What will happen to the Gaza Strip? Ask Egypt

The current round between Israel and the Hamas is over, until the next one. Nothing has really changed. From a strategic point of view Israel cannot get rid of the Hamas and vice versa too. They are stuck with each other, and Israel, being aware of that before the operation in the Gaza Strip, had not declared her intentions were to destroy the Hamas. Indeed, such a move is almost impossible, but not because the Hamas is so powerful militarily. On the contrary, the balance of power is completely in favor of Israel, certainly from a military point of view. Annihilating the Hamas, however, requires conquering all the Gaza Strip for a few months if not more, in order to locate Hamas’ fighters, weapons etc. Israel might do that eventually i.e. on one of the upcoming rounds, although it would not be the end or even, in the words of Winston Churchill, the end of the beginning. The Hamas would not give up easily. Israel would absorb both casualties and international criticism that could undermine her relationships with Arab states – mostly Egypt –due to the close ties between the latter and the Hamas. Israel could therefore start a clash with the Hamas and end up with a major crisis maybe even a war with Egypt.
Both Egypt and Israel don’t want war. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) who rules Egypt opposes Israel and the peace treaty with her, but they have bigger fish to fry. They don’t need anyone to tell them that “ It’s the economy, stupid”. They are aware of this huge concern which might determine their survival in power in the long run. Sometimes war can be a profitable business by itself if there is a lot of plunder, but it is not relevant in Egypt’s case. If the latter confronts Israel in the battlefield Egypt would not only be beaten but would have to file for a kind of national chapter 11. Egypt is already on the verge of an economic disaster.
The MB in Egypt wishes the Hamas, also MB, does not lose the Gaza Strip, but not at the expense of the MB in Egypt. The latter waited many decades to govern Egypt. The Hamas understands that for the MB movement, calling the shots in a country of 83 million Egyptians, is more important than controlling the Gaza Strip where there are less than 2 million people. Yet the Hamas are not only MB but also Palestinians and might care more about their position in the Gaza Strip than about the overall interests of the MB, although they do wish Egypt remains an ally not an enemy, as it was during the times of Mubarak.
It seems therefore that both in Egypt and in the Gaza Strip the MB would have to compromise and wait until the Egyptian economy recovers, a process which might take many years. The Egyptian revolution i.e. the rise of the MB was relatively bloodless compared to Libya and Syria. But the price for the MB was a sharp decline of the state of the economy that had enormous problems to begin with. As long as the Egyptian economy does not make steady and positive progress there is a chance that the MB in that country would avoid provoking Israel too much, and would likely try to convince the Hamas to do the same. Yet troubles at home due to a shattered economy could tempt the MB in Egypt to divert public opinion towards Israel by using the Hamas.
Another player is Iran. They could try to ignite a confrontation between Israel and the Hamas which might entangle Egypt in it. Iran would do that by continuing to smuggle weapons to Egyptian territory, the Sinai Peninsula, and from there to the Gaza Strip. Therefore the future of the Gaza Strip depends to a large extent on Egypt’s ability to take care of her economy and to control her land in the Sinai before the situation in those two areas goes from bad to worse.

About the Author
Dr. Ehud Eilam has been dealing and studying Israel’s national security for more than 25 years. He served in the Israeli military and later on he worked for the Israeli Ministry of Defense. He is now a writer and an independent researcher. He has a Ph.D and he had published five books He lives now near Boston, MA. His email: