Last Friday, the Egyptian authorities closed the Rafah border crossing between Sinai and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Cairo also destroyed a large amount of tunnels used to smuggle arms and drugs to the Strip and boosted its military presence in northern Sinai.
Having lost its main ally in Cairo after the collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood regime headed by former President Mohamed Morsi, and fearing that the sluggish economic situation – that was caused by the disruption in the operation of tunnels – might push people to the streets, Hamas feels nailed to the wall with some saying the organization's days are numbered.
But not everyone agreed. Dr. Yoram Kahati, a Research Fellow at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, said it was too early to jump to conclusions.
“Since Hamas lost its base in Damascus after siding with the Syrian opposition and sparking the rage of Iran, President Assad’s main ally, it is still looking for alternatives,” Kahati told Israel Today. “The Muslim Brotherhood might be gone from Egypt’s government but not from the political scenery, which means that Hamas will continue to enjoy the movement’s support, even if on a reduced scale. Hamas – just like its mother organization – has deep roots in the local society, which makes it difficult to demolish.”
According to this expert, the secret of Hamas’ success lies in its strategy and tactics.
“Hamas is an autocratic regime that’s based on fear. They instill Sharia law everywhere they can,” explained Kahati. “Hamas maintains its grip over the mass media and internet, operating various websites that tailor content to their audience in eight different languages. Furthermore, the Gaza Strip’s education system is almost entirely in the hands of the Hamas government.”
Furthermore, Gazans find it more difficult to organize the kind of mass rallies that helped opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood topple their government. Gazans often have to think twice before going against the authorities.
Dimitri Diliani, a spokesman for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, conceded saying Hamas would maintain its power using its ruthlessness. “Hamas is as brutal as their mother organization, the Muslim Brotherhood,” insisted Diliani. “To break down their rivals, they use extreme measures, including torture, assassinations, long-term imprisonment, public executions and tight control over media.”
At the same time, the spokesperson stated that Hamas had lost some of its positions due to bad political choices.
“Instead of caring for the people of Gaza, seeking a solution to their problems and concentrating on establishing democracy, Hamas opted for positioning itself as a regional player, allying with participants in regional disputes,” said Diliani. “Now that they have lost the game [with Morsi’s deposal], Gazans are forced to pay for Hamas’ mistakes.”
With their positions weakened by the growing public dissatisfaction and diminishing regional support, will Hamas launch an assault against Israel in an attempt to switch people's attention to the usual enemy?
Kahati was doubtful. “Hamas seems to put its foreign policy ‘on hold,’ while taking the time to focus on its domestic problems, such as curbing various militant movements that started lifting their heads, challenging the authority of Hamas. So even if they do decide to act, they will have to think twice about the damage Israel can inflict.”
Allies Lost, Allies Gained
With the Muslim Brotherhood presumably out of business, who can Hamas look to for support? Kahati said the answer is obvious – Turkey and Qatar.
“Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already slammed Egyptians for overthrowing their president and promised to pay a visit to Gaza,” the expert noted.
“As for Qatar,” he continued, “it seems that it will continue injecting cash into Hamas, even though the amounts might decrease. The reason for this behavior is Hamas’ decision to side with the opposition in Syria, which Qatar supports.”
Diliani disagreed, suggesting that Qatar seems to want to downplay its role in the region, while traditional support for Hamas from Iran has been seriously downgraded as the two find themselves on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict. In fact, Iran appears to have taken to backing a particular sect within Hamas that has of late not been on good terms with the rest of the movement.
Although it is difficult to get the facts straight, especially when Hamas is not keen on advertising divisions within its ranks, the question of who will side with Hamas in case of another armed conflict with Israel is crucial.
Looking Further Afield
But the Middle East is not the only place Hamas can find allies.
Last week, the Guardian reported that Hamas had established back-channel contacts with some European countries, including the UK, Sweden, Italy and France. This is despite an EU ban on maintaining ties with the terrorist organization. London and Stockholm have already denied official government-level contacts. Others are keeping silent.
Although it's improbable that those countries would openly side with Hamas in case of an armed dispute, they might be powerful enough to pose as mediators.