As per convention, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday made sure to condemn Israel. Behind the scenes, however, the real story was apparently unfolding – an Egyptian push to end the madness and stop the cycle of violence Hamas wants to impose on the entire region.
The Egyptians have never hidden their views on Hamas or its allies – Turkey and Qatar – whom they have considered enemies and still do. With no other choice, they were willing to accept Hamas’ rule in Gaza, but their patience expired when it became clear that the organization was playing with fire, supported by a tailwind from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Eleven years have passed since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip and its situation has never been worse. It has failed to adequately manage the daily lives of Gazans. The path of armed struggle was choked off after Israel found a solution to the missile threat (Iron Dome), and no less important – the threat of underground terror tunnels. Finally, its diplomatic escape routes were blocked one after another, once Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi entered office.
To escape this fate, Hamas chose, perhaps like Samson pulling the temple down upon himself and the Philistines, a path of suicidal destruction. Primarily, it has sought to create a mass casualty media event to strike at hearts and minds – hopefully while inflicting Israeli casualties – to divert the world’s attention to Gaza and force Israel and Egypt to ease some of the pressure suffocating the group.
However, the events along the Israel-Gaza border have not only failed to advance Hamas’ interests, or the Palestinian cause, for that matter, they have knocked the terrorist group yet another step backward. South Africa, a country whose best years appear to be behind it, chose a long time ago to minimize its diplomatic ties with Israel. Erdogan’s diatribes against the world, this time aimed at the United States and Israel, are no longer a source of concern. The U.S., on the other hand, which is still the leading global superpower, is standing firmly and decisively behind Israel – in fact, to an unprecedented degree. Meanwhile, the majority of Arab countries are standing with Washington in the more important fight, against Iran and its proxies, such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
All of this points to a new regional alignment spearheaded by the United States, in which Israel and moderate Arab countries are partners. Its effects can already be seen in the efforts to restrain Hamas and block Iran. Turkey and several European countries are choosing, as per usual, to oppose the U.S. and Israel. Emerging before us is a clash between the new world Washington wants to advance, and the old, nefarious world.
As for Hamas, its swelling distress could lead it to further escalate the process it initiated, perhaps even revert to shooting missiles at Israel. Either way, Israel should now re-examine its Gaza policies, which are predicated on a willingness to accept Hamas’ ongoing rule as the lesser of two evils, if it commits to quieting tensions on the border. In this regard, Israel will find itself in line with several important Arab countries, among them Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which also want to extinguish the fire in Gaza, get rid of Hamas if possible and focus, primarily, on Iran.
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.