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How will Fatah Hamas reconciliation agreement affect international status, foothold in Gaza Strip? – Palestinian Territories Special Analysis

Current Situation

On October 12, Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation deal in Cairo. According to the agreement, Hamas will hand over all Gaza government institutions to the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) by December 1. PA security forces will take control of the border crossing with Egypt, with certain sources indicating that this handover will be completed by November 1. The parties reportedly agreed to prepare for national elections and are scheduled to meet again in Cairo on November 21 to negotiate further issues.

Previously, Hamas agreed on September 16 to dissolve its government in Gaza and reconcile with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA). The group also reportedly agreed at that time to hold general elections. Lastly, multiple Arab and Muslim countries welcomed the reconciliation agreement between the two parties, including Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry on October 13.

How will Fatah Hamas reconciliation agreement affect international status, foothold in Gaza Strip? - Palestinian Territories Special Analysis | MAX SecurityAssessments & Forecast

Reconciliation agreement liable to improve Hamas’ status vis-a-vis region’s Arab countries; PA likely to gain foothold in Gaza Strip, possibly increasing its image among Palestinians

While in light of the failure of past reconciliations between the two parties it cannot be ruled out that the agreement will not materialize, given that the agreement serves the interests of both parties, it will likely manifest and be kept by Hamas and Fatah in the short- to medium-term. The reconciliation agreement between the two parties is likely part of the Hamas’s efforts to bolster its regional and international legitimacy. While the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) is widely accepted within the international community, Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization among many Western countries. Furthermore, Hamas has traditionally been resented by the prominent Arab countries, chiefly due to its rivalry with the PA, which is broadly supported across the region.

Through reconciling with the PA, Hamas likely attempts to improve its relations with the Arab countries. This is highlighted by the Egyptian-mediated negotiations between the two entities, as well as the Hamas’ growing cooperation with the Egyptian security establishment regarding the threat of militancy in North Sinai in recent months.  By improving relations with Egypt, a prominent actor that maintains close ties with Saudi Arabia, Hamas will likely bolster its relations with the Kingdom and other Arab countries. This is further strengthened by Saudi Arabia’s recent welcoming of the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas. Additionally, Hamas also demonstrated this effort in its new charter, which distanced the Hamas from the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned group in many countries.

In the Gaza Strip, the agreement is likely a part of Hamas’ efforts to reverse the PA-instated sanctions in recent months, including halting power supply to the Gaza Strip, as well as withholding the salaries of thousands of Gaza-based civil servants. Should relations between Hamas and some of the Arab countries eventually improve, investments and donations may recover the Gaza Strip’s economy. In addition, the frequent opening of the Rafah border crossing may relieve pressure on the group in the Gaza Strip, coupled with the rapprochement between Hamas and the al-Sisi administration in Egypt. Such economic improvements in the Gaza Strip may allow Hamas’ local reputation to improve. However, should the economic improvement be perceived by Gaza’s population as linked to the PA’s efforts, it is possible that support for the PA among the Gaza Strip’s residents will increase, thus shifting the political environment towards the PA.

In the West Bank, the agreement is likely part of Hamas’ attempts to increase its foothold. In this context, if elections eventually take place, Hamas will likely achieve significant gains, capitalizing on growing anti-PA sentiments across the West Bank. Multiple polls conducted among the Palestinians over the past several years have predicted Hamas’ victory in the event of elections. According to an opinion poll from September 20, if presidential elections take place, the chief of Hamas’ Political Bureau Ismail Haniyeh would win the elections with 49.8 percent, while the current PA president Mahmoud Abbas would achieve only 41.7 percent.  With this in mind, the PA will likely seek to postpone such a scenario as much as possible to prevent the reduction of its power in the West Bank.

For the Fatah-led PA, the agreement may serve its interests by granting PA security forces a degree of control in the Gaza Strip, including of its border crossings and local administration. Given the PA’s declining status among Palestinians, the reconciliation may allow the body to portray itself as siding with the “resistance” and rebuild its reputation. In addition, the development may be aimed at putting pressure on Israel, given the current lack of negotiations and low likelihood of such talks at this time. By forming a unity government, the PA likely seeks to counter one of Israel’s main arguments against the commencement of negotiations, namely the lack of one government representing the Palestinians. This would allow the PA to portray Israel as unwilling to negotiate a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Reconciliation liable to enhance Egypt and Saudi-led Arab countries’ influence in Gaza, while countering Iran’s

Iran will likely oppose this newly achieved agreement, given that it compromises its interests in the region by reducing the threat of militancy to Israel, as well as strengthens elements allied with its regional rival Saudi Arabia. Tehran is liable to attempt to thwart the materialization of the agreement, mainly by bolstering its support for factions within Hamas who are known for their traditional links to Iran, such as the group’s military wing, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. This party, in turn, is likely to oppose the agreement given the influence it would allow other Arab countries at Iran’s expense, and more hawkish factions within the military wing may seek to thwart the agreement over the coming weeks, including by attempting to overthrow the current Hamas leadership in Gaza, as well as to escalate tensions with Israel into a broad conflict.

For Egypt, the reconciliation agreement serves Cairo’s interest in mitigating the risk of militancy in the North Sinai Governorate. Over the past several months, Egypt has invested efforts to destroy militant infrastructure in Rafah city along the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, mainly to prevent the Islamic State (IS)-affiliated group Wilayat Sinai from smuggling weapons and fighters from Gaza into northern Sinai. Having pro-Egyptian security personnel along the border on the Gazan side, particularly PA-linked security forces, will enable cooperation with their Egyptian counterparts, subsequently reduce the threat emanating from such jihadist elements. Even in the event of Hamas security forces’ positioning along the border, in light of the ongoing rapprochement between Cairo and the faction in recent months, the Egyptian government’s interests are liable to be preserved nonetheless.

The agreement also serves Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies’ interests. The Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip had been under Iranian influence, exemplified by efforts to arm Hamas’ military wing Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. By securing the presence of friendly elements within the Gaza Strip, namely PA officials, Riyadh would be able to gain a certain foothold in Gaza and potentially counter Iran’s influence. This could also be achieved by future investments by Saudi Arabia, as well as other Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC), in the Gaza Strip. In addition, an agreement between the Saudi-backed Fatah-led PA and the Qatari-backed Hamas could possibly serve as a trigger for negotiations to solve the crisis between Qatar and the other GCC countries, as a cooperation may be required by Doha and Riyadh to oversight the agreement.

Likelihood for negotiations between Israel and Palestinians remains low, despite decreased potential for future broad conflict between Israel, Gaza-based militants

FORECAST: Given Hamas’ refusal to disarm its military wing, as well as Israel’s interest in avoiding acknowledging Hamas as representatives of the Palestinians, peace negotiations are unlikely to commence at this time. However, given precedent of previous such reconciliation agreements, the ongoing security cooperation between Israel’s security apparatus and PA security forces will likely continue over the coming weeks and months, including in the form of arrests of Hamas militants.

The agreement will likely reduce the potential for large-scale hostilities between Israel and Gaza-based militants. This is due to the expected improvement of economic conditions as a result of such an agreement. This includes salary payments to Gaza-based civil servants, particularly Hamas’ military wing’s operatives, which would diminish the group’s motivation to ignite hostilities. In the event of a localized escalation, in light of Egypt’s increasing rapprochement and growing influence on Hamas, Cairo would likely serve as a mediator between Israel and Hamas, thus reducing the potential for an exacerbation of hostilities. Nevertheless, Gaza-based Salafist and Islamic State (IS)-inspired militant groups will likely continue to target Israel with occasional rocket fire over the coming weeks and months in an attempt to drag Hamas and Israel into a broad conflict, with the long-term goal of weakening Hamas’ control over the Gaza Strip. Such elements may also carry out acts of militancy against PA elements and Hamas-affiliated interests, destabilizing the security conditions in the Gaza Strip, which in turn would serve as a fertile ground for the recruitment of new militants.

Recommendations

Business-essential travel to Ramallah can continue at this time while adhering to basic security precautions regarding the threats of civil unrest and militancy.  Consult with us for itinerary-based recommendations and ground support options. Avoid nonessential travel to other Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank at this time given the persistent threat of civil unrest.

We advise against all travel to the Gaza Strip at this time due to continuous border crossing closures and the threat of militant activity. If travel is essential, prior to entering Palestinian-controlled areas from Jerusalem-area checkpoints, confirm that crossings remain open and no unrest is taking place. Crossings near the cities of Jenin, Qalqilya, and Tul Karem remain less prone to violence. Minimize night travel in major cities, as the majority of IDF and PA security operations occur at this time, particularly in the vicinities of Palestinian refugee camps.

Strategic Analysis: Potential for Hamas-Israel conflict increases with mounting pressure from Egypt

On October 21, Hamas officially claimed responsibility for building a 1.7km tunnel which was uncovered in Israeli territory on October 7. The tunnel extended from the Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis to the vicinity of the Israeli community of Ein Hashloshah, and was meant to transfer Hamas militants into Israeli territory for the purpose of staging a mass-casualty attack or kidnapping.  The claiming of the tunnel by Hamas comes during a period of mounting economic pressure against its Gaza-based government as a result of the closure of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, and the destruction of over 90 percent of the smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza by the Egyptian military.

Hamas militia on patrol in Gaza City
Hamas militia on patrol in Gaza City

In September 2013, IDF Southern Command chief Sami Turgeman revealed that Israel had sent a delegation to Cairo in an effort to convince the Egyptian military to ease pressure on the Gaza Strip. Turgeman cited Israeli concerns that Hamas’ increasing isolation could lead to a collapse of a ceasefire with the IDF which has been in place since the conclusion of Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.  The IDF is reportedly concerned that such isolation would weaken the ability of Hamas’ security forces to prevent rocket fire by fringe extremist groups, or that Hamas’ own military wing would resort to an escalation with Israel in an act of desperation.

Following the uncovering of the tunnel on October 7, the IDF abruptly halted recently-resumed shipments of concrete to the Gaza Strip, while Palestinian residents claimed to have received SMS messages from the IDF accusing Hamas of ignoring the dire economic conditions in favor of building combat infrastructure. In addition, an increase in IDF activity has been noted in the Gaza Strip border area, including limited penetrations and the uncovering of improvised explosive devices meant to target border patrols.

Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Potential for Hamas-Israel conflict increases with mounting pressure from Egypt

Strategic Analysis: Hamas increasingly isolated

On July 24, UN officials stated that the Egyptian military had destroyed approximately 80 percent of smuggling tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip to Egyptian territory. Following the ousting of President Mohammed Morsi on July 3, the Egyptian military set out to destroy hundreds of these tunnels as part of a broader effort to restore order in the Sinai Peninsula. With its main artery to the outside world effectively cut along with its ideological allies in Egypt ousted, Hamas has few favorable options to prevent its demise.

Smuggling tunnels to the Gaza Strip have been destroyed by the Egyptian military.
Smuggling tunnels to the Gaza Strip have been destroyed by the Egyptian military.

Tunnel closures have begun to impact daily life in Gaza, sparking rampant fuel and electricity shortages. Shortages of concrete have resulted in the firing of approximately 20,000 construction workers, while 90 percent of Qatari and Turkish-funded projects in Gaza have reportedly been suspended due to lack of supplies.  In addition, three fishing zones in Egyptian territory have since been closed to Palestinian fishermen.  The official border crossing at Rafah, meanwhile, has remained mostly closed since July 3.

Hamas has reached its most isolated point since it forcefully took control of Gaza in 2007, after enjoying years of popularity following the Arab Spring.  After Mohammed Morsi’s election in 2012, Hamas shifted alliances toward the regional Muslim Brotherhood movement, improving relations with Qatar, Turkey, the Syrian opposition, and other Sunni-Islamist entities. This policy shift came at the expense of long-standing ties with Iran and the Assad regime, resulting in a reduction in financial and military assistance. Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Hamas increasingly isolated

Intelligence Analysis: Iranian influence in the Gaza Strip

For Iran and the Assad regime, intermission is over. The swift ending of the Gaza conflict is likely to thrust the bloodshed in Syria and the Iranian nuclear crisis back onto center stage, with an ever-invigorated Western-Arab alliance raising the curtain and directing the spotlight. Yet, in their overly-romantic portrayal of successful U.S. shuttle diplomacy and Egypt’s emergence as a responsible mediator, global punditry has underestimated the Ayatollahs’ continued ability to plunge the Gaza Strip back into chaos at their leisure.

Smoke rises from IDF air strikes in the Gaza Strip during Operation Pillar of Defense.

Iran purposefully and undoubtedly fired the first shots of this latest escalation, which began four days prior to Israel’s assassination of Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari on November 14. On November 10, militants from the Iranian-backed Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) fired an advanced Kornet missile at an IDF border patrol, igniting four days of hostilities between Israel and other Gaza-based militant groups, primarily Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The use of such a highly accurate weapon was a game changer, prompting the IDF to plan Jabari’s killing soon after as a response.

While alliances between militant groups in the Gaza Strip are about as stable as quicksand, Israel has long maintained that it holds Hamas responsible for any violence emanating from the coastal enclave. This includes attacks from the PRC, whose successful use of a highly-sophisticated Kornet missile underscores just how advanced even fringe militant groups in the Gaza Strip have become under Iranian direction.
Continue reading Intelligence Analysis: Iranian influence in the Gaza Strip

Strategic Analysis: Impact of Israel’s anti-missile capability on grand strategy

During last week’s Operation Defensive Pillar,  Israelis and the world at large witnessed the unprecedented success of the Iron Dome air defense system. After all was said and done, Iron Dome operators successfully shot down more than 87 percent of incoming Grad, Katyusha, and Qassam rockets over Israeli urban centers, potentially saving countless lives.

An Iron Dome anti-rocket battery.

However, this new capability may cost Israel and its grand strategy for achieving a lasting peace with defensible borders in the long term. Ultimately, the Iron Dome’s success may have limited the Jewish State’s ability to act against terrorist groups, inciting such groups to execute more innovative methods of attack, thus making a sequel for operation Pillar of Defense ever more imminent.

After witnessing the tactical, operational, and strategic advantages the Iron Dome provided during eight days of heavy rocket fire, the debate over how the system affects Israel’s grand strategy continues nevertheless.

Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Impact of Israel’s anti-missile capability on grand strategy

Intelligence Analysis: Who will fight for Iran’s nuclear program?

Last week Iran sent a high-level envoy, Saeed Jalili, on a particularly controversial public-relations tour to Lebanon and Syria, the most explosive corner of the region. After ruffling feathers during a Beirut stopover, Mr. Jalili traveled to Damascus to meet with President Bashar al- Assad, where he declared the ties between Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah to be an “axis of resistance.”

Israeli pilots prepare for flight. Iran has since warned of massive retaliation in response to an Israeli attack on it’s nuclear facilities

Jalili is an iconic figure, whose position as the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council also affords him the role of chief negotiator for Iran’s contentious nuclear program. Amidst a deadlock in negotiations and a rehashing of threatening rhetoric, Jalili’s visit was meant to remind the Israelis that Iran’s proxies on Israel’s northern doorstep remain ready and willing to plunge the region into chaos if Israel strikes Iran’s nuclear facilities.

It appears however, that Iran’s allies in the eastern Mediterranean may not be as keen about going to war for the ayatollahs as Tehran would like – and the Israelis know it.

Continue reading Intelligence Analysis: Who will fight for Iran’s nuclear program?

Strategic Analysis: Israel’s Anti-Missile Systems: The Best Defense is Once Again a Good Defense

Since the late 1980s, Israeli defenseexperts maintained that short to medium range missiles and rockets would be the dominant weapons threatening the Israeli home-front in the future. This notion materialized during the 1991 Gulf War, when 39 Soviet made Iraqi Scuds exploded throughout Israeli cities and towns. After this watershed moment, various Arab regimes and militant organizations began to stock pile such missiles and rockets in anticipation of any future confrontation with Israel. To counter the perceived threat, Israel developed a new defense doctrine, one that is pro-active and multi-tiered.

Israel’s Iron Dome Anti-Missile system.

Israel’s first system was the single-stage testing platform Arrow I missile, which was later developed into the dual stage Arrow II. This system has an operational range of 90-148 kilometers and a flight ceiling of 50-60 kilometers. Both the range and flight ceiling are dependent on the ballistic profile of the incoming  threat. Testing of the system indicates that it is capable of intercepting 90% of incoming threats.

In 2009, the Israeli aerospace industry began to develop the Arrow III, which is capable of operating as an exo-atmospheric interceptor that contains a maneuverable warhead. Due to its capacity to operate in the exo-atmosphere, it is supposedly able to intercept an incoming threat before it reenters the Earth’s atmosphere.

Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Israel’s Anti-Missile Systems: The Best Defense is Once Again a Good Defense

War in Gaza: Sooner Rather Than Later?

By Ron G.

Unfortunately for Hamas, the Gaza Strip remains a negligible pawn on the Middle East chessboard, a playing card to be used by regional powers when it suits them most. 

Tension in southern Israel remains high after the Israeli Air Force targeted a smuggling tunnel and another terror-related facility in the Gaza Strip following the fire of four Kassam rockets into Southern Israel on December 28. The recent exchange of fire was triggered by the targeted killing of two militants in the Gaza Strip on December 27, who according to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) were en-route to commit a terror attack along the country’s southern border with Egypt. At least one of the militants killed in the raid was reportedly an Islamic Jihad member.

Islamic Jihad militants march in Rafah.

Until now, the Islamic Jihad’s response has been  relatively mild. In previous instances, the militant group responded by firing larger salvos of rockets into Israel, and to greater distances. The mild response can be attributed to a number of factors. First and foremost, the group has suffered serious losses in its recent skirmishes with Israel, especially during the months of August, September and October. Second, the Islamic Jihad is being restrained by Hamas, who controls the Gaza Strip and has a low interest in escalating the situation at this point. Lastly the group is being pressured by both Fatah and Hamas to avoid an escalation at a time when reconciliation talks between Palestinian factions are underway.

Since  the cessation of operation Cast Lead in 2009, both Israel and Gaza-based militants have upheld an unspoken status quo. In this new reality, sporadic rocket fire into the area surrounding the Gaza Strip was largely tolerated, with each such incident met with a limited IDF response. Every violation of this status quo has led to a temporary and localized escalation. These exchanges usually included bouts of more intensive rocket fire into Israel’s southern cities, answered with more costly targeted attacks by the Israeli Air Force against more sensitive targets in the Gaza strip.  Continue reading War in Gaza: Sooner Rather Than Later?