Jihadi surge means isolation for Hamas

By John R Bradley, July 18, 2014
IS fighters parade along a street in Syria's Raqqa province. The group controls swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq

IS fighters parade along a street in Syria's Raqqa province. The group controls swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq

While there is no let-up in the West's criticism of Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip, in the Arab world - notwithstanding anti-Israeli outrage on social media, grumblings from the dinosaur Arab League and sporadic pro-Palestinian street demonstrations - an air of indifference reins.

The dramatic rise of jihadi outfit the Islamic State is one of the keys to understanding this counterintuitive point.

Aside from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are the two countries that matter geopolitically, and both have expressed predictable rhetorical outrage over Palestinian civilian casualties and called for an emergency meeting of the UN's Security Council.

But they are threatened by jihadi-inspired unrest on the back of the successes of the Islamic State - an outfit that Hamas has reportedly been forging links with.

The Islamist State's goal is not only the destruction of Israel, but also the overthrow of Saudi and Jordanian monarchies. Though they loathe to acknowledge the fact publicly, for pragmatic reasons, Saudi Arabia and Jordan would quietly welcome the eradication of Salafist-aligned Hamas's military capabilities.

Hamas chief Khaled Mashal

Hamas chief Khaled Mashal

Hamas's support for the jihadi-led uprising in Syria has resulted in further isolation. The Alawite-dominated regime of President Bashar Al-Assad and the Shia-led Iranian regime, once Hamas's strongest financial and military backers, as a result threw Hamas to the wolves.

The death of every innocent Palestinian is a tragedy, of course, but it is difficult to do anything but snarl with derision when such criticism comes from a Hamas elite that openly backs jihadis who slaughter more innocents by the day than Israel has killed thus far in full-scale urban warfare.

Israel, then, senses that this may be the perfect moment to take out Hamas once and for all, before the terms of a ceasefire can be agreed. The long-term danger is that, by putting the Palestinian issue centre stage, the Jordanian and Saudi governments will facilitate further radicalisation of the masses. Potential extremists will become even more alienated from their respective regimes - and be more likely to heed the eventual call from the Islamic State for a full-scale jihad against Israel.

Egypt has its own problem with Islamic extremism, and it too is privately content to let Israel grind Hamas into the dust. It took more than a week for the Egyptian regime, under pressure from the EU, to call for a ceasefire – but in doing so made no reference to the long list of Hamas's demands for an end to hostilities.

Cairo, mindful of the anti-Israeli sentiment among its vast population, had previously been a reliable supporter of Hamas, quickly using its leverage to broker ceasefires.

But not this time round. Having designated the Muslim Brotherhood - of which Hamas is an offshoot - a terrorist organisation, Cairo is hardly in a position to criticise Israel for doing the same.

Since ousting the Brotherhood-led government last year, the brutal Egyptian security state has massacred at least 1,400 of its citizens (some estimates put the figure higher) and arrested, on the flimsiest charges, tens of thousands more - while sentencing hundreds to death in kangaroo courts.

The Egyptian regime's mindless crackdown on the Brotherhood and its supporters make by comparison Israel's behaviour appear to be a model of constraint. It was nothing short of hubris, in other words, for Cairo to try to belatedly take the moral high ground on the question of Palestinian civilian casualties.

John R Bradley is the author of four books on the Middle East

Last updated: 12:45pm, July 18 2014