It's clear: Hamas has left Iran's axis of madness

By Anshel Pfeffer, March 15, 2012

The latest round of violence around the Gaza Strip has brought out into the open one of the major results of the last year's strategic shift throughout the region.

While Israel officially continues to hold Hamas responsible for every attack emanating from Gaza, it has been clear over the past week that every strike and counter-strike was centred on the two smaller organisations in the Strip, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC).

Hamas remained resolutely on the sidelines during the entire round, underlining the fact that it has made a decision to focus on a political course - at least for the moment.

Along with its leaders' denunciation of their former host, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the recent statements by senior officials in Gaza that they would not take part in a retaliatory attack if Israel were to bomb Iran, it is now clear that Hamas has almost irrevocably broken with the Iran-Syria-Hizbollah axis.

This does not mean that Hamas is about to accept Israel's existence, dismantle its extensive missile network and join the peace process, but it does make it easier to deal with the organisation indirectly through Egypt.

This does not mean that Hamas is about to accept Israel’s existence or join the peace process

The emergence of Islamic Jihad and the PRC as the two main groups continuing the armed struggle against Israel changes the deterrence balance. While Hamas was always more vulnerable to attack and arrests due to its extensive social and religious network in Gaza and the West Bank, the two smaller organisations are built much more around underground activity.

They have much less to lose and therefore will find it much easier to launch attacks against Israel on the flimsiest of pretexts.

And while Hamas, even during its most pro-Syrian periods, was always connected simultaneously to Egypt, Islamic Jihad - which still has its political headquarters in Damascus- and the PRC - which is heavily influenced by Hizbollah - are much harder to reach by back-channels.

Iran moved the bulk of its support from Hamas to Islamic Jihad in 2011. This movement towards alternative proxies will continue as Tehran seeks to bolster its strongholds in the region, especially since it is likely to lose Syria in the coming months.

This will put more pressure on Hamas to make a clear choice regarding its future strategy as, on the one hand, it is being accused by its rivals in Gaza of "co-operating" with Israel, and on the other, if they provoke Israel with further attacks, the retaliation could be disastrous for Hamas as well.

Last updated: 3:30pm, March 15 2012