Gaza – Year Zero

The Guardian-22/06/2007

The Hamas coup that took place in Gaza last week is an event of historic importance. For the first time in the region, Islamist fighters took on the internationally recognized forces of a western-subsidized Arab nationalist client – and beat them hands down. Fatah was revealed to be the empty, corrupted shell that most Palestinians and many observers of Palestinian politics have known it to be for a long time. The implications of the bloody putsch in tiny, crowded Gaza have not yet presented themselves in full. But it is already possible to make a number of observations, and draw some tentative conclusions.

Three observations:

Firstly, the coup is the latest victory to be added to the considerable list of gains made by the Iranian-Syrian alliance in the last four years. Following on from what looks like the successful undermining of western policy in Iraq, the ongoing Syrian attempt at re-encroachment in Lebanon, the electoral triumph of Hamas in 2006, and the holding by Hezbollah of Israel to a bloody stalemate in 2006, the latest events will be a further indication to the Iran-led bloc that their way – the way of ‘muqawama’ (resistance) is the road to victory.

Hamas’s relationship with Iran is of long-standing, dating back to the mid ’90s. And with the region currently polarizing into two rival blocs – the US and its allies and Iran and its clients – the movement is now conclusively choosing its side. Tens of Hamas fighters have journeyed to Iran for advanced training in Iran in the last months. The movement received pledges of $250 million from Teheran in the last year.

Secondly, Arab political establishments are aware of what is happening, are frightened by it, but have not yet developed a coherent response. Given their track record in responding decisively on other matters of import, optimism would be misplaced.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit in a speech a few days ago asserted that Iranian aid to Hamas activities in Gaza posed a threat to Egyptian national security. Yasser Abd Rabbo, of Fatah, similarly told reporters that “Iran helped Hamas to lead a military coup against the legitimate Palestinian leadership and to control the Gaza Strip…Iran supports those hostile powers in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories in order to serve its regional interests on the expense of the peoples and nations of the region.”

So far so good. But take a closer look at Fatah on the West Bank, where we are told the successful alternative to Hamas-stan is to be built. Fatah failed signally to undertake desperately needed reforms after the 2006 election defeat. The result was the debacle of June, 2007. The movement remains disunited, riven by clan and factional interests, and colossally corrupt. The west and the government of Israel now want to shore up and finance this rotten structure. But no-one has explained why the result of this will be any different to last time around, when money disappeared into the labyrinthine corrupt structures established by Fatah, and ended up financing gold taps in PA officials’ bathrooms.

Thirdly -the regime Hamas is creating in Gaza will be one of prayer, poverty and bloody repression. Already, disturbing stories are beginning to filter out of the Strip – of unhindered attacks by Islamists on Christian sites in the Strip – such as the armed assault on the Rosary Sisters School and the Latin Church in Gaza City earlier this week. Of attacks on Internet cafes and coffee houses. And of extraordinary cruelties visited upon supporters of the old regime – Funeral processions attacked by armed Hamas gunmen, wounded men in Shifa hospital shot in the legs by Islamist fighters.

The Erez crossing yesterday was witness to a forlorn procession of former Fatah security men, and Russian citizens – mostly women whose government was evacuating them – all seeking a way out of Gaza. One Israeli Arab woman from Ramle, whose Gazan husband remained behind in the Strip, told an Israeli newspaper “I’m very scared…Hamas is cruel. They kill people as if they were birds.”
All of which, for Israel, leads to the following conclusion: The siege is drawing in. Iranian client militias are now arrayed to Israel’s south and north. Hamas in the south, Hizballah to the north. The mood in the pro-Iranian camp is one of purpose and steady gain. It is engaged in a long war among whose objectives is the destruction of Israel. Its followers feel the wind behind them.
Yet while it can educate a seemingly endless supply of young men willing to die and destroy, this camp is able to create only islands of poverty, repression and the rule of blood – from which people seek to flee. This remains the contradiction at its heart – a contradiction which is likely to see the currently ascendant energies of Iran and its allies finally dissipated in pointless destruction and defeat. In the meantime, Israel is watching events in Gaza and further afield carefully. The clash between the forces of the ‘muqawama’ and its enemies – the western democracies and their allies – has not yet reached its height.

About jonathanspyer

Jonathan Spyer is a Middle East analyst, author and journalist specializing in the areas of Israel, Syria and broader issues of regional strategy. He is the director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and analysis (MECRA), a research fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for strategy and Security (JISS) and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
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