenario of brutal inner-Palestinian violence in the Gaza Strip in the foreseeable future is real.  A signal of that potential upcoming collision can be seen these very days in the Gaza Strip.  Literally overnight, huge posters appeared in the streets of Gaza, expressing “the Gratitude and Thankfulness of the Palestinians to Iran for its support.

Hamas was totally embarrassed.  The organization’s formal spokesmen immediately rushed to declare the posters were not a Hamas initiative.  The assumption is that the posters were created and posted by Iran’s affiliate organizations – the IJP and PRC.

Hamas is currently making efforts to try and neutralize the ticking bomb – at this point through diplomatic, political and other channels.

A very prestigious Islamic scholar in the Gaza Strip, professor Salman Bin Naser Aldaya, this week published an Islamic religious ordinance (fatwah in Arabic) announcing that “As long as Israel keeps the ceasefire, it is forbidden from an Islamic religious perspective to violate the ceasefire.”  Aldaya is a Professor of Islamic Theology Studies at the Islamic University in the Gaza Strip, and he is also a member of the Sunni Clergy Association based in Kuwait. This body – along with Al-Azhar University in Egypt – is considered to be most senior authority for Sunni orthodoxy worldwide.  Aldaya’s fatwah is described as “private” yet it is clear that it was issued at Hamas’ request.  Hamas hopes that the religious and spiritual authority of Aldaya will be enough to restrain the other organizations and force them into compliance.

It is doubtful whether Hamas’ efforts to impose compliance solely through the use of diplomatic and political means will be successful.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking…

About the Author
Avi Melamed is a Strategic Intelligence Analyst and an Expert on the Current Affairs in the Arab and Muslim World and their impact on the Middle East. He is the Founder and CEO of Inside the Middle East: Intelligence Perspectives (ITME), an empowering intelligence analysis praxis transforming students and practitioners into knowledgeable, media literate, critical thinkers. ITME’s goal is to ensure that the next generation of policy influencers will have be equipped with the knowledge, skills and tools to independently and accurately decipher the Middle East and accurately predict the direction of future events. He is a former Israeli Intelligence Official and Senior Official on Arab Affairs. In his public service, he has held high-risk Government, Senior Advisory, Intelligence and Counter-Terrorist intelligence positions in Arab cities and communities throughout the region – often in very sensitive times - on behalf of Israeli Government agencies. His newest book, Inside the Middle East: Making Sense of the Most Dangerous and Complicated Region on Earth, (also available as an audio book) – a GPS to help you navigate the dramatically changing Middle East, offers a unique insight into the Arab world, challenges widely-accepted perceptions, provides a guide to make sense of the events unfolding in the region, and offers an out of the box idea that could lead to a positive breakthrough in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. As an Author, Educator, Expert, and Strategic Intelligence Analyst, Avi provides intelligence analysis, briefings and tours to diplomats, Israeli and foreign policy makers, global media outlets, and a wide variety of international businesses, organizations, and private clients on a range of Israel and Middle East Affairs. An Israeli Jew, fluent in Arabic, English and Hebrew, with a unique understanding of Arab society and culture, Avi has his finger on the pulse on the Arab world. He has a proven record of foreseeing the evolution of events in the Middle East and their impact on a local and regional level. Through all of his efforts, as an analyst, educator, entrepreneur, and writer, he is a bridge builder, and dedicates himself to enhancing the Arabic, English and Hebrew speaking audience’s comprehensive understanding of the Middle East and of each other. @AviMelamed