Backfire for Hamas
posted at 9:37 am on December 28, 2008 by Ed Morrissey
If Hamas expected to find more popularity among the Palestinians by provoking another war with Israel, they may have miscalculated. Despite initial protestations over Israel’s attack on all Hamas security offices, Arabs don’t appear terribly interested in Hamas’ problems. Even the Palestinians blame Hamas for the outbreak of hostilities:
Hamas could have prevented the “massacre” in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday in Cairo.
“We spoke to them and told them ‘Please, we ask you not to end the cease-fire. Let it continue,'” Abbas said during a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. “We want to protect the Gaza Strip. We don’t want it to be destroyed.”
One of the few sympathetic voices in the initial attack came from Egypt, which condemned Israel’s actions in Gaza and opened its borders to assist the wounded. That didn’t work out as planned, and Egypt sharply criticized Hamas in the same forum:
Aboul Gheit also attacked Hamas, saying the group had prevented people wounded in the Israeli offensive from passing into Egypt to receive medical attention.
“We are waiting for the wounded Palestinians to reach Egypt. They aren’t being allowed to go through,” he said.
Asked who was to blame for the dire situation in Gaza, the foreign minister replied: “Ask the party that controls Gaza.”
Most tellingly, Egypt has a solution to the conflict — and it’s not directed at Israel:
He added that the meeting of Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo Wednesday should call on Hamas to extend the truce.
Granted, Abbas — also known as Abu Mazen, one of the people suspected to be part of the Black September plot that killed the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972 — has his own reasons for blaming Hamas. He wants an uprising to end their rule in Gaza and return Fatah to power so that he can unite Gaza and the West Bank under his somewhat more moderate rule. Undermining Hamas works to his benefit, but until now he hasn’t publicly sided with Israel during actual military conflict.
Egypt’s shift shows more clearly the miscalculation by Hamas. The Arab nations had successfully pressured Israel into lifting parts of its embargo against Gaza while the truce remained in place, in name only for the most part. Their publicity stunt in ending the truce and increasing the rocket attacks threw away what success they’ve had in pushing Israel back. They may have reached the same conclusion I did in yesterday’s post — that Hamas just wants a war of annihilation, and nothing else. They may be prepared to let them have it. They’re certainly handing Hamas the blame for this war, and in public, which is a significant change in attitude for Egypt.
Update: A couple of thoughts here, based somewhat on my friend Scott Johnson’s excellent post this morning at Power Line. Normally, Israeli-Palestinian conflict gets seen as a venue for the general Arab/Israeli power struggle in the region, but things are changing. The Sunni Arab nations see less of a threat from Israel than from Iran, the Persian Shi’ite nation bent on establishing regional hegemony. Hamas gets its funding and direction from Tehran, in part through its Syrian ally. Egypt has no desire to see Iran establish a satellite nation on its border and on the Mediterranean, and the Saudis won’t much care for it either. Hamas’ war gave the Sunni moderates an opportunity to isolate their leadership among Arab nations, enough of an opportunity to do it publicly.
This could be more about the layers of ethnicity (Arab vs Persian) and sectarianism (Shi’ite vs Sunni) than the Israelis. Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia may have finally figured out that Hezbollah and Hamas, the two main proxy armies of Iran, constitute an existential threat to their regimes. Abbas would be the logical beneficiary of that concern. Expect to hear very little direct criticism of Israel as long as they limit their targets to Hamas facilities in this operation. The Israelis are acting on behalf of their own security, and they know it.
Update II: Carl in Jerusalem thinks Scott and I are being too optimistic. He also notes that Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon, has threatened to open a second front. That would tend to harden the Arab nations against Iran, not weaken their resolve. They won’t appreciate a big Iranian power play in their back yard. If Nasrallah follows through on his threat — which I doubt — it will also spell a well-deserved end to the UN’s feckless international “peacekeeping” force in the sub-Litani region of Lebanon.