Monday, August 1, 2016

Don't forget the calm in Gaza - Prof. Eyal Zisser

by Prof. Eyal Zisser

As Israel is gaining strength in the region and deepening and improving ties with its neighbors -- with Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and maybe even Saudi Arabia -- Hamas is left without effective support

Last week, as Israel marked two years since Operation Protective Edge, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal surprised everyone with a dramatic declaration, at least in Hamas terms, wherein he said his organization would be prepared to recognize Israel and even reach an agreement with it. 

We must treat Mashaal's submissive and moderate statement with due caution, because in the same breath, he determined that a condition for reaching such an agreement with Israel would include the return of Palestinian refugees to the homes that they left during the Independence War in 1948. Moreover, we must also remember that Hamas leaders have announced in the past their willingness to reach a "hudna," or a prolonged cease-fire with Israel without committing to a peace deal that would promise an end to Palestinian demands of Israel or an end to the historic conflict with it. 

But in the case of Mashaal's current declaration, the tone and the tune are just as important as the content. Indeed, the submissive, whining tone in which he spoke tells more than anything of the distress Hamas is facing and of Mashaal's desire to maintain calm between his organization and Israel.

It's important to note that at a time when in Israel the internal political argument over the government and military's management leading up to Operation Protective Edge is heating up, there is unprecedented calm along the Gaza border itself, certainly when considering the period since the disengagement in 2005. 

This calm is the direct result of Operation Protective Edge, and at the same time, of the regional reality that Israel and Hamas have found themselves in. As Israel is gaining strength in the region and deepening and improving ties with its neighbors -- with Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and maybe even Saudi Arabia -- Hamas is left without effective support and with a neighborhood that views it suspiciously and with hostility. Truthfully, over the last two years, Hamas has rehabilitated much of its military capabilities that were damaged during the 2014 campaign. This is why many believe that another conflict with Hamas, just as with Hezbollah, is only a matter of time.

But any attempt to compare Hamas to Hezbollah is mere flattery to Hamas, making it seem much greater and more powerful than it really is. Hamas does not have the depth of Hezbollah -- not the depth of support among the local population, not the geographic depth of Lebanon's territory and not the depth of political and military support from its direct neighbors, Syria and through it, Iran. 

This reality leaves Hamas exposed to Israel, and to a large extent, dependent on its good will. Moreover, this reality makes it possible for Israel to decide one day to simply wipe out the entity that is Hamas. Israel's problem in the Gaza Strip is not dealing with Hamas's military power, but dealing with the consequences of the chaos that would break out there if the Hamas regime were to collapse. 

The issue of Gaza has completely fallen off the international agenda, and with the normalization of relations between Israel and Turkey, it seems to have been buried for good. Hamas's capability to maintain its presence in the Gaza Strip, which has become a Middle Eastern anomaly in light of the defeat of Islamists in the region, is dependent on continued calm and on its effort to help Gaza's residents move forward. If it cannot do this, Hamas's rule will crumble, with or without another military campaign.

Prof. Eyal Zisser


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