by Khaled Abu Toameh
Hamas faces two options: either to initiate a new confrontation with Israel to create Arab and Islamic pressure on Egypt to halt its war, or to confront the Egyptian army in a direct military engagement by joining forces with the jihadis in Sinai.
For the past two months, the Egyptians have been at war not only with the jihadis in Sinai, but also in an all-out war with the Palestinian Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip.
This war is being waged on two fronts: in the media and along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.
As far as Hamas is concerned, this is a war of survival that it cannot afford to lose.
An Egyptian army watchtower at Rafah, along the Gaza Strip border with Egypt, April 2009. (Photo credit: Marius Arnesen)
The Egyptian war is clearly hurting Hamas much more than the two military offensives launched by the Israel Defense Forces in the Gaza Strip since 2008.
Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip are now talking openly about the Egyptian war, which they believe is aimed at toppling their regime there.
The officials admit that they were not prepared for this war from the largest Arab country, which until last June was their main ally in the Arab and Islamic countries.
Since the ouster of Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi, the state-controlled media in Egypt has turned Hamas into the country's number one enemy.
Almost every day an Egyptian newspaper runs a story about Hamas's ongoing attempts to undermine Egypt's national security, and its involvement in terror attacks against the Egyptian army.
Hamas spokesmen in the Gaza Strip now spend most of their time denying the allegations and accusing the Egyptian media of waging a smear campaign not only against their movement,but all Palestinians.
The media offensive has been accompanied by a series of security measures that have convinced Hamas leaders they are in a state of war with Egypt.
Apart from banning Hamas representatives from entering Egypt, the Egyptian authorities have imposed severe travel restrictions on residents of the Gaza Strip.
The Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt has been shut for most of the time over the past two months, with the Egyptian authorities citing "security reasons" for the closure.
But the most drastic measure taken by the Egyptians so far, which is really hurting Hamas, is the destruction of hundreds of smuggling tunnels along the border with the Gaza Strip.
The Egyptians are now in the process of creating a buffer zone between the Gaza Strip and Egypt after having razed several homes and leveled land along the border.
These are the same Egyptians who used to condemn Israel for every military strike aimed at thwarting rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip against Israeli cities and towns.
All these measures have prompted some Hamas officials to wonder whether Egypt was planning to launch a military operation inside the Gaza Strip under the pretext of combating terror.
Hamas believes that as part of this war, Egyptian intelligence officials are behind a new group called Tamarod [Rebellion] whose members have vowed to overthrow the Hamas regime in November. In recent weeks, Hamas arrested dozens of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on suspicion of being involved with the new group, which carries the same name as the Egyptian movement that campaigned against Morsi.
The Egyptian security measures have thus far resulted in a severe shortage of basic goods and fuel in the Gaza Strip. Some Hamas leaders warned this week that the Gaza Strip is facing a humanitarian and economic crisis as a result of the Egyptian army's measures.
Until recently, Hamas leaders were careful not to engage in a direct confrontation with the new rulers of Egypt. But in recent days several Hamas officials are beginning to regard Egypt's security measures as an act of war against the Gaza Strip.
For now, the Egyptians do not want to admit that they are at war with Hamas, preferring instead to describe their measures as part of a campaign against terror. Hamas, for its part, has internalized the fact that it is at war with Egypt.
Hamas, as it is being pushed to the wall and increasingly isolated, faces two options: either to initiate a new confrontation with Israel to create Arab and Islamic pressure on Egypt to halt its war, or to confront the Egyptian army in a direct military engagement by joining forces with the jihadis in Sinai.
Khaled Abu Toameh
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