At the Kurdistan Front

Weekly Standard, 12/9.

A war is being waged along a 900-mile front between two entities that today constitute de facto quasi-states stretching across the old border between Syria and Iraq. These are the Islamic State to the south and a contiguous area of Kurdish-controlled territory to the north. Recently, I traveled to the latter, in regions of northern Iraq and northeast Syria, like the town of Derik, where I spoke with a Kurdish soldier who had recently been in a firefight with IS forces in the neighboring village of Jeza’a.

“We were fighting for 17 hours,” said the Kurd. He was with the People’s Protection Units (YPG), affiliated with the PYD, the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Worker’s party, or PKK. “There must have been about 500 of them,” he said of the IS militants. “Only about 90 of us. They’re strange, the way they keep on coming at you. We got on each side of them. In the end, you should have seen the trucks that came to take the bodies away. Stacked up.”

He paused and took a drag on his cigarette. “I wasn’t hurt bad,” he continued. “I dislocated my shoulder when I had to jump over a wall after one of them threw a grenade. Then they got me out of there. I killed three of them. It’s not nice, you know. One of them was just a kid of about 16. But you’ve got no choice.”

So what does an IS attack look like, I asked. Do they just come running headlong at you?

“They don’t run,” he replied, looking directly at me as if to acknowledge the eeriness of the thing he was saying. “They walk,” he said. “At a normal pace. Towards you. Like they’re not afraid. And you have to shoot them before they shoot you.”

The fighting at Jeza’a was one of the most intense clashes to have taken place between the Islamic State and the YPG. The battle formed part of a broader IS-Kurdish war taking place along a contiguous frontline stretching from Jalawla on the Iraq-Iran border all the way to Jarabulus on the line separating Syria from Turkey.

At Jeza’a, the Islamic State was trying to close the corridor that the YPG had opened in order to bring Yazidi refugees from the Sinjar Mountains to safety at the Newroz refugee camp outside Derik. The more than 100,000 refugees who made their way to Newroz are exhausted and traumatized. The Islamic State considers the Yazidi to be “devil worshippers” who are thus denied the few privileges afforded the so-called people of the book, i.e., Christians and Jews. Yazidi women were sent to the prisons of IS-controlled Mosul, where they were later sold as slaves or forced to wed IS fighters.

Conditions at Newroz are primitive, but there is food and shelter. Further east, in the Kurdish Regional Government area of northern Iraq, the towns of Dohuk and Erbil are swollen with refugees who fled Mosul and Sinjar. The Islamic State’s march toward the KRG capital of Erbil was stopped only by the intervention of the United States Air Force, and they know that any attempt to push forward would result in their obliteration from the air. The KRG’s Peshmerga forces are facing them in hastily assembled positions cut into the dirt. These frontlines are for the moment strangely silent.

In Erbil and in Dohuk, the half-built structures that until very recently were symbols of economic growth and expansion have been converted into makeshift homes for refugee families from further south. You see refugees everywhere. In the evenings the cities have a teeming, crowded feel to them. But the foreigners who came with the oil companies that moved in to do business when the KRG was the most stable part of Iraq are mostly gone. The bars and restaurants that opened up to cater to them are empty. On a Thursday evening in the Deutscher Hof restaurant in Erbil, one of the few places that serves cold beer, only a couple of British security contractors are at the bar. The Indian staff tell me that a month ago, the place would have been packed at this time.

A considerable portion of Erbil’s Kurdish population also left when it looked likely that the Islamic State was on its way. Some sources spoke of a departure of up to 30 percent of Erbil’s residents. The Peshmerga, with the help of Iraqi special forces as well as U.S. air support, have begun to push back against IS. The Mosul Dam, a highly symbolic conquest for the IS, was retaken on August 21. Since then, IS has lost ground in a number of other places. The Peshmerga are now in the process of reconquering oil fields close to Mosul.

West of the Syria-Iraq border, meanwhile, the YPG is continuing its own fight against the Islamic State. I visited the frontline area at the Yarubiya border crossing. The YPG seized the crossing in early August, and now controls both the Iraqi and Syrian sides of it. IS still holds a neighborhood immediately adjoining the crossing. Sniping from both sides and mortar fire are regular occurrences. But the morale of the YPG seemed high. “They can’t shoot,” a female fighter told me cheerfully after we sprinted across open ground to a concealed position a few hundred yards from a mosque where the IS sniper was operating.

Conversations with Kurdish officials indicate that they do not consider the fight with IS in Iraq and Syria to be a battle for the preservation of those two states. Rather, the Kurdish national agenda is visible just barely below the surface. General Maghdid Haraki of the Peshmerga, an effective-looking figure clearly influenced by American military style, put it most bluntly when he told me, “We have a different land, different language, different mentality. I don’t know why the world won’t see this. They just see ‘Iraq.’ ”

A senior KRG official linked to the political leadership was more circumspect. “Iraqi Kurds are today still part of Iraq,” he said. “But if a sectarian civil war starts in Iraq, we want no part of it. And if the mess continues in Iraq and Kurdish rights are not granted, then what is the point of it? Anyway, Kurds, like any other nation, have the right to determine their own future.”

Nonetheless, the fact is that the Kurds are not unified and their divisions are not easily resolved. The central rift is between the two rival pan-Kurdish movements. One is Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic party, which controls the KRG. The other is Abdullah Ocalan’s PKK, listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization for its three-decade-long campaign of violence against Turkey.

Still, when it comes to Kurdish self-determination, PKK-associated officials sound similar to General Haraki and his colleagues. Nilufer Koc, of the PKK-associated Kurdistan National Congress, told me in Erbil that “what’s needed is a referendum on independence here in Iraqi Kurdistan. And when we clear the issue of the referendum, if a new Iraqi government continues to reject Kurdish rights, then the Kurds need to take what belongs to them.”

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Despite Setbacks, Islamic State faces no Danger to its Existence

Jerusalem Post, 5/9

The Islamic State this week executed kidnapped American journalist Steven Sotloff – in ‘retaliation’, the group said, for US bombing of its area of control in Iraq.  The murder of Sotloff once more indicated the savage  brutality of this group.

But while the IS may be almost without rivals in terms of its capacity for cruelty, events on the ground in Iraq and to a lesser extent in Syria are indicating its limitations as a military force.  IS tactical setbacks, however, do not yet cast a serious shadow over the future existence of the Islamic State.

In early August, IS reached far into Iraq in a lightning offensive that left it 45 km from the Kurdish capital of Erbil and in possession of the city of Mosul and the Mosul dam, which provides water and electricity to northern Iraq and to the capital, Iraq.  The group’s fighters humiliated the Iraqi army in the taking of Mosul and the Kurdish Pesh Merga forces in the capture of the Sinjar mountain area.

IS went on to carry out atrocities against the Yezidi population of the Sinjar area, and the Christians of the Mosul area, creating a large refugee population.  It was only airstrikes by the United States Air Force commencing on August 8th which prevented the fall of Erbil.

The Islamic State remains deployed close to the Kurdish capital.  This reporter last week visited one of the frontline positions of the Kurdish Pesh Merga, at Khazer north west of Erbil.  The lines around the city are eerily quiet at the moment.

This is because IS knows that were it to attempt to roll across the bare, flat ground towards the city, the US air response would be swift and fierce., and would result in the obliteration of the jihadi force.

The halting of the jihadi advance toward Erbil is testimony to the might of US arms, when they are directed with will and a clear goal.

The US has also been engaged, in cooperation with the Pesh Merga, Shia militias and the Iraqi army, in beginning to turn back the IS advances in western Iraq.

This week, the siege on the city of Amerli was lifted by Iraqi and Shia militia forces, paving the way for the re-conquest of Salahuddin province.  The advance was preceded by US airstrikes on IS positions in the town.

The Pesh Merga has also had a good few days.  The strategic Mosul dam was recaptured in late August, in a joint operation with Iraqi forces.  This week the town of Zumar was retaken.

Evidence is  emerging that US Special Operations forces are also engaged in the Iraq battles. It is not clear what precise role these forces are playing, but their presence has no doubt contributed to the relatively strong showing of the Iraqi and Kurdish forces in recent days.

The evidence indicates that the tactics of the Islamic State which enabled the group to achieve its rapid gains in Iraq in the course of the summer are of less application when defending areas against a determined attacker.  IS has fast moving, mobile light infantry forces and employs terror tactics to intimidate populations. It has limited manpower, however, and no particularly original tactical abilities in defense, beyond its fighters’ willingness for self-sacrifice.

Further west, in Syria, when IS fighters have faced the well motivated and determined Kurdish YPG militia, they have failed to gain ground.  In Hasakeh province, and further west in the  beleaguered Kobani enclave, the lightly armed but highly motivated and well-trained YPG fighters have succeeded in holding off the jihadis (albeit with heavy losses on the Kurdish side). This was so even when IS began to deploy US weapons systems captured in Mosul against the Kurds in Kobani.  The enclave remains intact.

So the Islamic State is not invulnerable. Nevertheless, its continued existence is under no immediate threat.  This is because of strategic, not tactical issues.

The forces that would like to destroy the Islamic State cannot, and those that could do not wish to.

Airstrikes can be useful in enabling the Iraqi forces and the Pesh Merga to eat away at the eastern edges of the Islamic State territory in Iraq.  But air power alone cannot root out the jihadis from their heartlands in Syria, or indeed from their Iraqi conquests as a whole.  This could only be achieved by ground forces.

Assad’s army would certainly like to reunite eastern Syria with the rest of the country. But Assad’s forces have been losing ground to IS in Raqqa province – the latest defeat being the loss of the Tabqa air base and the subsequent massacre of the garrison.

The Iraqi Army and its allied Shia militias would also like to win back the areas lost to IS, but there is no reason to believe that these forces at present have the offensive capacity to do so.  The Iranians are probably in the process of seeking to transform these forces, in a similar way to that achieved with regard to Assad’s fighters in late 2012/early 2013.  Again, the Iraqi Shia are relevant only with regard to Iraq. But the IS heartland remains in Syria.

The  United States lacks a clear strategy for how to deal with IS other than placing clear red lines before Erbil and Baghdad , and assisting the Iraqi army and the Kurds.  And Syria remains largely off-limits, it would appear, despite the increasingly fictional nature of the border between Iraq and the country to its west.

There is no political will for the kind of commitment of western forces which could obliterate the Islamic State.  And the Kurdish forces – both YPG and Pesh Merga – are interested in defending and maintaining Kurdish areas of control, not in offensive operations.

This means that despite the setbacks it has been suffering over the previous week, the survival of the Islamic State does not appear presently in question.  The Islamic State will exist until someone has the ability and the will to destroy it.  This time does not appear to be imminent.


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The IS-Kurdish War

National Post, 29/8

“Eighty years ago, they joined three nations together and formed Iraq. This mistake must not be repeated … The solution is a breakup,” says General Maghdid Haraki.

The Kurdish peshmerga officer is speaking from the front lines in Khazar, northern Iraq. His position is only 45 kilometres northwest of Erbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdish regional government (KRG), which along with Sunni and Shiite Arab lands makes up modern Iraq.

Today, not only the existence of Iraq is in jeopardy. So is the existence of the KRG itself, assailed by the Islamic State of Iraq & Al-Sham (ISIS), whose harsh brand of Islam is terrifying locals and appalling the world.

A single war between ISIS and the Kurds is now under way, stretching along an enormous front line from Jalawla, near the Iraq-Iran border, all the way to Jarabulus on the frontier between Syria and Turkey.

On the jihadi side of the line, the Iraqi-Syrian border no longer exists. ISIS now controls huge swaths of Syria and Iraq, and will continue to do so unless and until it is destroyed.

After their lightning advance from Mount Sinjar in early August, the jihadis have dug in on three sides of Erbil. Facing them are Gen. Haraki and the peshmerga.

The front lines are quiet for now, mainly because U.S. air strikes Aug. 8 stemmed the Islamists’ headlong rush toward the Kurdish capital. But the general and his men know the quiet is likely to be only transient.

To reach Erbil, ISIS forces would have to advance over bare, flat ground. Were they to attempt this, the Kurds would request the help of the Americans and the ISIS force would be obliterated. ISIS knows this, too. Hence the strange and sullen silence.

Nevertheless, Erbil remains tense. The city is swollen with refugees — Chaldean Christians from Mosul, Yezidis from the Sinjar area — who understand all too well what any jihadi advance would mean for them, non-Muslim minorities who were smart or lucky enough to get away in time.

They are living in tent encampments in open areas of Erbil and in the half-built grey structures that characterize this place, which had the feel of a boom town until fairly recently.

Now, the bars and restaurants catering for foreigners are largely empty. Employees of the big foreign oil firms and consular staff left hurriedly when the jihadis seemed to be about to descend. Many residents also fled.

ISIS has not forgotten Erbil. A terror campaign has begun here. There are mysterious explosions of a type familiar to residents of Iraqi cities further south. Last week, a car bomb ripped through a central neighbourhood, wounding several people.

But Kurdish forces are hunkering down, facing the jihadis with grim determination. With the help of U.S. air cover and Iraqi special fores, they are beginning to reconquer some of the areas lost. Most significantly, these include oilfields near Mosul, retaken this week, and the Mosul Dam, which provides water and electricity for much of northern Iraq.

The Kurds are well aware of what an ISIS victory would mean. After the jihadis took the Mount Sinjar area (Shinghal in Kurdish), they unleashed a series of atrocities that shocked even this most hardened of lands.

At the fly-blown Newroz refugee camp in northern Syria, Yezidi refugees described what happened when ISIS fighters appeared in their villages near the mountain and the peshmerga fled.

“We tried to withdraw all the women and kids from the village. People who could get to the mountains were safe, people who stayed were killed,” said Kawa, 30, who was lucky enough to escape with some of his family.

The refugees’ bitterness at their abandonment by the peshmerga remains raw and palpable. But still more tangible is the sense of stark horror as they recall the jihadis’ actions.

“When ISIS came to the village, they took all the women, and any man who could hold a weapon was slaughtered. Now they are selling Yezidi women for $5 in the slave market in Mosul,” Kawa says.

“My parents were too old and sick to come with us, and we had to leave them. We don’t know what has happened to them. Also, some people didn’t have fuel for their cars, and those ones couldn’t get to the mountain.”

The man and his family were among the lucky ones, rescued by members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Turkish Kurds, who led them to safety in Syria.

The peshmerga’s failure to hold the line at Sinjar was a shock, both for observers and inhabitants of Kurdish northern Iraq. Gen. Haraki blames it on the help afforded ISIS by local Sunni Arabs.

In this regard, at least, he is in agreement with the refugees at Newroz.

“Our neighbours in Iraq became our enemies, and killed us,” says Kawa’s wife.

But the peshmerga’s initial failure was not only the product of local Sunni support for ISIS. These once-vaunted fighters had not taken part in combat for 20 years. Deprived of modern equipment by the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad and the West, which remains suspicious of Kurdish separatist ambitions, they found themselves outgunned and initially outfought by the jihadi blitzkrieg.

But, as the refugees’ testimony suggests, other Kurdish forces appeared at Mount Sinjar mountain — the ragged and formidable fighters of the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) militia from Syria and PKK guerrillas from Turkey.

Armed only with Kalashnikovs and light machine guns, but with much combat experience, these fighters succeeded in opening a road from Sinjar up to Jezza, Rumeilan and then to the refugee camp outside Derik. Tens of thousands of lives may have been saved because of this action.

The YPG and ISIS are old acquaintances. The Kurds have been battling the jihadis since late 2012 to maintain two Kurdish-controlled enclaves on the border between Syria and Turkey, Jazeera and Kobani.

ISIS has been notably unsuccessful in its efforts to make progress in this little-reported front of the Syrian war.

The opening of the corridor from Mount Sinjar was the most notable achievement yet for the YPG/PKK.

It indicates that, for all their undoubted fanaticism, the jihadis are not invincible and can be turned back when met by equal commitment and greater skill.

On the Kurdish side, the peshmerga and the YPG, and their very different political masters are for now allied in the face of the common threat. They sense both threat and opportunity in the break-up of Syria and Iraq.

The threat can be seen 45 km outside of the KRG capital, in the silent but glowering positions of the Islamic State.

The opportunity, meanwhile, is that Kurdish sovereignty has already emerged as a more benign successor entity in a contiguous line across the old border — and Kurdish forces are today the only ones engaged in earnest against a savage force universally acknowledged to constitute an enemy of humanity.

Gen. Haraki’s statement a break-up of Iraq represents the solution may well be heard more widely and insistently in the months ahead. This is a war to create new borders, and to hold back the advance of a savagery not seen in the Middle East for a generation.

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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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