Is Hamas Losing its Protective Edge?

Most media outlets across the world without any particular axe to grind, peg Hamas as the instigator for this latest round of violence in the Middle East.

It continues to hurl rockets at nearby Israeli civilian centres with the express purpose of causing solely civilian Jewish casualties. But why is it doing this? And is Hamas losing its ‘protective edge’ in the battle for the hearts and minds of the “Palestinian” street?

It is increasingly clear to many observers here in Australia, that Hamas has been stung by the Israeli operation in Judea and Samaria in the wake of the kidnapping of the three Jewish teenagers.

Their 5-year long wait for release of arab prisoners in the Shalit deal has come to naught because Israel has used the west bank initiative to re-imprison most of the top Hamas west bank-based operatives who were released back in 2011.

In the psychology of perceptions in mid-east politics, Hamas lost face.

Not only face, but Hamas is financially strapped now that Shia Iran has withdrawn its financial backing of the terror group because of its support of the rebel Sunni militias in Syria. Needless to add, Assad to has revoked backing the group.

Add to this PA refusal to pay Hamas salaries, the lukewarm support from PA chief Abu Mazen across the country and his reticence to further foment a second front there, and the near hermetically sealing off of the land/tunnel access to Egypt and the Sinai by al-Sisi, has meant that Hamas needed an event to justify its existence.

That leaves only the sea access, but Israel has recently reduced the perimeter blockade to its original distance of three nautical miles, further negating gains made by Hamas in the international arena.

Thus, the round-up of top Hamas operatives in Judea and Samaria provided just such an excuse for Hamas to try and restore its flagging fortunes and relevance in the “Palestinian” street.

Until the two Hamas members who murdered Gilad Shaer, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Ifrach are located and brought back to Israel, it is not entirely clear or proven beyond reasonable doubt that Hamas itself was actually involved in the kidnap and murder.

This would have added to Hamas’ sense of “injustice” at the hand of the Israelis, and would have been a blow to their image as the only arabs taking the physical fight to the ‘Zionist entity’. In this regard, they might yet turn out to be entirely vindicated!….

For his part in the discomfiture of Hamas at the hands of the Israelis, Abu Mazen in Ramallah must be privately delighted that political rival Hamas is bleeding men, materiel and prestige in the current ill-advised debacle. He has further turned the screws by refusing a recent Hamas demand that the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah take employees of the disbanded Gaza government onto its payroll.

This dispute over money is symptomatic of the wider malaise and schism afflicting a ‘unity’ government recently sworn in in a bid to end seven years of rival administrations in Gaza and Ramallah. Politically too the two groups are on different trajectories, and Hamas is incensed at the ongoing international recognition of Ramallah as representative of the “Palestinian” struggle at the expense of its violent sibling in Gaza.

Militarily, it is in a bind. Now that Egypt has closed off tunnel access to smuggled medium and long-range rockets from Iran, its need to replenish its stock will grow stronger the longer this conflagration drags on.

In addition, the longer the successful Israeli aerial assault continues on Arab rocket infrastructure in Gaza without any reciprocal success in taking Jewish lives, the more likely it is that a focused ground offensive by the Israeli army would destroy Hamas’ military capabilities and morale even further. This is because hitting the rocket launching system can be done in a far more systematic manner, in places where the rockets and their production facilities are hidden deep in the heart of their non-combatant population. And finally, an IDF ground assault would effectively signal a psychological blow to Hamas who may well believe that Israel is reluctant to initiate a ground operation. However, a ground assault could be exactly what Hamas wants so that anti-tank weapons can take out slow-moving Israeli tanks and army jeeps and other large slow-moving objects in the confines of Gaza’s warrens of streets.

On balance, this writer couldn’t care less what Hamas may or may not believeabout Israeli valour: sanctity of Israeli life in such an operation is paramount and though I hope that Israeli brass will eschew such an option, I will understand why it had to happen.

In the short to medium term then, with Hezbollah and Syria tied up in the north, with Egypt barricading them from the south, with Jordan increasingly turning to military cooperation with Israel against an ISIS threat in the east, Hamas is inexorably running out of options. Unquestionably, it will be dismayed by the heavy physical and strategic damage it has so far sustained. It now appears that al-Sisi’s ouster of the Brotherhood in Egypt was more than just an omen of what was in store for the Gaza-based affiliate……

And that is quite OK by Israel.

In the end, Operation ‘Protective Edge’ will have succeeded in its stated mandate of stopping the rockets.

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