UPDATE: The protection racket seems to have worked with the ceasefire. Mohammed Morsi has emerged as the hero of the hour–for persuading his Muslim Brotherhood comrades to stop firing rockets at Israel. Morsi is now a legitimate player, Hamas achieves de facto recognition (and can claim victory for assaulting Israel with impunity), and Israel’s security is impaired. This is the first poisoned fruit of Obama’s re-election.
A couple of nights ago I ran into Dan Senor, a prominent Romney campaign foreign policy advisor, at CNBC’s studio, before my interview on the U.S. economy. Host Larry Kudlow asked Senor, now a director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, how Israel could negotiate with a Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, given that Hamas is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Senor replied,
The Egyptian economy is in devastating shape. The last thing the Egyptian government wants – even a Muslim Brotherhood led government – is a war on its border. The West has considerable leverage on Egypt.
Senor got it backwards, I believe: Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi encouraged Hamas to attack Israel as part of a protection racket, directed at Saudi Arabia as well as the West. In return for putting out a fire he helped to start, Morsi wants the West and the Gulf States to bail out his crumbling economy. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States (with the exception of Qatar’s radical ruler) consider the Muslim Brotherhood a subversive organization and a mortal threat to their regimes and sent Morsi away empty-handed after his mid-August visit to Riyadh. Morsi is hoping that Gaza will shake money loose. “Nice little country you’ve got here. It would be a shame if something were to happen to it.”
This week, Egyptian officials began “making the rounds” of prospective donors — including the hitherto reluctant Saudis — to secure the financing Egypt needs to plug the billion-and-a-half dollar monthly hole in its balance of payments, the news site Almasryalyoum reported today.
It isn’t the whole story, but it’s a big part of the story: Morsi’s intention from the outset was to elicit the sort of reply that Dan Senor gave Kudlow. The Obama administration tried to push through a $450 million Egyptian aid package (plus $550 million of debt forgiveness) in October, but thought better of it in the advent of the presidential election. If Morsi emerges as the apparent peacemaker, watch for the Weekly Standard and the Foreign Policy Initiative to cautiously endorse financial aid to Egypt. After cheering on the overthrow of Mubarak and the so-called Arab Spring, a lot of reputations hang in the balance.
Morsi isn’t the only client for whom Hamas is launching rockets, to be sure. There are several other motives for Hamas to provoke Israel at the moment.
The first is Turkey, which is counting on the Muslim Brotherhood to stabilize the Syrian mess. Although Kurds comprise a minority of just 2 million in Syria, the possibility that the country’s disintegration will push them towards political autonomy might act as a catalyst for Kurdish aspirations elsewhere. The Kurdish demographic time bomb is a central concern of Turkish policy, as I wrote in an Oct. 25 study for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. Turkey’s volatile Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan is inciting Hamas with Syria in view.
The second is Iran, which has supported Hamas as a cat’s paw against Israel throughout. Iran is sending a stark message to Israel as well as the United States: If Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear weapons program, it will unleash its full terrorist capabilities against Israel and the West.
The third is Hamas’ own position. With the Palestine Authority seeking recognition once again from the United Nations, Hamas wants to assert its leadership of the Palestinian cause against PA President Mohammed Abbas. Pro-Hamas demonstrations in the West Bank suggest that he is having a modicum of success. Internal politics inside Hamas may have added to the motivation for the terrorist organization to strike now.
It does not seem likely, though, that the Hamas offensive will succeed in any of its objectives.