By squeezing Hamas, Israel may be handing the strip over to Iran’s proxies or, worse still, it may have to confront a territory with no government at all.
The decline of Hamas and increasing strength of Islamic Jihad may result in a new wave of chaos in the Gaza Strip, The Economist magazine writes in its latest issue.
One sign of the change was the most recent round of mutual shelling two weeks ago, which was conducted, on the Palestinian side, by Islamic Jihad. When Egypt wanted to bring an end to the firing, it bypassed Hamas and went straight to Islamic Jihad – and, “within minutes, calm was restored.”
“Islamic Jihad thus claimed credit for the fighting—and for the subsequent truce,” the magazine writes.
Islamic Jihad is receiving “dollops of money” from Iran, as well as weaponry that is more advanced than anything Hamas can field. “Flush with Iranian cash, Islamic Jihad has been trying to take the lead in dispensing charity during Gaza’s Muslim festivals.”
The organization currently claims to have 5,000 fighters under arms and is increasing its strength, while Gaza’s biggest employers—the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and the United Nations —are so cash-strapped that they are all cutting staff and pay.
Hamas, on the other hand, “is bleeding,” The Economist writes. Not only has it lost its two main patrons, Syria and Egypt, but it has also lost the tax revenue it used to make on fuel and raw material from Egypt. “Israel now supplies fuel at three times the old Egyptian price and refuses to let in much else.”
“To save money on petrol, Gaza’s police have taken to asking Gazans who ask them to investigate a crime for the taxi fare.”
Hamas support for the Muslim Brotherhood has resulted in tough measures from Egypt’s military regime. The terminal at Rafah, the sole border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, has been closed for at least six weeks and nearly all the tunnels between the strip and Egypt have been shut down.
With at least 20,000 fighters under its command, Hamas is still by far the largest force in the enclave, The Economist writes, and no single group “has the muscle to replace it – yet.” But there are rumors that it has resorted to borrowing cash from Islamic Jihad.
“Israel and its allies,” the magazine concludes, “may come to worry that, by continuing to squeeze Hamas, they are throwing the strip into the clutches of Iran’s proxies, or worse still, that Gaza may find it has no government at all—and that a wave of mayhem may result.”
Haaretz, 1st April 2014, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.583022