MidEast

Analysts: Egyptian Tunnel Campaign Has Weakened Hamas, Created “Window of Opportunity”

The Egyptian army’s efforts to stabilize the deteriorating security environment in the Sinai Peninsula have involved a range of tactics and strategy, from the mass deployment of troops to the destruction of subterranean smuggling tunnels linking the Egyptian-controlled Sinai to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The Egyptian military blames the Palestinian terror group for violence in the country stretching back to the 2011 Arab Spring revolution, both directly and as a function of the tunnels, which are used by jihadists to facilitate attacks against Egyptian soldiers and civilians. The latter campaign is having significant toll on the Gaza economy:

“The Gaza Strip has lost around $225m during the past month due to the halt of imports, namely fuel and crude materials for construction, such as cement, gravel and steel,” said the Hamas economy minister, Alaa al-Rafati… Queues at petrol stations have grown. Amir Daban, 29, one of those waiting in line in Gaza City, said he had no idea when normal supplies would resume. “There is no stability at all. One day we have it, the next day we don’t. Nobody is saying when this will end.” He added that he could not afford fuel imported from Israel.

Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, suggested this week that Hamas’s precarious position presents a diplomatic opportunity for the U.S., provided that pressure is maintained on the group:

While the math is fuzzy, one thing is clear — the Egyptian army’s tunnel operations are slowly strangling Hamas. If one or more of the Islamist movement’s other funders cut back their aid even a little, its financial crisis will only deepen. The more acute the crisis, the more Gazans will grow frustrated with their Islamist rulers. A Muslim Brotherhood government just fell unexpectedly in Cairo — if Hamas doesn’t watch its back, it could happen again in Gaza.

For John Kerry and his tenuous peace initiative, this is a window of opportunity that should not be ignored.

A scenario under which Hamas is overthrow is increasingly seen as a vital prerequisite to Palestinian pretentions toward statehood. Hamas’s rivalry with the Palestinian Fatah faction has consistently prevented Palestinian officials from bringing the Gaza Strip and the Fatah-controlled portions of the West Bank under a single Palestinian government. Palestinians reserve both territories for a single Palestinian state. A single state governed by opposing governments would almost by constitute a failed state.

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