Qatar, Hamas and the Gaza War

Tower Magazine, August 2014.

One of the most notable aspects of the current conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza is the prominent role being played by the Emirate of Qatar in supporting the terrorist organization, whose genocidal charter calls for the murder of Jews and destruction of Israel.

Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, the leader of the Emirate of Qatar, is acting as Hamas’ “channel of communication” to the international community. Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal is now in the Qatari capital of Doha directing his organization’s war effort in Gaza, where the Qatari royals welcomed him with open arms after his welcome in Damascus came to an abrupt end. Qatari funds have been crucial to Hamas’ military build-up in recent years, as they were to the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempted take over of Egypt under Mohammed Morsi. And the Doha-based satellite channel Al-Jazeera is energetically backing Hamas, as it has other terrorist-connected and supporting movements.

Yet Qatar is not part of the regional bloc of anti-Western states and movements led by the Islamic Republic of Iran. While Qatar has a far warmer relationship with Tehran and Hezbollah than others Arabs states, it also remains America’s landlord, handsomely leasing the U.S. military its largest foreign air base in the world—Al-Udeid. Nor has Qatar consistently pursued a policy of unremitting, unambiguous hostility to Israel. In fact, Doha maintained a trade mission in Israel until the 2008 Operation Cast Lead, also aimed at stopping Hamas rocket attacks on Israel.

At least for now, Qatar’s clear support for a designated terrorist organization does not appear to be hampering its flourishing relations with the West. In recent days, at a time when Hamas was openly engaged in attempts to murder Israeli civilians, it was announced that Qatar had sealed an arms deal with the U.S. worth $11 billion. The deal includes the purchase of Apache attack helicopters, as well as Javelin and Patriot air defense systems. Indeed, last December, the U.S. signed a 10-year Defense Cooperation Agreement with the Emirate.

Ironically, Qatar’s relations with fellow Arab states have been far less cozy, even downright hostile. Qatar’s massive funding of terrorists and support of islamic radicals seeking to destabilize neighboring Arab governments, has sharpened tensions in the region, highlighting the three way divide in today’s Middle East – moderate and Western-oriented Sunni Arab states, like the Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Saudi, Bahrain, Kuwait and others; the Sunni extremists terrorist supporting states, Qatar and Turkey, who fund and promote forces like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas; and the dangerous and radical axis of Iran, Assad, and Hezbollah. In recent weeks, the U.S. appeared to momentarily favor the Qataris—alongside the Hamas supporting government of Turkey —over Egypt in the diplomatic effort to end the Gaza conflict. On July 26, Secretary of State John Kerry met with the foreign ministers of Turkey and Qatar in Paris as part of his attempt to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Egypt and Israel were furious—and so was the Palestinian Authority. PA officials blasted the U.S. for “appeasing” Qatar, and referred to the Paris meeting as a gathering of “friends of Hamas.”

This move, fronted by John Kerry, was especially ironic, given his personal record on the fundamental contradiction posed by Qatar and its support for terrorism. It was Kerry himself, speaking at the Brookings Institution in March 2009, shortly after the last defensive war Israel waged against Hamas, who warned that “Qatar cannot continue to be an American ally on Monday that sends money to Hamas on Tuesday.”

In one of the most telling responses to the disturbing shift on ceasefire terms, an unnamed PA official quoted by the respected Sharq al-Awsat newspaper said that Kerry was seeking to sabotage the Egyptian peace effort by offering his own plan “in order to restore the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region.”

The official explained the U.S. stance by suggesting that the Americans “wrongly believe that moderate political Islam, represented by the Muslim Brotherhood, would be able to combat radical Islam.” He further contended that PA President Mahmoud Abbas was furious with the attempt to hold “Palestinian blood” hostage to “regional rivalries.”

More substantively, the ceasefire proposal formulated by the U.S. and rejected by Israel on July 25 was seen by many observers, in Israel and beyond, as leaning toward the Qatari-Turkish ceasefire plan, and away from that proposed by Egypt, which Israel had already accepted.

The proposal did not refer to the need to dismantle the tunnel system built by Hamas or ensure the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip—both key war aims for Israel. Yet Kerry’s proposal did support a number of Hamas’ key demands, including the opening of border crossings and the need to pay the salaries of civil servants in Gaza.

So what is going on? Why has Qatar emerged as the key backer of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas and its control of Gaza? What are the implications for Israel and the West of this stance? Why has the U.S. tolerated Qatar’s increasingly shift away from longstanding American interests and allies in favor of adversaries like Hamas and Tehran? And why is Qatar’s pro-Hamas position so far having no effect on its relations with the U.S. and the West in general, who regard Hamas as an unrepentant terrorist organization?

Qatar’s support for Hamas is part of a broader regional policy of building a strategic partnership with the Muslim Brotherhood movement, of which Hamas is an offshoot. Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the movement’s most famous and influential preacher, is a resident of the Qatari capital. His sermons, broadcast on Al-Jazeera from Qatar, replete with anti-Semitic hatred and loathing for Israel, are listened to by millions. Qatar supported the Muslim Brotherhood in its push for power in Egypt, and was a major financier of the Morsi government during its chaotic and disastrous year in power. Many Egyptian Brotherhood leaders have now found refuge in Qatar. The Emirate has also promoted militias supportive of Muslim Brotherhood-type ideology in the Syrian civil war, such as the Tawhid Brigade in Aleppo, and alongside Turkey, supported groups even more radical.

From 2011 to 2013, it looked like the alliance between Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood was about to emerge as a major Middle Eastern power bloc. In early 2013, the movement held power in Egypt and Tunisia. The Syrian rebels looked set for victory, having taken control of much of Aleppo and broken into the eastern suburbs of Damascus. Qatar’s enormous wealth, deriving from its extensive natural gas reserves, was financing all of this. And its influential Al-Jazeera channel was celebrating it.

In this period, Hamas drew closer to Qatar. Hamas found itself facing a dilemma when the Arab revolutions of 2011-12 took place, particularly as the attempted Syrian revolution became a bloody civil war. Since the early 1990s, Hamas, which emerged out of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, had been a member of the so-called “resistance axis” led by Iran. This alliance included the Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and a number of other elements.

The growth of a new, Brotherhood-centered regional bloc represented both a dilemma and an opportunity for Hamas. On the one hand, the movement was thrilled by the bloc’s emergence, and particularly by the Brotherhood’s rise to power in Egypt. For Hamas, this represented a potential game-changer. It now expected to have an overtly sympathetic regime to the immediate south of Gaza.

why is Qatar’s pro-Hamas position having no effect on its flourishing relations with the U.S. and the West in general, who regard Hamas as an unreconstructed terrorist organization?

But the importance of the Brotherhood’s rise in Egypt was not merely geographical. With its ideological confreres in power in the most populous and traditionally most influential Arab country, Hamas could begin to seriously contemplate a future in which it would entirely eclipse its Fatah rivals and emerge as the dominant party among the Palestinians.

Due to its Iranian leadership, the “resistance bloc” had always been vulnerable to the charge that it represented a “foreign” non-Arab and non-Sunni interest. No such charge could be leveled against Qatar or a Muslim Brotherhood-led Egypt. Hamas was a natural fit for this emerging Sunni extremist Islamist bloc. But moving toward this bloc also meant that the movement would in effect be distancing itself from its mainly Shia allies in the “resistance” bloc. Because the two blocs were effectively at war in Syria, it seemingly eased the decision.

Hamas made its choice. Over the course of 2012, following Hamas’ condemnation of Assad’s shelling of Palestinians in Syria which precipitated a schism with Assad and strained their ties with his backers in Tehran, the movement’s leadership cadres departed the Syrian capital of Damascus. Doha and to a lesser extent Cairo became the new home of the Hamas leadership.

Ties with Iran were not entirely severed, however. Teheran remained a crucial source of arms to Hamas’ Gaza enclave. But Qatar and Turkey were set to emerge as Hamas’ main political and financial backers.

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the then-Emir of Qatar, visited Gaza in October 2012, cementing the new alliance. At the same time, Qatar pledged $400 million to Gaza. Because the alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood was undertaken in order to acquire regional diplomatic and strategic influence, and support for the Palestinians remains an important tool to generate legitimacy in the Sunni Arab world, sponsorship of Hamas formed an important part of this larger project.

But in recent months, a problem has emerged for both Hamas and Qatar: Things have not turned out as they had hoped. Their regional ambitions are largely in ruins. And their enemies have proved more resilient than they expected. General Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi’s military takeover of July 3, 2013 abruptly ended the Brotherhood’s rule in Egypt. In Tunisia, the Nahda party peacefully gave up power. The Syrian rebellion has run aground and is now in disarray—pushed back by both the Assad regime and the murderous Islamic State (IS) forces.

Today, the alliance of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other moderates is the strongest force among the Sunni Arab states. Qatar has few regional allies left. Neither does Hamas. Indeed, over the last year, the movement has been trying to regain favor with the Iranians. So the war on Israel, supported by Qatar, was a desperate move by Hamas. Broke and presiding over a failed economy, unable to break through Egypt’s sealed border and restored power, the terrorist group and it’s allies sought escalation with Israel. It was a way for the Emirate and its Muslim Brotherhood partner to try and achieve a return to relevance and influence, and to end a period in which Qatar’s regional star appeared to be fading. Notably, of Hamas’ initial five demands to end the conflict, only one was of Israel, while four were of Egypt.

Qatar’s aid to Hamas is not military, but it is hugely important nonetheless. It doesn’t supply weapons to Hamas, and as a purchaser of U.S. weapons systems, it is not in a position to do so. Instead, Hamas acquires its weapons from Iran and Syria, or its own domestic production capacities.

Qatar’s support is financial, and very considerable indeed. Hamas has been in financial straits since 2012, when Iranian financial support declined. Then, after the Egyptian military coup of July 2013, the Sisi government in Cairo began to destroy the tunnel system which had served as a lucrative source of income for Hamas members. The movement controlled access to the tunnels and charged Gazans for using them. Hamas itself also used the tunnels to smuggle in weapons and funds.

The tunnels’ destruction thus left the movement increasingly strapped for cash. Qatar attempted to step in by transferring funds to Hamas in order to help pay the salaries of 40,000 civil servants in Gaza. (The transfer was blocked by the U.S., and so far no bank has been willing to risk sanctions to do so. Getting the money has been one of Hamas’ key demands for ending the recent conflict.)

Qatar also championed the cause of Hamas in Arab diplomatic forums. In recent days, for example, the Arab League backed the Egyptian ceasefire plan, which effectively called for a restoration of the status quo ante bellum. But Qatar formulated its own plan, together with non-Arab, pro-Brotherhood Turkey, which was far more favorable to Hamas’ demands.

As can be seen from the resulting diplomacy, Qatari support for Hamas has had the effect of “sanitizing” the movement, allowing it to present itself as a normal political actor, rather than a terrorist group committed to the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews.

This is partly because Qatar is regarded in Western capitals as a legitimate regional actor. The fury now felt toward it by the main bloc of Sunni Arab states is not shared in Europe or the U.S. As a result, Qatar is able to insert Hamas’s demands into the negotiations for ending the current conflict between Hamas and Israel.

It is noteworthy, for example, that the controversial ceasefire proposal supported by Secretary Kerry specifically mentioned only three countries that might play a role in the implementation of the plan. According to the leaked wording of the proposal:

Members of the international community, including the United Nations, the Arab League, the European Union, the United States, Turkey, Qatar, and many others, support the effective implementation of the humanitarian ceasefire and agreements reached between the parties.

Qatar and Turkey, both supporters of Hamas, are thus placed alongside the U.S. as the key implementers of the proposed deal, while Egypt is nowhere to be found. Moreover, the deal itself, as noted above, privileges Hamas’ demands over Israel’s. Presumably the insertion of these demands is the result of successful diplomacy on the part of Hamas’s “interlocutor” with the international community, which faithfully communicated the minimum the Hamas feels willing to accept. That interlocutor is Qatar.

So while Qatar cannot match the “hard power” of the Shia resistance bloc in providing arms and weaponry to its clients, it possesses a diplomatic power and influence in the West of a very different kind. The current war between Israel and Hamas has demonstrated for the first time, perhaps, the pernicious role this influence can play. But it is in the nature of diplomatic power that it works by consent, rather than coercion. Qatar is able to play an outsized role because the West, and most importantly the United States, permits it to do so. Why is this the case?

First, it is vital to remember Qatar’s role as a provider of natural gas to Europe, and its investments in both Europe and the U.S. Qatar sits on 26 trillion cubic meters of natural gas—the world’s third largest reserve. It has a sovereign wealth fund of $85 billion. And European countries are currently seeking private investment as they emerge out of austerity into growth.

The Qataris have money to spend, and have already invested heavily. They own, for example, London’s tallest skyscraper, the Shard, and London’s most exclusive shop, Harrods. This is a friendship which the British and other Europeans naturally wish to preserve. If this means permitting Qatar to play the outsize role it seeks in Mideast diplomacy, there are few signs of objection from the Europeans. If it includes championing an organization the European Union considers a terrorist group, at least one aligned against Israel, this doesn’t seem to present too much of a problem either.

Among Western European countries, the notion that the appropriate response to terror groups is dialogue, or at least keeping the possibility of dialogue open, is prevalent. Thus the Qatari desire to promote Hamas is easy to accept.

But the Europeans are only peripheral players in Mideast diplomacy, despite their substantial economic relationship with the region.

The central actor is the United States. And the U.S. is far less dependent on Qatari money and natural gas. Yet it is this U.S. administration that has been most visible in welcoming and encouraging Qatar’s role as a mediator in the current conflict—as evidenced by Kerry’s high profile meeting with the Qatari and Turkish foreign ministers, the wording of his ceasefire proposal, and so on. What is the reason for this stance?

There are two, related explanations. First, as noted above, Sunni Arab regional politics are currently dominated by an alliance of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with the Sisi government in Egypt. U.S. relations with Sisi are particularly bad, and there is a legacy of mistrust felt by Cairo, Riyadh, and their regional partners toward the current administration. In the Saudi case, this derives from what the Saudis regard as the failure of the Obama administration to adequately back its allies and contain Iranian regional and nuclear ambitions.

With regard to Sisi, the differences are perhaps deeper. The Egyptian military holds the administration responsible for toppling former President Mubarak and the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood — a rise to power the White House supported after helping engineer then demise of a longstanding ally. It is easy to see the continued mutual distaste and incomprehension between Sisi’s government and the Obama administration. Washington views Sisi as essentially grabbing power through a military coup and engaging in severe political repression of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Cairo sees Obama as inexplicably championing the forces of instability in Egypt against elements long allied with the U.S. who are interested in continuing that alliance. Given the strained relationship between Cairo and Washington, it becomes easier to understand U.S. acceptance, if not preference, for the Qataris as mediators.

Such a view only makes sense, of course, if Hamas is viewed not as an enemy to be vanquished or at least contained, but rather as a player whose desires and needs must be met on some level. This is the final part of the picture.

The U.S. administration in the 2011-12 period regarded the Muslim Brotherhood as a legitimate movement with a legitimate hold on power, despite its extremist and anti-Western ideology. Thus, the U.S. championed the Brotherhood’s right to stand in the presidential and parliamentary elections, and continued to relate to the Morsi Administration as a partner, in spite of Morsi’s openly antisemitic remarks and his demanding the release and return to Egypt of “The Blind Sheikh,” Omar Abd al-Rahman, convicted in the U.S. for his involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and effort to blow-up the Holland Tunnel, Lincoln Tunnel and George Washington Bridge, as well as assassinating a U.S. Senator.

American agreements to supply sophisticated weapons systems to the Morsi government were strictly fulfilled, despite the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government’s clear lurch toward the construction of an Islamist regime, evidenced by, for example, Morsi’s awarding of broad, new, pharaoh-like powers to himself in November 2012, and by the passing of a new, repressive, Islamist-drafted constitution in December of that year. After 30 million Egyptians took to the streets objecting to the Islamic radicalism being imposed on the secular country, and the Egyptian military stepped in to reestablish calm by removing the Muslim Brotherhood from power, the White House called for Egypt “to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible.”

All of this took place in spite of the clear and available evidence regarding the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood regime and its ambitions. The Brotherhood seeks not to participate in democratic politics, but rather to re-construct the Islamic “caliphate.” Thus, a book published in 1995 by Muslim Brotherhood leader Mustafa Mashhur called Jihad is the Way openly notes this objective. Mashhur writes that Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna “felt the grave danger overshadowing the Muslims and the urgent need and obligation which Islam places on every Muslim, man and woman, to act in order to restore the Islamic Caliphate and to reestablish the Islamic state on strong foundations.” Mashhur’s foundational work contains a vision of jihad until all lands formerly under the control of Islam are returned to it.

Jihad for Allah…is not limited to the specific region of the Islamic countries, since the Muslim homeland is one and is not divided, and the banner of Jihad has already been raised in some of its parts, and shall continue to be raised, with the help of Allah, until every inch of the land of Islam will be liberated, and the State of Islam established.

These are not the messages of a movement committed to a pragmatic path of liberty and tolerance. They, and the Brotherhood’s track record in power in Egypt in the 2012-13 period, confirm its extremist nature. The Brotherhood has, for the most part, lost power and influence over the course of 2013 and 2014. This does not, however, mean that there has been a fundamental change in the way the movement is seen by the administration. In fact, it appears that in the mind of the Obama White House, this basic acceptance of the Muslim Brotherhood’s legitimacy, as well as the willful denial of its true nature, remains unchallenged. As a result, the U.S. administration appears keen to work alongside and in cooperation with the two main champions of the movement—Turkey and Qatar—in resolving the current Gaza conflict in a way that, at least partly, addresses Hamas’ wants and needs.

Qatar has emerged in recent years as the main diplomatic and financial backer of Hamas and its enclave in the Gaza Strip. The current conflict shows how this is reflected in regional diplomacy, as Qatar uses it to carve out a central role in the Mideast, to the dismay and anger of the rival Sunni bloc of Cairo and Riyadh.

Qatar’s regional strategy is based on support for and sponsorship of the Muslim Brotherhood, the destabilizing of its fellow Sunni Arab neighbors, and hedging its bets on American regional leadership with warmer ties with Tehran. Support for Hamas constitutes a part of this. The Muslim Brotherhood is an anti-Western, anti-Jewish movement, and Hamas is a designated terrorist organization.

Yet, for the present time at least, Qatar’s deep links to this movement, far from incurring penalties, are enabling it to reap rewards. This worrisome trend derives from a short-sighted Western attitude toward Hamas, and to a lesser extent toward the Muslim Brotherhood in general. Hamas is not favored, but neither is the extent of the movement’s commitment to its genocidal ideology—or the danger it represents—properly acknowledged, let alone accepted in various capitols.

In the U.S. case, strained relations with the government of Egypt, which fiercely opposes Hamas, are further contributing to the willingness, if not outright desire, to award a central diplomatic role to Qatar, in spite of its championing of violent anti-Western, anti-Israel, and anti-moderate-Arab forces across the region. This indulgence of terror sponsoring Qatar ought to end, and there are small signs that this complacency is ebbing, at least outside the confines of the White House and Foggy Bottom. U.S. legislators are circulating a letter questioning Qatar’s behavior, beginning to voice deep objections to their dangerous and unacceptable actions. Congressional leaders must continue to call out Qatar for its support for Hamas, and the administration for its apparent support for Qatar. In Europe, it is possible that Qatari financial investment and gas exports make adequate opposition to the Emirate hard to imagine. But neither of these constraints exist in the U.S., where the main reason for its stance toward Qatar and its terrorist allies is a naïve view of the region.

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Netanyahu’s ‘Long War’ Doctrine

PJmedia, 5/8:

As a number of former senior Israeli officials pointed out in the course of Operation Protective Edge, Jerusalem had only two possible strategic options to choose from as it entered this fight.

The first involved seeking to inflict serious damage on Hamas’s military capabilities in an operation limited in scope. The goal of such a course of action would be to achieve deterrence against Hamas. Implicit in this option is that, at its conclusion, the Hamas authority in Gaza would still be in existence — chastened, but alive.

The second, more ambitious option would have been to have pushed on into the Gaza Strip, and to have destroyed the Hamas authority there. This would have resembled Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. Israeli forces would have needed to remain in Gaza for months, or years, in order to suppress and destroy the continued guerrilla resistance which Hamas and other Palestinian groups would no doubt have undertaken.

This second option would also have required Israel to re-establish the civil administration in Gaza, taking responsibility for the lives of the 1.8 million residents of the Strip. This is because it would be politically impossible for the Ramallah Palestinian Authority to receive the Gaza Strip on a silver platter, as it were, from the Golani Brigade and its sister units of the Israel Defense Forces.

It is also likely that the insurgency which would have followed the destruction of Hamas rule would have proven a magnet for the jihadi forces which are currently proliferating in the neighborhood. ISIS and similar organizations are already in the Gaza Strip in small numbers. But the “global jihad” would like nothing more than to find a platform from which to begin war against the Jews.

Given all this, it is not surprising that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to have chosen the first option.

Netanyahu, in stark contrast to his image in Europe and to a lesser extent in North America, is deeply cautious when it comes to the use of military force.

Indeed, the record shows that Israel elected to begin a ground campaign on July 18th only when it became clear from its actions and its statements that Hamas was not interested in a return to the status quo ante.

This caution does not come from a temperamental inability to manage military action. Indeed, the Israeli prime minister’s performance in recent weeks may go some way to dispelling the image which his opponents have sought to disseminate in Israel in recent years. That is, Netanyahu is a man who buckles under pressure and is easily swayed from his course. This is the first time that one of Israel’s longest-serving prime ministers has led the country in a military confrontation. The general sense in Israel is that his performance as a leader has been relatively effective — setting clear and limited goals and pursuing them with vigor.

Netanyahu’s caution derives, rather, from his perception that what Israel calls “wars” or “operations” are really only episodes in a long war in which the country is engaged against those who seek its destruction. In the present phase, these forces are gathered largely under the banner of radical Islam, though this was not always so.

In such a conflict, what matters is not a quick and crushing perception of victory. Indeed, the search for a knockout, a final decision in this or that operation , given the underlying realities, is likely to end in overstretch, error and non-achievement. What matters is the ability to endure, conserve one’s forces — military and societal — and to work away on wearing down the enemy’s will. Military achievement, as well as economic and societal success, are all weapons in this war.

This view notes the essentially implacable nature of the core Arab and Muslim hostility to Israel. So it includes an inbuilt skepticism toward the possibility of historic reconciliation and final-status peace accords.

At the same time, this view does not rule out alliances of convenience with regional powers. As Netanyahu’s recent speeches have indicated, the Israeli prime minister is deeply aware that the immediate interests of Egypt and Saudi Arabia are largely coterminous with those of Israel.

All three countries are hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood and to the ambitions of Iran and its allies. All three are deeply dismayed at the current U.S. administration’s softness toward and accommodation of these forces. It is an alliance of the coldest, most pragmatic and most hard-headed type. Precisely for this reason, it works.

Egyptian President Sisi is locked in a war of death against the Muslim Brotherhood at home and sees the Hamas enclave in Gaza as an extension of his domestic opponents. The speech given by Saudi King Abdullah this week also held Hamas responsible for the current situation.

So for now, Israel is redeploying its forces outside Gaza, with the option and possibility of strikes back inside if a renewed ceasefire continues to prove elusive. The IDF will continue to maintain the pressure on Hamas, even as the rulers of Gaza participate in ceasefire negotiations managed by Sisi in Cairo. There are reports of Israel establishing a de facto buffer zone inside the Gaza Strip, to reduce the ability of Hamas to fire short-range rockets at southern Israeli communities.

All this forms part of an effort to undertake the containment and incremental weakening of the Islamist entity in Gaza, in cooperation with whoever, for his own reasons, is willing to cooperate.

Netanyahu’s vision is a chilly one, though it is not ultimately pessimistic. It aims to provide firm, durable walls for the house that the Jews of Israel have constructed. Within those walls the energies of Israeli Jews will ensure success — provided that the walls can be kept secure, thus believes the Israeli prime minister. It is from the point of view of this broader strategic picture that the current actions of Israel need to be understood. Operation Protective Edge — like Cast Lead and Orchard and Lebanon 2006 and the others — is intended as a single action in a long and unfinished war.

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‘Islamic State’ Advances in Syria

Jerusalem Post, 1/8

In recent weeks, far from the attention of the world’s media, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (IS, formerly ISIS) has been fighting its enemies and expanding its borders.

There is mounting evidence that IS has obtained a chemical weapons capacity of some kind, and has utilized it on at least one occasion during intense combat against the Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria. The organization has achieved signal successes against regime forces in Raqqa and Hasakeh provinces that culminated in the capture of the Division 17 base, and the subsequent gruesome execution of over 200 members of the garrison.

There is also clear evidence of Palestinians, specifically Gazans, fighting in Syria in an organized unit under the IS banner, and of at least one clearly IS-linked group operating in northern Sinai and in Gaza itself.

The overall picture is one of a vigorous, capable and savagely brutal Islamist entity, but one which nevertheless has clear limitations on its capabilities.

Lets take a look: Following its lighting capture of Mosul on June 10, many observers expected the jihadi group to continue to push on into Iraq, and perhaps make a bid for the capital city, Baghdad.

This has not happened. IS has set about implementing its brutal version of Shari’a in the city, but has made no serious effort to push further east.

Instead, the movement has integrated the weapons taken in Mosul into its structures in Syria, and is concentrating its attention on expanding in a westward and northern direction.

The first IS assault using the new weapons systems was launched against the Kurdish enclave of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) adjoining the Syrian-Turkish border. This area of Kurdish autonomy juts into the IS area of control; it prevents the movement from using the direct road from Raqqa city, which it controls, to Jarabulus and Menbij, on the Syrian-Turkish border.

IS has long sought to destroy this enclave. On July 2, it launched renewed offensives against Kobani from the west and the east. The offensives included the use of US-made Humvees, captured in Mosul.

It also, according to Kobani Health Minister Nisan Ahmed, used a chemical agent which killed three Kurdish fighters while leaving their bodies unmarked. According to Ahmed, a medical team assembled by the Kurdish authorities found that “burns and white spots on the bodies of the dead indicated the use of chemicals, which led to death without any visible wounds or external bleeding.” Perwer Janfrosh, a local Kurdish activist, said the attack took place on July 12, in the village of Avdiko in eastern Kobani.

These claims have yet to be examined by international medical bodies. But an article on the Lebanese Almodon news website (in Arabic) quotes a resident of Raqqa city who alleges that IS has transported chemical weapons materials from the Muthanna complex, northwest of Baghdad, which has fallen into its hands. The source notes that among the materials transported was cyanogen chloride, an agent whose use might be consistent with the claims made by the Kurdish officials (which require further investigation).

Despite the introduction of the captured weaponry, however, the IS offensive on Kobani ran aground following a Kurdish mobilization; the Kobani enclave remains intact.

IS then turned its attention to the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad. On July 24, the movement launched attacks on regime positions in the Raqqa and Hasakeh provinces, adjoining the western borders of the “Islamic State,” and near Aleppo city.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the attacks gained ground and took a heavy toll on regime soldiers. The Division 17 base fell on July 25.

Most of the garrison managed to escape to the nearby Brigade 23 base, but around 200 remained behind. The Observatory reported that at least 50 of these men were subsequently decapitated by IS forces. Footage has become available on the Internet showing severed heads placed on a fence in Raqqa city; according to the voiceover, the heads belong to soldiers from the Division 17 garrison.

The IS gains against regime forces reflect the movement’s desire to clear Assad’s men out of the Euphrates Valley, and incrementally expand their area of control.

The IS presence is now nudging up against the main Kurdish enclave in Hasakeh province. But the failure of the regime to make a major effort to defend the areas in question also likely reflects its priorities.

Assad can afford to cede isolated positions in the remote north and east of Syria, without these constituting any threat to his survival. His stronghold in the south and west of Syria is not currently threatened by IS.

As far as IS links to Gaza: An identifiable Gaza contingent named the Sheikh Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi Brigade is active with IS forces in northern Syria, and photographic evidence has emerged of this group’s activities. This group is named after a well-known Salafi sheikh from southern Gaza, killed in an abortive revolt against the Hamas authorities in 2009.

IS also has an identifiable franchise within Gaza and northern Sinai itself, according to a prominent researcher of the IS phenomenon, UK-based Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi; the name of the group in question is Ansar al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Bayt al-Maqdis.

At the moment, these are relatively minor phenomena. Yet Tamimi suggests that the presence of the Gazan contingent in northern Syria indicates that genuine contacts with IS exist, and these are not merely enthusiasts seeking to borrow the symbolism of jihadi success that IS represents.

So IS remains on the advance, and continues to shock with its astonishing brutality. At present, it has focused its energies back on Syria. Its forces have suffered setbacks against the determined and well-trained fighters of the YPG – defending an enclave that the Kurds consider vital for their “Rojava” project.

IS has enjoyed greater successes against regime forces – in the process raising a big question mark about recent claims by non-IS rebel spokesmen and supporters that the movement is a puppet of Assad or the Iranians.

IS may also have used chemical weapons. Lastly, the first signs of its appearance on the front against Israel may be discerned.

The recent global media focus on the fighting in Gaza should not be allowed to obscure potentially far more significant developments in the broader region. The Islamic State in Iraq and in Syria is on the march.

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Desperately Seeking Relevance

Jerusalem Post, 25/7

The conflict between Hamas-controlled Gaza and Israel became inevitable after a series of decisions and actions made clear that the movement was not interested in defusing tensions and returning to the cease-fire that had shakily pertained since 2012.

These actions included the attempt to infiltrate a terrorist team into Zikim on July 8, the continued firing of rockets after the rejection of the Egyptian cease-fire proposal, the failure to respect the humanitarian cease-fire initiated by the UN and the attempted attack though a tunnel on July 14.

It is doubtful that Hamas planned the entire campaign from the start. The trigger to the crisis – the kidnap and murder of three Israeli teenagers, may well have been carried out by elements not taking orders from the movement’s official leadership.

But as the momentum of events gathered pace, it is clear that Hamas at a certain point reached a decision to escalate, to initiate a head on collision with Israel.

What were the tactical and strategic considerations underlying this decision?

Regarding immediate and tactical considerations – Hamas is not an isolated player. It is part of a Muslim Brotherhood regional alliance bankrolled by the Emirate of Qatar.

The last year has not been good for this alliance. In 2011-12, they were riding high. They had come to power in Egypt and in Tunisia and seemed fairly placed to triumph in Syria too. Hamas elected to back what looked like an emergent Muslim Brotherhood power bloc – and drew away from its alliance with Iran.

Not much is left of all that. Egypt and Tunisia are gone. In Syria, only the regime, Islamic State and the Kurds remain as serious players. The Muslim Brotherhood’s moment in the sun was exceedingly brief.

This left their Palestinian iteration, Hamas, looking somewhat beached in 2014. The Iranian funding declined. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi decimated the tunnel system through which the rulers of Gaza brought in goods and money. Fuel shortages and power outages became part of daily life. There was no money to pay state employees.

The Hamas decision to relaunch its military campaign, its refusal to accept Israel’s offer of “calm for calm,” and its rejection of an Egyptian cease-fire proposal that Israel accepted represent an attempt to bring about a “reset” in the position of Hamas and its backers in the region.

In precisely the same way that Iran created and developed Hezbollah in order to use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a generator of legitimacy among the Arabs for the Shia Persians, so Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood want a bloody war in Gaza, so as to reinsert themselves into popular legitimacy, relevance and diplomatic influence in the Arab world.

Hamas, previously isolated and increasingly irrelevant, is starring in a drama of its own making. Its spokesmen are crying crocodile tears for the deaths of civilians that it knew was inevitable. Its banners are being carried once more by baying crowds in European cities.

Qatar, meanwhile, the main bankroller of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, is inserting itself back into regional diplomacy, following Hamas’s flat rejection of Egyptian mediation. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas were in Doha to hear Hamas’s demands for a cease-fire. The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad al-Thani is acting as the “channel of communication” for Hamas.

Yet for all this, the success has been only partial. The rival, anti-Muslim Brotherhood alliance of Sisi’s Egypt and Saudi Arabia is operating in more or less direct opposition, seeking to prevent any tangible gains for Hamas from its campaign, and to force it back to acceptance of the status quo ante bellum. Given the suffering of Gazans, any such acceptance would constitute a huge blow to Hamas. So Cairo is effectively allied with Israel and against Qatar/Hamas/MB in this conflict. The obvious explanation for this is Cairo’s ongoing war against the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

The “Arab street” has failed to rally to the Qatar/Hamas banner. There are larger demonstrations in European cities for Hamas than in any Arab capital. The Arab world is engulfed by issues of far greater historic magnitude than the question of Gaza. And in any case, from the regional perspective this conflict appears as an Israel vs Hamas war, not an all out clash between Israelis and Palestinians.

Regarding strategic considerations – Hamas remains committed to the muqawama (“resistance”) doctrine, according to which it is engaged, together with other Islamist political-military organizations in a long war that will end in Israel’s destruction.

According to this view, most famously articulated by Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s general-secretary, Israel is physically and technologically strong, but suffers from a spiritual and ideological weakness.

This weakness is variously attributed either to the supposedly inherent cowardly and craven nature of Jews, or to the “artificiality” of the Jewish state and identity or to a not quite logically tenable mixture of the two.

This weakness, the muqawama doctrine considers, can be brought out through a long war of attrition, in which the inability of the Jews to absorb casualties, and their gradual recognition of the impossibility of normal life in their state will result in its slow and steady erosion, and eventual demise.

From the point of view of this doctrine, the Hamas decision to escalate makes sense – even if to an outsider the idea of a tiny statelet willingly seeking conflict with a vastly more powerful neighbor seems counter-intuitive. The civilians whom Hamas leaders knew would die in any conceivable Israeli response were presumably factored in as collateral damage. From a certain point of view, they even represented an asset, since their example could be held out as proof of the supposedly greater willingness of the Arab/Muslim side for self-sacrifice, when compared with the Israeli/Jewish enemy.

So the war derives from the desire of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar to return to relevance and centrality in the region, and from the persistent misreading of the nature of Israel and the true balance of forces between the Jewish state and its enemies, by the Islamist rulers of Gaza.

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Qatar/ Hamas’s collateral damage

PJMedia, 22/7

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? Lets take a look.

The Muslim Brotherhood/Qatar alliance has not been doing very well of late. It was the main winners 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 Morsy 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 Morsy regime in Cairo seemed set to handily replace this.

Not much of all this remains. Hamas made a bad bet. 2013 was a terrible year for the Muslim Brothers. Morsy 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, and the movement itself, were on the ropes in mid-2014.

The decision to escalate the tensions with Israel to an all out conflict clearly derive 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 population from 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. The 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 in 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.

The kidnapping claim appears to have been fraudulent. 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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The Fire This Time

New York Daily News, 14/7

In recent years, even as the constant threat of terrorism from Hamas and Hezbollah loomed, Israelis would note the political conflagrations burning up the region all around them and would contrast these with the relative tranquility and normality in their own immediate neighborhood.

These observations were made nervously, not with arrogance. Behind them was the assumption that it couldn’t last. Sooner or later, the wave of political fury sweeping the region would erupt in Israel’s immediate vicinity too.

Now it has happened. The local version of the militant Islamist political orientation which is driving the instability in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt has now once more awakened in Israel and is spreading chaos in its wake.

Whichever particular wing or structure or iteration of the Hamas movement precisely was responsible for the recent kidnapping and murder of Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shayer and Eyal Yifrach, there is no serious doubt remaining as to the movement’s responsibility for this atrocity.

It was this act which proved the trigger for all that has followed: the rounding up of Hamas suspects as Israel scoured the West Bank in search of the boys; a rain of missiles and rockets from the Hamas sovereign enclave in Gaza, and now, the real possibility of a renewed IDF ground operation into Gaza.

There is a tendency to see the Israeli-Palestinian arena as somehow set apart from the rest of the Mid-East neighborhood. But this is an illusion.

Firstly, in the most tangible way, the most potent elements of the Hamas assault on Israeli cities of recent days is made possible only by the movement’s link with Iran.

The M-302 missile which was fired on Hadera on Tuesday is a product of Syria, and was almost certainly supplied to Hamas by Iran. Similar materiel was discovered by the IDF on the Klos-C arms ship, apprehended by the IDF on its way from Iran to Sudan in March.

Similarly, the Islamic Jihad movement, which has been rapidly gaining strength at Hamas’s expense in Gaza in recent months, is a full proxy of Iran.

But in a deeper sense, both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are local manifestations of the particular, pathological Islamist political-religious-paramilitary style and ideology which has challenged order and made life a misery all across the region in recent decades, and with added strength in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring of 2011.

Take a look around the neighborhood. In Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, rival, equally implacable versions of political Islam are at each others’ throats. In Syria, upwards of 160,000 people have died over the course of the last four years. In Lebanon, a Shia Islamist terror group, Hizballah, enjoys unrivalled dominance. In Iraq, a Sunni Islamist killing machine has conquered the west of the country and is poised to assault Baghdad.

So why then have Israel and its environs nevertheless managed to avoid the general collapse of these other countries? The reason is deterrence.

There is a single, dominant military element west of the Jordan River. This element is the Israel Defense Forces.

But deterrence, alas, is a perishable substance, which must be periodically replenished. Hamas, facing difficult economic straits, with its tunnels sealed by Sisi’s armed forces, with newer and yet more radical Islamist elements inspired by ISIS emerging from within, evidently decided that it was time for another round.

As of now, Israel is engaging in a far reaching operation designed to hit at Hamas’ capabilities. But more profoundly, in the simple and brutal logic of the neighborhood, Israel is trying to remind Hamas of the cost of tangling with the Jewish state.

The objective of this is not to re-conquer Gaza, nor to impact on local politics, still less to impose suffering on the Palestinians for its own sake.

When one’s neighbors are Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the modest objective of quiet can only be bought at the cost of periodic military actions intended to remind the enemy of the cost of aggression and thus reinforce deterrence.

Because of the strength of Israeli arms, the conflict between Israel and the PA territories don’t resemble those roiling Iraq or Syria. The relative balance of forces, however, is a lesson which those who wish to turn the country into something resembling those hell-holes must periodically re-learn – through bitter experience.

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Fractured States

Jerusalem Post, 4/7

In the latest evidence of ongoing fragmentation in what was once Iraq and Syria, Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq, this week announced his intention to hold a referendum in the coming months to decide the question of Kurdish independence.

“I have said many times that independence is the natural right of the people of Kurdistan,” Barzani told the BBC in an interview. “All these developments [in Iraq] reaffirm that, and from now on we will not hide that the goal of Kurdistan is independence… I cannot fix a date now, but it’s a question of months.”

Barzani’s words reflect the increased self-confidence of the Kurds, following their recent acquisition of the oil-rich Kirkuk area and the effective performance of their armed forces against the jihadis of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – in sharp contrast to the army of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The US was quick to make its opposition to this move, and its continued support for Iraqi unity clear. US State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told a press conference, “As we’ve said many times over the past few weeks, we believe that a unified Iraq is a stronger Iraq,” Meanwhile, the de facto disunification of Iraq continued.

The opening session of the new Iraqi parliament, elected after the April general elections, lasted only as long as it took for the Kurdish and Sunni MPs to walk out, following the failure to find an agreed-upon candidate to replace Maliki as prime minister.

The fighting, too, is going on. Iraqi troops this week claimed to have halted the advance of ISIS fighters and retaken the city of Tikrit. The Kurds clashed with ISIS forces in the town of Jalawla in Diyala province, preventing the Sunni Islamists from widening their hold in the town.

What does all this portend? As in Syria, so in Iraq: Politics and diplomacy lag sharply behind the de facto situation on the ground.

Both local politicians and the “international community” have evidently not yet grasped the reality of what is now taking place in the land area formerly known as Iraq and Syria.

US Secretary of State John Kerry in recent days held meeting after meeting in Iraq, Europe and the Middle East to cobble together a government of “national salvation” in Baghdad.

Much analysis remains focused on whether “partition” of Iraq and Syria is feasible or advisable. But the reality is that both countries are already partitioned. A single war is now taking place in the land area that was once divided between them.

Three coherent blocs are engaged in this war. The three blocs are ISIS, the Kurds (KRG in north Iraq, PYD in north Syria) and the pro-Iran, largely Shi’ite, Russia-supported element of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Maliki, et al.

All three of these blocs hold coherent and solid territorial areas. In the case of ISIS, which has in many ways become the pivotal player in this war, a single-state authority is in the process of being established to hold power over the area stretching from the Turkish Syrian border all the way to Mosul.

ISIS is already conducting its military planning on a statewide basis. The state in question is not Syria or Iraq; it is the as-yet- unnamed successor entity that the movement has created.

The massive haul of arms acquired from the Iraqi Army’s 2nd and 3rd Divisions in Mosul and from other units in the Kirkuk and Diyala areas deep in Iraq is now finding its way back to the Syrian battlefield.

Kurds in the embattled Kobani enclave close to the Syrian-Turkish border reported a renewed ISIS offensive from the west this week. Syrian Sunni rebels have noted the appearance of American Humvee jeeps as far west as the vicinity of Aleppo city – about 400 kilometers from the Iraqi border.

Against this emergent reality, international diplomacy appears helpless and flailing.

The US, as we have seen, along with Turkey, remains opposed to any declaration of Kurdish statehood. So Barzani is likely to tread carefully regarding any such announcement.

The ISIS entity, for obvious reasons, will not be receiving formal recognition from anyone any time soon.

The Assad regime can survive only with the continued injection of Iranian money and know-how, and Russian arms. The West remains formally committed to a transition of power in Damascus.

But all this is largely beside the point. All these entities will continue to exist unless and until someone is willing to destroy them.

They are not strong enough to conquer each other (in the Kurdish case, there is no desire for such conquest).

There are no signs of any external force on the horizon that is willing or able to carry out the conventional military campaign which alone could force these successor entities back into the neat state boxes which the West would like to see reestablished.

Thus, on the ground, partition has already happened.

Absent a game-changing development (such as a major commitment of US ground forces), it is difficult to see how Iraq and Syria can be put together again.

In the period ahead, as Barzani’s statement this week seemed to indicate, we may have to get used to referring to “the former” Syria, and “the former” Iraq – in the same way it is now customary to refer to “the former” Yugoslavia.

The problem for the people of these areas is that the wars between the successor entities appear as if they have a long time yet to run.

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