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Hamas and Qatar's Collateral Damage

The fight between Israel and Hamas in Gaza is presented in the global media as a local conflict featuring a well-organized state with its army, against a small Islamist organization. This picture is misleading.  Hamas is not an isolated or even an entirely independent player. Rather, it is a member of a broader regional alliance, which is seeking to benefit from the current situation.

This is the alliance of Muslim Brotherhood forces in the Middle East. Qatar is the main financier and cheerleader for this group.  Erdogan’s Turkey is also linked to it.

The Gaza war is best understood as this alliance’s war on Israel.  How so? Let’s take a look.

The Muslim Brotherhood/Qatar alliance has not been doing very well of late.  It was the main winner of the first year of the “Arab Spring.”

Aided by Qatari money, and by the enthusiastic support of Qatar’s tame al-Jazeera channel, the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power in Egypt and in Tunisia.  MB-associated groups formed a strong presence for a time in the Syrian rebellion, too.  Turkey, ruled by the MB-associated AKP, was a strong supporter of this process. Ankara forged close links with the Morsi government in Egypt.  Turkey also offered support to MB-type militias in Syria.

Hamas chose to place its bets on this emergent Muslim Brotherhood/Qatar power bloc.  Formerly closely aligned with Iran, the movement’s leadership departed from Iran-allied Syria, and supported the rebellion against the Assad regime.  Iranian funding slowed (though it didn’t entirely stop, and Iranian weapons have similarly been much in evidence in Hamas’s attacks).  But Qatari money, and most importantly, the support of the Morsi regime in Cairo, seemed set to handily replace this.

Not much of all this remains.  Hamas made a bad bet.  Last year, 2013, was a terrible year for the Muslim Brothers.  Morsi was ousted in Egypt.  The Brotherhood-associated Nahda party left office in Tunisia.  The Syrian rebels were turned back by Assad and his allies and began to fight among themselves.

So Hamas entered 2014 in a much chastened state.  While some elements within it were seeking to rebuild the connection to Iran, the levels of support were clearly nowhere close to the pre-2011 period.

Things got worse after the new Egyptian regime of General Abd al Fattah al-Sisi destroyed the system of tunnels that provided Gazans with readily available goods and the rulers of the Strip with a major source of income.  Power cuts and shortages followed.

So the camp of which Hamas was a part was on the ropes in mid-2014.

The decision to escalate the tensions with Israel to an all-out conflict clearly derives from this situation.  Hamas unexpectedly proved unamenable to an Egyptian proposal that, in essence, would have restored the status quo ante.

Instead, the movement rejected the proposal, began to launch terror raids against Israel’s civilian populations starting on July 8th, ignored a UN temporary “humanitarian ceasefire,” and then launched a failed raid from a tunnel carefully laid into Israeli territory.

These actions made a large-scale Israeli response inevitable.  Clearly, Hamas had made a decision to invite this.

As of now, the movement and its backers are probably quite satisfied at the results of their endeavor.  Qatar is once more at the center of regional diplomacy.  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas were there last week, to hear Hamas’s latest demands for a ceasefire.  Qatari  Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani is acting as the  “channel of communication” to the international community.

The UN chief chose the Qatari capital as the place from which to castigate Israel’s “atrocious” actions in Gaza.

Hamas, by all accounts, is improving its standing on the “Palestinian street,” according to the latter’s gauge, whereby anyone engaging in attempts to kill Israelis automatically acquires both moral and political authority.

This was notable, for example, in the waves of celebration that hit Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem and the West Bank last Sunday when TV reports began to carry a Hamas claim to have kidnapped an IDF soldier.

As it turned out, the IDF soldier, Shaul Aaron, turned out to be a product of the vivid Islamist imagination.  But this didn’t prevent the initial jubilation in Palestinian areas far from Gaza at the news of his supposed misfortune.  It also didn’t prevent the Qatari propaganda channel al-Jazeera from broadcasting the claims rapidly and with prominence.

Hamas, which began to be seen as a kind of semi collaborationist group in recent months because of its preventing of other groups from firing rockets, is now once more able to don the mantle of “resistance.”  Qatar, which looked outflanked by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and reduced by them to its appropriate dimensions, is now back at the center of regional diplomacy.

So mission accomplished, after a fashion.  The dead Palestinians and the dead Israelis, presumably, are seen by the Hamas leaders Mashaal and Haniyeh, both of whom own mansions in Doha, and by the rich-as-Croesus Qatari emir, as acceptable collateral damage in return for their improved diplomatic and strategic position.

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