This time it was Hamas, who refused to extend the ceasefire. Gaza military operation was resumed. The borders remain sealed and civilians have nowhere to flee from missiles and shelling. What is the strategy of Hamas in the current war?
Hostilities have resumed in Gaza after Hamas refused to extend the 72-hour ceasefire as Egyptian-mediated talks in Cairo hit a deadlock. Palestinians wanted Israel to agree to demands that include the lifting of a blockade on the Gaza Strip, a condition Israel refused to address. “We are ready to start the battle again and wage war of attrition for many months,” a representative from the militant wing of Hamas said.
The dramatic detail, though, is that in Gaza with its borders sealed off, civilians have nowhere to escape. Well, that doesn’t seem to stop any of the parties involved…
Valentina Colombo, Professor of History of Islamic countries at the European University in Rome, Saeed Naqvi, Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, India.
Valentina Colombo, Professor of History of Islamic countries at the European University in Rome:
Hamas is the problem. Hamas, as we can read form article 2 of its charter, is part of the Muslim Brotherhood. And the situation around the area shows Egypt, which has fired the MB. The MB is a terrorist organization in Egypt now and President Sisi has been fighting against the MB. So, Hamas doesn’t have an ally in Egypt anymore.
The other ally now missing is Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia joined Egypt in the fight against the MB. So, the two main actors – Egypt and Saudi Arabia – are from a certain point of view with Israel against Hamas. This is the first step.
In general, in the ME area Hamas is felt as a problem. On July 1 the Pew Research Center issued a report on the Islamic extremism, as it is seen with the ME eyes. It was a very interesting report checking the public opinion in the ME on the MB, Hezbollah, Hamas and all the radical Islamic organizations.
And when it came to Hamas, it was really interesting reading the answers, because they went and asked people inside the Palestinian authority “what is your opinion, do you feel comfortable with the Hamas?”. They split the answers in the West Bank and Gaza and the answers were more against Hamas inside the Gaza Strip.
So, this means that people knowing Hamas don’t feel so well with it, because they know it. And this is another point. So, I think that now the whole ME region, which used to be anti-Israeli there is a change of balance. Maybe the governments and politicians are saying something against Israel, because there’ve been too many victims. But, at the same time, they know perfectly well that the fight against Hamas is fundamental. So, this is the great change, I think.
I think that the Egyptian experience has been especially important. The Egyptian experience, where we also had a president – Mohamed Morsi – belonging to the MB, showed that the MB, when it gets power – it is really dangerous. And, at the same time, it is not only dangerous, but is not capable of handling the power.
The presidency of Mohamed Morsi in the end showed that the MB can be the alternative in the region, but it is not the best one. So, what’s happened? We have the MB, for instance, in Tunisia. The MB in Tunisia, after Morsi’s overthrow, they have been very pragmatic. They said – okay, we want to stay in the government, we can also move a step backwards, but we have to stay there. So, they’ve been very-very pragmatic.
On the other side, for instance, in Syria all the processes stopped more or less we can say, because the other most important alternative to the Assad regime could have been the MB. But after the Egyptian experience this was no more possible. And here we are.
As far as Saudi Arabia is concerned, the MB is a danger but it is a danger for selfish reasons. The Saudi regime knows very well that the only good alternative to Al Saud in Saudi Arabia is Al-Ikhwan – the MB. So, this is another reason why.
But all the present politics of the area show that most of the people and most of the regimes are against the MB now.
But, at the same time, there is that Islamic State – something new and dynamic. Does it pose an alternative to the MB?
Valentina Colombo: I think that the ISIS is very useful to the MB, because, again, just like the Salafists, ISIS is the bad face of the dream of the caliphate, while the MB is the moderate face, as usual, as it was at the beginning of the Arab Spring.
The MB and especially the International Union of Islamic Scholars, which is an international organization linked to the MB and headed by Yusuf al-Qaradawi – the main theologian and leader, as far as thinking of the MB is concerned.
As soon as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced his self-proclaimed caliphate, the International Union of Islamic Scholars issued a press release saying – we would be very happy to have an Islamic state and Islamic caliphate in the area but not al-Baghdadi’s. And this is very important.
So, one of the main organizations linked to the MB officially said – we are interested in caliphate. They don’t say it is not the time, it is a different historical period and the caliphate doesn’t need to exist anymore.
They officially said – we want the caliphate, but not al-Baghdadi’s caliphate, because al-Baghdadi’s caliphate is being imposed from up above. Al-Baghdadi in his statements and announcements said – I proclaim the new, the ISIS caliphate and, please, all Muslims from all over the world, come here to me, because this is your country, the Islamic country.
The MB organization, the International Union of Islamic Scholars said – this is not the way. The caliphate has not to be imposed, but has to be reached through a consensus from bottom up. And this is the different strategy.
So, ISIS is saying – here is the caliphate, come here. The strategy of the MB, which we know is a long-term strategy, is a strategy from bottom up. So, they want to create a consensus, they want to prepare people so that people will ask for a caliphate.
And, of course, in the MB ideology it doesn’t necessarily mean that the MB is going to say – here is our caliphate. But it means that, as they usually do, they work from below, they enter institutions, they enter power, they enter the organizations and get the whole power, which maybe is not called the caliphate, but is controlling power everywhere in the Islamic world.
Hamas in its charter clearly states that any kind of international peace, any kind of truce has no value at all. So, this is the Hamas’s context. But we are at a point in which there is a war and there must be a winner, and someone who is defeated so that something in the area of Palestine can change.
We could also say that Israel is doing the dirty work on the ground so that people like Abu Mazen, which is the shade now, really in the background, can regain power over the Gaza Strip. So, that could be the opportunity. But this opportunity can be realized only by a total defeat of the Hamas.
Saeed Naqvi, Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, India:
The world is transiting from a notional unipolar situation to the recognition of multipolarity, in between there is no one single authority. So, therefore, the international system is changing. In private and little corners people are settling little scores. And that action in Gaza is Netanyahu and Israel’s way of creating some kind of fait accompli on the emerging global order, which contours are yet unclear.
I have met Netanyahu… The only person, who was seriously interested in peace and whom I knew was Yitzhak Rabin. I mean, if you accept that Israel is there, then he was proceeding towards some kind of a solution according to his lights, and that is why he was put out.
Now, there are three or four groups of people, who are at this point in time on the same page. They happen to be: Israel, Saudi Arabia, the GCC countries, Jordan – all the countries, who are extremely worried about the rise of the MB. To understand the whole game of Gaza, you must understand the fear of the MB.
Sir, I have heard experts saying that Hamas is in fact a creation of the US and Israeli special services. Is that relevant?
Saeed Naqvi: At one stage, of course. I mean, the al-Baghdadi is the creation of theirs. You see, what happens is that you create a Frankenstein and then you lose control over it. I mean, what happened in 2006? Hamas won the election hands down and the election result was not to the liking of either Israel or the West. And they said – no, this result will be rubbed out – exactly as in the early 1993, when there was the election in Algeria. That is the beginning of the whole trouble.
The election in Algeria in 1993, the Islamic fronts came on top…you see, any grouping that comes to power, you let it be. It is the power itself, which moderates it. Instead of that Europe and the Americans got nervous, and they rubbed out and annulled the election. The result was that Algeria went through a convergence of a civil war. This has been their problem right through. There was an election in Kuwait. The Shiites came on top and they rubbed it out. You see!
So, therefore, you can’t have it both ways. On the one hand, you say – we are introducing an electoral democracy. And then, electoral democracy gives you a certain kind of result, you say “no, this is not the result that I wanted”.
The elections in Afghanistan, on two occasions, everybody knows that you rigged the elections. The election results were altered by you to such an extent that your own official Peter Galbraith, the son of John Kenneth Galbraith, who was working for the UN in Kabul, he left in disgust. And he said that this election is being rigged. This was 2009 election. Now, again, what has happened? You have two contenders in Kabul both claiming victory. You want one to be the victor and the other saying – no, over my dead body.
So, two or three things are happening. In the name of democracy you are trying to intrude into the situations. Now, you have the capacity to intrude, but you simply have lost the power to control the aftermath. This is the tragedy of the current situation.
The same thing in Ukraine. They have gone in, they have thought that they will create a problem for Russia. Of course, they will create a problem for Russia. They have created it. But then, look at the aftermath, they are simply not being able to control the aftermath. Today, different kinds of stories are coming out about the air-to-air missile having hit that MH-17 plane.
So, the problem that you and I face today is this – the one sole imagined superpower has lost the power to control the aftermath. It could not do it in Vietnam. Look what they have done in Iraq. After 10 years of occupation of Iraq, what is happening? Either al-Baghdadi is your creature or al-Baghdadi is in spite of you, both ways, you are not looking very handsome.
Going back to that Israeli-Gaza situation, something that Israel has been doing in Gaza – does it amount to a war crime?
Saeed Naqvi: Well, there is a school of thought imagining that the matter should be taken to the Hague and there should be a case against Israel for war crimes. There is that school of thought emerging. Now, you simply cannot go on with impunity. And look at it – here you have created a war, the only war in the history, where there are no refugees, because you have completely sealed them up like in an oven. You have sealed them from all the sides, and then you are going to hit them.
And there is not a refugee! Can you believe it? This has never happened in the history of mankind in the sphere of warfare, that the war has been going on, people have been killed in large numbers, a slaughter has been taking place but there were no refugees. I mean, this is not just a terrible state of affairs. And the silence of the world is deafening. And the silence of the Muslim world, and the silence of the Arab world is even more troubling, and even more deafening.