Posted by Al-Monitor on August 03, 2014 in News Clips

On July 30, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, Commander Qassem Suleimani, praised the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Al-Nasser Salah al-Deen Brigades, Abu Ali Mustapha Brigades, “the political leaders of Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and all the resistance groups."

Suleimani's praise for Hamas is noteworthy. There had been a chill in Iran-Hamas ties since Hamas broke with Syria, and by extension Iran and Hezbollah, in 2012. Hamas, which has since been isolated in its regional alliances, had sought to restore ties with Iran even prior to the current war in Gaza. All this sets the table for Tehran’s leaders, who see opportunity in the Gaza crisis to expand Iran's regional influence. Adnan Abu Amer reported from Gaza last month on Iran’s role in assisting Hamas in developing its indigenous rocket capability.

Iran’s role in Gaza illustrates a trend that this column first noted during the last round of fighting in November 2012. At that time, we wrote:

“Iran revealed that it has the wherewithal to shift the equation and provide some payback, even in those areas where its adversaries allegedly hold sway and hegemony. The fighting in both Gaza and Syria shows Iran’s capabilities to play on two fronts, simultaneously. For those who believed the trend is 'Sunni leaders gaining clout,' Iran is saying think again.”

Adnan Abu Amer reports this week of that while Hamas’ ties to Iran remain strained, the shifting regional politics may have negative consequences for Israel, despite some reports that Israel may be a “beneficiary" of the conflict in its own Middle East alignments:

“The counterproductive effect, as far as Israel is concerned, of restoring the broken ties between Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. All three, despite the objections from Damascus, sense an opportunity to seize the regional circumstances and renew alliances. According to a Palestinian official based in Lebanon who has taken part in talks to revive ties between Hamas and Hezbollah, this also comes amid the flirtation between Qatar and Iran that may expedite the restoration of an alliance with Hamas, albeit still plagued by a number of problems.”

Netanyahu’s Iran distraction

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's fixation on the threat from Iran may have distracted him from the threat from Hamas, including the expansion of Hamas’ tunnel networks.

Shlomi Eldar writes, “For years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu funneled all his energies and hundreds of millions of defense system dollars into a war against Iran’s nuclear project. Israelis heard at every possible opportunity that Iran threatened the existence of their country. According to foreign sources, Israel undertook serious preparations for an aerial attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. … Thus, just when Israel concentrated its greatest efforts and resources on the Islamic Republic, Hamas initiated its massive tunnel enterprise. While the tunnel threat does not compare to a nuclear attack on Israel, it turned out that the dangers posed by the tunnels were much more tangible and concrete.”

The network of tunnels has so far frustrated Israeli efforts to inflict serious damage on Hamas’ leadership or infrastructure.

Ben Caspit argues that this lack of a decisive victory distinguishes the conflict from previous rounds:

“One of the byproducts of this situation is that Israel did not plan the events. Let’s compare it to the two previous rounds, which were meticulously planned. Operation Pillar of Defense began with the killing of Hamas’ chief of staff, Ahmed Jabari, on Nov. 14, 2012. There’s your victory photo right off the bat. It worked out because it was planned well in advance. Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09 started with a broad, surprise attack by the Israeli air force on 12 Hamas bases, during which 220 of its militants were killed during the first airstrike. That, too, is your victory photo. In today’s Operation Protective Edge, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are still looking for their victory photo. Hamas leaders do not raise their heads out of their bunkers. Its fighters emerge out of the tunnels or withdraw into the inner parts of Gaza City. Hamas is harassing the IDF with booby-trapped buildings, anti-tank missiles and explosive tunnels.”

Living and dying in Gaza

James Zogby wrote in the Huffington Post this week: “The remarkable media website Al-Monitor, for example, features daily reporting from Asmaa Al-Ghoul. Every day, at great personal risk, Asmaa walks the streets of Gaza telling, in heart-breaking detail, the personal stories of families who've lost loved ones or survivors whose homes were destroyed. “

This week, Ghoul described what everyday life has become in Gaza.

“We and the neighbors went outside and left the keys in the doors. The moment of horror is not when the missile pulverizes your body, but when you realize that it is on the way, whether after receiving notice or from the actual sound of the approaching shell.

We reached a safe place. The initial shock dissipated, and our thoughts turned to the pictures and memories we had left behind in the house: babies' first steps, the drawing on the wall, my sister’s wedding party in the living room.

You think that you are ready to start over as long as no one dies, but the sadness in your heart makes you go on with your life even after having lost your child or your mother to a shell that tore them to pieces. The shell disfigures a body to the point that it becomes unrecognizable. We try to console the orphans, but do we really know how someone who lost his father or mother feels?”

The humanitarian dimension of the conflict has captured the attention of Americans. According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, Americans generally favor Israel in its military operations in Gaza. Of those polled, 40% said Hamas was primarily responsible for the conflict, while 19% blamed Israel and 14% blamed both parties. And 50% said Israel’s response has been “about right” or “not far enough,” while 25% said Israel has gone “too far.”

After a cease-fire announced by US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon was broken less than an hour in, serious obstacles remain to achieving a lasting end to the conflict.

Adnan Abu Amer writes: “An Arab League official in Cairo told Al-Monitor by phone, 'It would be very difficult to calm the situation in Gaza if Hamas and Israel stick to all their demands. US Secretary of State John Kerry tried but failed to bring the positions closer after he was accused by Cairo and Tel Aviv of adopting the positions of Qatar and Turkey, which are close to Hamas.'”

Palestinian and Israeli delegations are expected to begin discussions in Cairo on Aug. 2.

The Islamic State offers no support for Hamas

The Islamic State (IS) has offered no support to Hamas during the conflict, a choice that Ali Mamouri writes reflects the group's Salafist beliefs, including the focus on the “close enemy.”

“Salafists today see that their priority as fighting Shiites, 'munafiqin' (dissemblers, or false Muslims) and apostates, whom they call the 'close enemy.' During the current war in Gaza, a number of IS fighters have burned the Palestinian flag because they consider it a symbol of the decline of the Islamic world, which succumbed to national divisions through the creation of independent political states. In Salafist doctrine, the entire Islamic world must be united under a single state, an Islamic caliphate, which IS declared in late June.

Salafist groups active in Gaza have engaged in various rivalries with Hamas there, but they have not succeeded in establishing a foothold of any significance. Some groups have posted video clips acknowledging their support for IS following the group’s recent victories in Iraq and Syria. The main dispute between Hamas and Salafist groups rests on their disparate principles. Hamas is more realistic and pragmatic than the jihadist Salafists. The former has political priorities in liberating Palestinian land, whereas the latter has religious priorities in the establishment of a totalitarian Islamic caliphate and considers the Israeli issue secondary to this central goal.”

Meanwhile, Aleppo residents prepare themselves for a possibly decisive conflict between the Syrian government and opposition forces.

Mohammed al-Khatieb reports from Aleppo on the impact of the loss on the Syrian opposition: “Losing Sheikh Najjar was a shock to opposition fighters. They had controlled it for more than two years. Its fortified factories had been a deterrent to regime forces as they crept toward east Aleppo. The opposition now fears that the industrial city will become a launching point for regime forces to advance toward the west and close the military cordon around Aleppo’s 'liberated' neighborhoods while being helped by surrounding hills, which the regime controls. The opposition will have a hard time recovering the lost areas if the regime controls the hills.”

Mideast lobbying in Washington

On Aug. 3, Al-Monitor launches a new project which tracks the lobbying efforts of Middle Eastern governments in the United States. The series will provide information on the lobbyists, their issues and priorities as well as their contacts with Obama administration officials, Members of Congress and other agencies. 

The first segment series covers the lobbying activities of Egypt, Turkey, Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq. Look for profiles of Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon on Aug. 10.

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