A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Showing posts with label Hamas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hamas. Show all posts

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Truce Has Collapsed, But Egypt and PA Say Truce Talks are Still On

 The "72-hour" truce in Gaza collapsed in something more like two hours, but there's considerable confusion about whether the scheduled talks about a longer truce scheduled for Cairo are still possible. Israel and Hamas seem to believe they're off, and Israeli reports say Egypt "postponed" them, but Egypt's Foreign Ministry says they're still on, as does the Palestinian Authority, which says a joint PLO/Hamas/Islamic Jihad delegation has been appointed and plans to be in Cairo tomorrow.

In the welter of conflicting reports, I would merely note that unless both Hamas and Israel show up, Egypt and the PLO won't have much to talk about. What if they gave a peace and nobody came?

I suspect the prospects are not bright, however much Egypt and the PA may cling to hope, but I'd be glad to be proven wrong.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Silence of the Arab Regimes

The New York Times has taken note of a phenomenon I had been planning to talk about soon anyway, so I'll use their piece as a takeoff point for my own comments: "Arab Leaders Silent, Viewing Hamas as Worse Than Israel."

As Israel's current operation in Gaza grows into something much longer and deadlier than Cast Lead six years ago, there has been much international condemnation, from Europe, the UN, and human rights groups. The US is less critical and the US Congress openly supportive (and the US is resupplying Israel with munitions in the midst of the operation), but there has been considerable criticism in the media and academia.

But two sources of pressure that helped bring previous Gaza interventions to a ceasefire are absent here. First, domestic support in Israel is higher than in some previous interventions, with polls showing overwhelming support among Israeli Jews, and Israeli peace activists increasingly facing confrontations with supporters of the war.

But even more striking is the fact that, while there has been much sympathy expressed toward Gaza in the Arab "street," the Arab regimes have been mostly silent. Egypt did make a ceasefire proposal early on, which Israel accepted (and which some suspect was negotiated beforehand) and Hamas rejected. But after the Hamas rejection, Egypt essentially washed its hands of the situation. And Egypt, of course, shares a border with Gaza, and by keeping the Rafah crossing closed, is complicit, at the very least, with maintaining the siege of Gaza. It allows humanitarian supplies in, but doesn't allow those under bombardment out.

The other country with diplomatic relations with Israel, Jordan, is also part of the broad Sunni alliance that opposes the Muslim Brotherhood, and which also includes Saudi Arabia and the UAE. At least there is evidence that the Jordanian street (with its substantial Palestinian component) is restive and supportive of Gaza civilians, if not Hamas.

The Egyptian "street" is another matter. Some of Egypt's talk-show hosts have been so virulently anti-Hamas that Israel has been quoting them in propaganda broadcasts into Gaza. Though Field Marshal Sisi rose to power under the Morsi Presidency, he and his supporters have vowed to crush the Muslim Brotherhood, and of course, Hamas was formed from the Gaza branch. And most indications are that the sentiment is widely shared among secular Egyptians.

With Egypt, Jordan, the Saudis and the UAE forming a solid front against Hamas, and Libya, Syria, and Iraq preoccupied with other matters, Hamas has few friends: Qatar, Iran and Hizbullah, and the latter two are tied down in Syria and Iraq. Whereas the Hamas leadership in exile were once welcomed in ‘Amman, and after that in Damascus, today they are stuck in distant Doha.

I have left out one Arab regime: the Palestinian Authority. Despite the recent reconciliation between Hamas and the PLO under Mahmoud ‘Abbas, and very vocal criticisms by ‘Abbas, and threats to take Israel to the International Criminal Court,the Palestinian Security Forces kept the West Bank largely quiet during the first two weeks of the campaign. Only in the last ten days or so have demonstrations in the West Bank led to open clashes, but ‘Abbas has largely kept the West Bank, if vocal, nonviolent.

We can only speculate whether the post-Arab Spring anti-Muslim Brotherhood alliance encouraged Israel to launch the present campaign; but it has surely encouraged it to seek a more thorough destruction of Hamas' military capabilities than it did in earlier incursions.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Tunnel Networks in Guerrilla War: From Cu Chi to Gaza

A Gaza tunnel (Time)
There is nothing new under the sun, like the man said. Being in my 60s has its downside but it does mean I have a lot of memory for this blog that claims to put modern developments in "cultural and historical context," as it says up top. So when I read that Israel is finding the tunnel system in Gaza rather more daunting than they expected,  for example:

"Gaza’s underground: A vast tunnel network that empowers Hamas (Al Jazeera)"

"Israel Surprised by Number, Sophistication of Gaza Tunnels" (Fox News)

and given that Al Jazeera and Fox News don't often agree, even on the time of day, I suspect some fellow geezers of my generation will immediately think "Cu Chi."

Yet I've seen only one reference, in this BBC report, to the parallel.

During the Vietnam War, the National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) had a 75-mile long underground network of tunnels in the Cu Chi district outside Saigon; these contained command posts,and other facilities and provided an operational center for the Tet Offensive of 1968. Today the Cu Chi tunnels are a Vietnamese War Memorial, with tours available.

Cu Chi
If you look at the two photos you might see some similarities. If you're a resistance force fighting an asymmetric war against a superior military force with air supremacy and greater firepower, might some Hamas strategists have studied the writings of Vo Nguyen Giap? (Who died less than a year ago at 102.)



Thursday, July 24, 2014

Did Israel Underestimate Hamas?

Israeli analyst Shlomi Eldar has a sobering assessment a Al-Monitor's Israel Pulse: "Hamas: the first Palestinian army." While the title may underrate the operations of Fawzi al-Qawuqji and ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Husseini's forces in 1948, it does notice the increasing professionalism and fighting skills of Hamas, even if their tactics remain objectionable. For one, Israel's casualties among the IDF is already much greater than in Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, though Operation Protective Edge  has not lasted as long.

In fact the growing number of non-state actor and irregular forces showing professional skill is a subject of interest and, for state actors, perhaps a cause for concern. Hizbullah in Syria has reportedly borne the brunt of some of the heaviest fighting, surpassing their Syrian regime allies. ISIS (or the IS, or the Caliphate, or Da‘ish, or ISIL, or whatever they are today) managed to collapse several divisions of the Iraqi Army, capturing heavy weapons as it did so. The "asymmetric" part of Asymmetric Warfare may be disappearing.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Gaza: How Long Will it Last This Round?

The ground operations in Israel's Operation Protective Edge have begun. The casualty figures are likely to rise proportionately. But how long is the incursion likely to last? Israel isn't saying, but its previous operations in 2008-2009, with major round operations as compared to the conflict in 2012, where a ground incursion was forestalled by a ceasefire, may give some indications.

Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 lasted a total of just over three weeks. Israel began air strikes December 27, 2008 and the ground incursion on January 3, 2009. It ended in a ceasefire on January 18, for a total operation of just over three weeks and a ground component of just over two weeks.

Operation Pillar of Cloud in November 2012 (so called in Hebrew though the IDF insisted on calling it "Pillar of Defense" in English) was an eight day campaign limited to Israeli air and artillery strikes and a sustained Hamas rocket attacks. A potential ground incursion was avoided when Egypt (then led by Muhammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the parent organization and ally of Hamas) brokered a ceasefire.

Now that a ground incursion has begun, the operation already seems to resemble Cast Lead. Whether it lasts as long remains to be seen.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Hizbullah and Palestinian Backlash: Paying the Price for Syrian Intervention

Hizbullah used to justify its continuing armament by insisting it was resisting Israel. Now, it's reportedly told Hamas, which claims to be doing the same thing, to get out of Lebanon immediately.

And in a Palestinian refugee camp at Ain  al-Hilweh in Lebanon, Palestinians burned humanitarian aid sent by Hizbullah, protesting the latter's role in Syria.

Of course, Lebanon has been feeling the impact of the Syrian civil war for some time. With Hizbullah's open engagement on the side of the Syrian regime, we're likely to see more blowback in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, Qifa Nabki considers the risks and calculations Hizbullah is taking.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Morsi's Latest Sinai Problem

The kidnapping of seven Egyptian security forces (one from the Army, four from State Security and two from Port Security Forces) in the largely lawless Sinai last Thursday has created a quandary for President Morsi: it underscores the weakness of the central government and its apparent inability to control its national territory, while also embarrassing the Army, which has lately been issuing reminders of its role as a supporter of legitimacy and a guarantor of stability. While Hamas in Gaza, allies of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, has reportedly stepped up border security, it's the Wild West lawlessness of northern Sinai that really is the issue.

But there is also the deeper issue of security nationwide, which has been severely degraded since the revolution. Growing incidents of mob violence, locals taking justice into their own hands, and lynchings have occurred in many rural areas of the Delta and Upper Egypt. The growing insecurity adds to the overall impression that the Muslim Brotherhood government is adrift and bereft of ideas.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Cultural Notes: Getting KFC Delivered Through the Gaza Tunnels

Since tomorrow happens to be Nakba day (fuller post coming), some Palestinian readers might feel I'm being overly flippant by posting this piece tonight.  Please accept my assurances that I intend it as the sort of quirky cultural story I frequently post, and the date is purely coincidental, at least on my part.

We have heard much about the Gaza tunnels, usually in connection with arms smuggling, infiltration, and the like, with both Israel and Egypt portraying the tunnels in a sinister manner, and I don't doubt some highly dubious material and personalities do pass through them. But, if this Xinhua Chinese news agency report is accurate, you can also use them for KFC delivery. Yes, since Colonel Sanders isn't available in Gaza, you can order from al-Arish in Egypt. The English, presumably translated from the Chinese by the same people who translate computer manuals and Chinese menus, is a little rocky, but the meaning is fairly clear:
At Al-Yamama delivery company in the Gaza City, the floor is filled with boxes of fast food with the famous face of Colonel Sanders, the founder of KFC.
However, there are no KFC restaurant in this Palestinian coastal sliver of land as the regular absence of raw materials and Israeli restrictions on Gaza crossings make it difficult to open an international fast food branch here.

But ordering fast food from one of the world's most popular restaurants has become possible in Gaza after Al-Yamama started to bring the food from the Egyptian North Sinai, which borders Gaza.
The fried chicken make their [sic] way from one of the many underground smuggling tunnels beneath the Gaza-Egypt border.
As cheap fast food goes, it's neither cheap nor fast:
Since late last month, they have made four deliveries of KFC food to Palestinians in Gaza, with every delivery including about two dozens of combos.
The clients include both those who have traveled outside Gaza and the people who never stepped a foot out of Gaza.
"It's delicious even as it's not hot," said Aboud Fares, a 22- year-old student, as he bit a mouthful of a chicken breast. His sister, who traveled several times to Egypt, was enjoying the KFC apple pie.
The price of a KFC family meal is about 80 Egyptian pounds ( about 11 U.S. dollars) at el-Arish KFC restaurant, but getting it in Gaza costs as much as 100 Israeli Shekels (30 dollars).
The delivery company says the higher price is due to the transportation and smuggling fees.
Those seem steep prices for Gaza. And there are other impediments:
Al-Madani also said that they do not face a lot obstacles in bringing the food to Gaza, but the delivery may be delayed due to various reasons.
"Sometimes Hamas checks the meal boxes and sometimes the taxi that picks up the orders from Sinai is late," he said.
I'm pretty sure KFC is halal unless it's cooked in lard (highly unlikely in al-Arish, I should think),but maybe Hamas inspectors like the Colonel's products too.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ahram on Tensions between Egyptian Army and Hamas and MB

Here's an interesting piece at Ahram Online on growing tensions between the Egyptian Army on the one hand and both he Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas on the other, involving recent allegations of Palestinians found at Cairo airport with maps of Egypt, of alleged Hamas involvement in the killing of 16 Egyptian border troops at Rafah last August, and other issues relating to Sinai security. While a lot of it seems based on rumor, it is yet another side that the Army is not entirely happy. Given the close links between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood (the Gaza MB, which became Hamas, was created by the Egyptian MB years ago), it seems worth noting.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Groping Towards a Ceasefire?

Most of the buzz today has been centered on a supposedly imminent ceasefire/truce/"cooling-off-period" in Gaza, but now those hopes seem to have faded; the arrival of Hillary Clinton in the region and the efforts for some sort of ceasefire may postpone or prevent an Israeli ground assault, but so long as the fighting continues,  dangers increase; an Israeli soldier was killed today, and an Israeli F-16 attacking the Egypt-Gaza border tunnels hit houses on the Egyptian side of the border.

While I hope that the ceasefire or "cooling-off"  or whatever they may choose to call it does take effect, the fact that Egyptian President Morsi announced it would be coming :"within hours" (and then didn't) is a reminder that Morsi is still finding his way in the job and has little background on the international scene; his Brotherhood background gives him credibility with Hamas, but Israel may be more reluctant to give him an apparent victory.

Others have said this better, but while this crisis seems like so may others over the years, the changes in the Arab world, particularly in Egypt, mean that the old deck has been reshuffled and the exact implications of that are not yet clear.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Can Morsi Broker a Ceasefire?

Hussein Ibish's latest piece at The Daily Beast, "Talk Like an Egyptian," argues that if President Morsi can pull off an Israel-Hamas ceasefire, or get the credit for one at least, all sides might benefit, not least Morsi himself:
The best solution for almost all concerned would probably be a cease-fire brokered by, or credited to, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, which could secure many of the most important aims of the main parties. Both Israel and Hamas have their reasons for wanting to extricate themselves sooner rather than later from the current conflagration. They have both achieved significant results already, but may have overplayed their hands and be facing rapidly diminishing returns ...
Both sides may feel they still have more to accomplish and that the formula for getting out of this mess hasn't yet arisen. But an Egyptian-brokered deal potentially provides something for everybody.
Israeli leaders can claim they restored deterrence, took out key militant leaders, destroyed infrastructure and demonstrated that there is a heavy price for anyone attacking Israel from Gaza. Hamas leaders can claim to have stood up to Israel, shown the Israeli public they can reach Tel Aviv, once again unfurled the banner of armed resistance, and achieved major diplomatic breakthroughs with the recent high level visits to Gaza.
Morsi can achieve the neatest trick of all: he can continue with what are effectively Mubarak-era policies—Egypt serving as a broker of cease-fires and a liaison between Hamas and Israel—while presenting the whole thing as a reassertion of Egypt's regional leadership, and a new foreign policy that stands closer to Hamas (mainly by symbolically dispatching his prime minister to Gaza). So he can create the appearance of popular change without actually changing policies that would aggravate relations with Israel or the United States.
I think this may have to play out a few more days than Ibish seems to, though I also think that the fact that Israel has not launched a ground invasion means that Netanyahu is hesitating, perhaps knowing full well that IDF casualties could hurt him in the elections. (He could prove me wrong at any minute, of course). And I am unimpressed by Morsi's personal diplomatic skills, which have so far been largely undetectable, but he has good ties with Hamas, and the Egyptian professional diplomatic corps and intelligence services know well how to deal with Israelis. Of course if Morsi gets the credit Ibish is dead on about the likely result: business as usual with Israel and the US while he is able to present himself to his Muslim Brotherhood colleagues as the man who saved Hamas and Gaza.

It could be a way out of the situation for both sides, but I fear we aren't quite there yet.

Friday, November 16, 2012

"Pillar of Defense" or "Pillar of Cloud"?

Others have already commented on the fact that though Israel's operation in Gaza is called, in Hebrew, Operation Amud Anan (עמוד ענן) or "Pillar of Cloud" — a clearly Biblical reference that should be familiar to Jews, Christians, and anyone who has seen Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments — but, for whatever reason, the IDF is referring to in English as "Pillar of Defense."

Some comments have seemingly suggested that "Pillar of Cloud" might not evoke the same resonance in English that it does in Hebrew, and that "Pillar of Defense" makes the idea clearer. But does it? A pillar is not usually a defensive structure, while the imagery from the Biblical account is a fairly familiar part of the Western tradition. Or at least it is to me.

On the other hand, perhaps they were worried that some will misunderstand the Biblical allusion, as this article at Gawker seems to,  as a symbol of "an all-powerful, vengeful God seeking to demonstrate the primacy of his chosen people," not, presumably the PR image the IDF was aiming for. But that is not really the implication of "Pillar of Cloud" in Exodus, for as this article on the Tablet Jewish site notes that the midrash on the Biblical text describes the pillar as defending Israel against the pursuing Egyptians (and not, as smiting them):
The midrash on this section—which is cited by Rashi, the most famous Jewish biblical commentator, and taught in many Hebrew schools—elaborates:

They [the Egyptians] shot arrows and catapult stones at them, but the angel and cloud caught them.
In fact, as this article notes, the Talmud adds a layer of interpretation that may even contradict the image the IDF was presumably looking for:
According to the Talmud, the Pillar of Cloud was a special gift conferred upon the Israelites because of the merit of Aaron, Moses’s brother. And Aaron’s quintessential quality—the quality that would have earned him this gift—was that he was, well, a peacenik. The Talmud teaches in Pirkei Avot that Rabbi Hillel said, “Be among the disciples of Aaron—a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace; a lover of all people, bringing them closer to the Torah.” Another rabbinic text, Avot d’Rabbi Natan, makes clear that this attitude should be extended not just to Jews, but to all nations: “The phrase teaches us that a person should be a pursuer of peace among people, between each and every one.”

I can’t speak for the entire Israeli public, but when I think “Pillar of Cloud,” this—Aaron’s legacy of peacemaking, and the rabbinic injunction to follow in his footsteps—is what springs to mind. So perhaps next time the IDF wants to exploit Israelis’ semantic field to sell them on a new military operation, they should do their homework first—or hire some good yeshiva students to do it for them.
Whichever meaning was intended by the IDF in choosing the name, I still think that "Pillar of Defense" is an awkward choice in English: at worst, it may suggest they're trying to conceal the Biblical reference, as some have inferred.

Personally, I long for the days when military "codenames" really were code, not public relations tools (World War II operations like Torch and Overlord tell you nothing at all, which used to the intention of a codename.)

Hamas Escalates

What began as a traditional tit-for-tat exchange of retaliations has continued to metastasize into something far more dangerous. Israel's targeted killing of a Hamas military leader was one escalation; but Hamas itself raised the ante with yesterday's rocket attack against Tel Aviv, and today's firing of a rocket at Jerusalem marks a provocative move that not only escalates but will infuriate Israelis, and may alarm some Arabs as well since Hamas' rockets are too inaccurate to choose one Jerusalem neighborhood over another.

At this stage an Israeli ground operation against Gaza is starting to seem more and more likely. And that will speed up the escalator even more.,

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Khartoum Blasts and the Sinai Connection

The explosions that tore through the Yarmouk arms factory in Khartoum on Tuesday night were initially said to be an accident, but by the next day Sudan was blaming Israel, pointing to rocket casings and eyewitness reports of four aircraft  bombing the plant. Israel is taking its usual route of neither confirming nor denying, while Israeli officials are leaking information about Sudan's role in conveying Iranian arms via Sinai to Hamas in Gaza.

Israeli reports have suggested that the plant was operated by Iran's Revolutionary Guards to produce weaponry for Hamas, and that the plant is in Sudan to facilitate smuggling of arms via an increasingly uncontrolled Sinai into Gaza.  Israeli Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad reiterated these claims in effect, while declining to comment on any Israeli role in the bombing.

Egyptian media are also linking the attacks to Israeli efforts to stem the flow of arms via Sinai.

Israeli aircraft could reach Khartoum, at least with in-flight refueling, though there are also persistent claims in the Arab world that Israel leases a base on Eritrea's Dahlak islands for operations over the Red Sea, though Eritrea has denied this. On at least two earlier occasions (one of which is reported here), there have  been allegations of Israeli operations inside Sudan.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Egypt to Provide Security for Qatari Ruler's Landmark Gaza Visit

It's being reported that Egypt's Republican Guard will provide security for the Amir of Qatar and his entourage during their visit to Gaza. Sheikh Hamad arrives at al-Arish tomorrow, will be flown to the Rafah Crossing in an Egyptian helicopter, and then proceed to a six-hour tour of Gaza via motorcade during which he will inaugurate reconstruction projects.

The visit has already raised hackles with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, which fears this first visit by an Arab Head of State to Gaza since Hamas took over there will legitimize Hamas; no representatives from Ramallah were invited, most obviously including President Mahmoud
‘Abbas.  Fatah has called for a boycott of the trip.

Nor is Israel happy with the seeming legitimization of Hamas,

If it is confirmed that Egypt will be providing security within Gaza,  it would also seem to further indicate a rapprochement between Egypt, now led by a President from the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Hamas regime in Gaza. Hamas originated from the Muslim Brotherhood of Gaza, an offshoot of the Egyptian Brotherhood from the days of Egyptian control in Gaza in 1948-1967.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hamas Fires Qassams as Gaza Escalates

Following a string of Israeli air strikes inside Gaza which Israel said were aimed at breaking up terrorist plots, Hamas has begun firing Qassam rockets into Israel for the first time in over a year, escalating an already tense situation. There was also a recent clash on Israel's border with Egypt.

It is the first attack Hamas has taken credit for since April 2011, and while it was linked by Hamas to the Israeli attacks, Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff in Ha'aretz suggest that it is at least indirectly connected with events on the Egyptian border.

During the transition/elections/ongoing crisis in Egypt, Sinai has continued to be a vacuum of authority and Gaza and Israel have entered a period of escalation. The situation is explosive (even without the issues of Syria and Iran which exacerbate tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian arena).

Though the present escalation is linked more to the Sinai border than to events in Egypt proper, there is potential danger that, if a power struggle emerges between the Muslim Brotherhood and SCAF, that could have repercussions in the Gaza sphere. Hamas emerged from the Gaza Muslim Brotherhood, whose formative years were during the 1948-1967 Egyptian occupation of Gaza, so Hamas has closer links to the Egyptian MB than most Muslim Brotherhood national groups do. And SCAF has demonstrated itself to be a defender of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, though not as enthusiastic in that regard as the Mubarak-era regime was.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Other Celebrations Today

So much attention is being paid to Gilad Shalit's release that it's important to remember the other 1,000 prisoners freed today. Some were accused of terrorist acts, but others were held for more political reasons; their families are celebrating too. (See the two previous posts for my Shalit comments.)

Al Jazeera English has been liveblogging from Gaza. and here are excerpts of their reporting from both Gaza and the West Bank:

Egypt's Role in the Shalit Deal: The Post-Suleiman GIS

Exactly which factors contributed most to the conclusion of the Shalit deal now rather than at any of the several times in recent years  when it seemed near may not be known for a while. One factor I think may have contributed is the fact that Egypt's relations with Hamas have improved since the fall of Husni Mubarak and the departure of ‘Omar Suleiman, the longtime head of Egypt's General Intelligence Service.

It was still the GIS which brokered the deal; it is the one Egyptian agency that still has solid ties to Israel, but with Suleiman gone from the scene (Murad Mawafi now heads the GIS), relations with Hamas apparently have improved. Suleiman had a deep and poorly concealed contempt for Hamas, which doubtless proved an impediment to Egypt's effort to be an honest broker.

The Shalit Release

Amidst all the celebrations by Israelis of Gilad Shalit's release and by Palestinians of the release of prisoners in the exchange deal, there are the usual questions about the wisdom of such exchanges. At the moment it seems to me that one should congratulate Shalit on his freedom and save the recriminations for later; this is neither the first Israeli exchange deal nor, probably, the last. In the meantime, Shalit is free.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Court Clears Shalit Deal: Transfer Tomorrow

Israel's High Court has rejected an attempt by survivors of victims of terrorism to block the exchange of Palestinian prisoners for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. That should set the stage for Shalit's release tomorrow morning: timeline of the exchange here.