Fear is Driving Hamas to Further Radicalize

Friday, November 22, 2013 |  Aviel Schneider

Hamas finds itself increasingly isolated and under pressure after the fall of its Muslim Brotherhood patrons in Egypt, the combined Israeli-Egyptian effort to shut down Gaza's smuggling and terror tunnels, and Iran's newfound reluctance to fund the group.

Hamas' response to this situation has been increasing radicalization. In Gaza today, the Islamists rule by brute force, imposing something of a reign of terror.

Several Palestinians from Jerusalem and the region around Hebron told Israel Today just how dire the situation has become.

"As dissatisfaction among the Palestinian population [in Gaza] grows, Hamas' only recourse is to become increasingly strict," said Adel, whose uncle Abasan al-Kabir lives in the Gaza town of Khan Younis.

"Gaza has become a living hell," he continued. "Anyone who criticizes Hamas is immediately arrested and tortured. Many now realize that Hamas is not the solution for a better life in Gaza."

Just a year ago, Hamas seemed to be at the height of its popularity. When Israel's "Operation Pillar of Cloud" to combat Gaza rocket attacks came to an abrupt and unexpected end on November 21, 2012, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal boasted that the group had brought Israel to its knees.

In the following weeks, Hamas was praised across the Arab world for having taken on the Israeli army and forcing it to "surrender." Hamas this year celebrated the anniversary of this "victory over Israel" with military parades in Gaza.

But the current reality is that Hamas has very little reason to celebrate.

In the past year the political situation in the Middle East has changed significantly. Hamas threw its lot in with the fellow Sunni rebels in Syria, but despite all forecasts to the contrary, the regime of President Bashar Assad looks set to endure. And that decision has cost Hamas dearly.

There is a centuries-old conflict between the Sunnis and the Shiites. Despite this conflict, Shiite Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, had long supported Hamas due to their common enemy, Israel.

But Iran, Hezbollah and the Shiites are backing Assad, and have not take kindly to Hamas taking sides with their challengers. This "disloyal behavior" has resulted in the Iranian money tap being turned off.

Things might actually be worse for Hamas on the Egyptian side. The military leaders who now control the country know that Hamas was born of the Muslim Brotherhood, and view the two movements has still being closely aligned. As such, Hamas has been hit hard by Cairo's new anti-Muslim Brotherhood policies.

Meanwhile, an Israeli analysis of the situation would suggest that while Hamas is putting on a facade of calm in the face of calamity, it is rapidly preparing for the one thing that can raise its stock in the region: war with Israel.

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