Opinion: The Incredible Shrinking Terror Group

Is another Gaza war on the horizon? Photo Courtesy of IDF Spokesperson.

Is another Gaza war on the horizon? Israeli car hit by rocket fire. Illustrative. Photo Courtesy of IDF Spokesperson.

There’s something rotten in the Strip of Gaza, and it’s about to get even worse. If you’re a terrorist there, anyway. In a crazy change of circumstances and politics, the Hamas organization is now on its heels and there just might be hope of more stability and peace in the Middle East. There may also be more bloodshed before that point is reached. Let’s take a closer look at what’s happening and the odds of it resulting in more violence soon.

The Hamas terrorist organization—which has masterminded dozens of suicide bombings and launched thousands of rockets at Israel—finally looks to be in big trouble. But it’s not Israel that has them there. Instead, Hamas is now finding themselves surrounded by enemies and losing friends.

If the tide continues to turn against them, Hamas might just quasi-reform itself for a more peaceful near future. But the odds of that appear unlikely. Tragically, it’s more probable that they will seek renewed relevance by renewing violence against Israel. The only good news is that they look to be primed for a knockout from Israel if they start a new war. Here’s why:

1. Egyptian Earthquake

The rise and dramatic fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has to be Hamas’ biggest blow thus far. When the Muslim Brotherhood took over Egyptian politics after the first revolution there a couple years ago, Egypt went from a quasi-ally of Israel to a friend to Hamas. As the philosophical godfather to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood felt a bond with the Gaza terror group and seemed to be turning Egypt more in their favor.

Since Gaza shares a border with Egypt, that opened the door to improved trade and economics for Gaza, as well as the possibility of importing more weapons and trained terrorists.

But this past summer, that all changed. The huge protests and eventual military takeover that ousted the Brotherhood from power has since turned into a purge. Considering the Brotherhood’s terrorist background and their current terror connections, the Egyptian army understandably has sought to break their power in Egypt for good.

That means that Hamas has also been under pressure. That border with Egypt is now being sealed tighter than ever. According The New York Times, even the underground tunnels linking Egypt and Gaza are under serious attack. And this is a real blow to Hamas—economically as well as militarily.

With Israel controlling the other borders to Gaza, Hamas’ best hope of building a militant state was Egypt. Now, that’s all but over.

Ynet has reported that Hamas recently flip-flopped on its approach to rocket-fire on Israel, and internal pressure on them is part of the reason. More than a year of “ceasefire” has held, but it almost ended in the last few weeks.

Initially, afraid in part that more extreme terror groups in Gaza could rise in popularity, Hamas’ military wing removed their security groups responsible for restraining the smaller terror groups from firing rockets. That way the crazier groups won’t steal more supporters from Hamas who are tired of the stalemate with Israel.

But then the political side of Hamas intervened, afraid that renewed rockets could mean renewed war with Israel—for which Hamas is not ready. Ynet described it as drama, and that’s exactly what it is. But real lives hold in the balance here.

Chances of more violence: Medium. Hamas is hurting economically, and could lose popularity as a result. In the past, Israel has been a convenient scapegoat. If things get bad enough, Hamas might feel a fight to the death with Israel is actually less worrisome than an internal brawl with smaller terror factions growing in strength. Israel needs to respond heartily to any Gaza violence and the US should support them, at least politically.

2. Syria’s Turnaround

Hamas gave up a key ally when the Syrian regime began killing its own civilians, as Hamas backed the rebels. But now that the regime is looking more and more likely to hang onto power, Hamas has lost a friend for nothing.

This will impact other scenarios as well, but for now, it’s just one more blow for Hamas.

Chances of more violence: Low. Hamas certainly isn’t going to want to fight for the rebels now, and attacking Israel won’t change Syria. It puts pressure on Hamas, but this alone won’t make them desperate.

3. A Rival Revives

Hamas’ main political opponent amongst the Palestinians is Fatah, which controls the West Bank and is led by Mahmoud Abbas. As the main negotiator with Israel, Fatah was an easy contrast to Hamas. The violent Palestinians found a home with Hamas, whereas the bitter ones who were tired of war were more interested in Fatah.

However, Al Monitor reported that Fatah is making more connections with Iran—a longtime patron of Hamas. In fact, Fatah representatives even met with Iranian officials in Iran.

This is potentially devastating for Hamas. They have been funded and armed by Iran for years. But with Iran interested in trying to make new friends for political reasons, violence with Israel is not their top option… for now.

Iran has a big picture vision. Years later, Fatah could be led by terrorists bought off by Iran. Rather than support a struggling terror group backed into a corner like Hamas, Iran could be arming and helping Fatah attack and threaten Israel from the very heart of Israel in the West Bank. Iran wants to rule the Middle East, and Fatah can get them there better than Hamas can, especially now.

Syria may have played a role here as well. Al Monitor noted that Fatah chose to work more with the Syrian regime to end the fighting against the Palestinians in Syria, and that may have bought it good will with Iran—Syria’s top ally. Hamas chose the other side, and that comes with a price.

Chances of more violence: High. If Hamas sees it’s losing support from Iran and popularity to Fatah, the Gaza terror group may decide to make it even more clear they are different than Fatah. If Fatah is negotiating with Israel, Hamas will be at war with Israel.

While that won’t win Iran’s support, it could open doors to backing from Al-Qaeda spinoffs and other enemies of Israel. More importantly, history shows that whenever Israel and the “moderate” Palestinians make progress on a deal, extremists literally try to blow it up. Sadly, expect more of the same here.

Bad News First

So in this case, it really is good news and bad news. Hamas is in trouble and between Egypt’s crackdown and the loss of friends, the Gaza terrorists may just be weak enough to be knocked out completely in the not too distant future.

The tragic side to this is that before that happens, it seems likely that Hamas will take their best shot at trying to survive. And while Fatah and Iran have sought to play nice now and fight later, Hamas has never really appropriated that lesson.

They just can’t bring themselves to even pretend to renounce violence. And as a result, they are more likely to turn to violence to try and survive.

While the current ceasefire with Israel has stabilized things with Gaza for over a year, Hamas is growing desperate. Expect at least one more big conflict, perhaps this year, as Hamas tries to stave off the inevitable.

In the long run, Israel and the West are more at risk by the smiling, but conniving, Fatah and Iran. In the short run, Hamas is the main threat. So it’s bad news later and now. The only good news? Hamas isn’t likely to run much longer.

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, February 9, 2014)

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