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On Qatar and Hamas in Gaza 26, October 2012

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iran, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Qatar.
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The following article appeared on ForeignPolicy.com

A deeply contrarian streak has taken hold in Qatar these days. Insulated by U.S. security guarantees, eager to use its burgeoning fiscal reserves, and propelled by its elites’ reformist zeal, Doha continues to exert a disproportionate influence on regional politics. Emir Hamad bin Khalifah Al Thani’s latest move was a dramatic visit to the Gaza Strip, becoming the first head of state to visit the Palestinian territory since Hamas wrested control of it in 2007.

Unlike some of its less imaginative Arab rivals, Qatar saw Hamas’s regional isolation as an opportunity rather than a problem. Despite its alliance with the United States, Doha has been nurturing its ties with the Palestinian Islamist group for some time: Its worst kept secret is that Khaled Meshal, Hamas’s leader, has had a house there for many years and has been increasingly seen in Doha since Hamas was forced to leave Syria in early 2012. Doha has also opened its pocketbook to Hamas, pledging $250 million in February — a gift that was increased to $400 million upon the emir’s visit.

The injection of funds, however, is not the most important aspect of Sheikh Hamad’s trip. By breaking Hamas’s regional isolation and explicitly recognizing its rule over Gaza, Doha has strengthened the militant group’s hand against its Palestinian rivals. An official from the Palestinian Authority, which is in charge of the West Bank, begrudgingly welcomed the visit while noting that “no one should deal with Gaza as a separate entity from the Palestinian territories and from the Palestinian Authority.”

Unlike the Palestinian Authority, Israel felt no need to soften its criticism. An Israeli spokesman carped bitterly about the emir’s trip, saying that the emir was “throwing peace under a bus.”

The visit further highlights Israel’s loss of influence with Qatar. Relations between the two countries warmed with the opening of an Israeli trade office in Doha in 1996 (reputedly close to Meshal’s house) as the two sides looked to ship Qatari gas to Israel, with Enron acting as the intermediary. The deal failed, however, and relations ebbed and flowed until December 2008, when Qatar cut ties in protest of Israel’s offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Rumors that Doha was attempting to restart relations were finally put to rest with a leaked memo from Israel’s Foreign Ministry labelling Qatar as a “leading activist” against Israel, decisively cutting whatever informal relations remained.

The Iranian angle

Iran, with whom Qatar maintains cordial official relations, joins Israel and the Palestinian Authority in an unlikely triumvirate watching proceedings in Gaza with glum resignation. Tehran officials are doubtlessly looking back nostalgically to happier times only a few years back, when their proxy Hezbollah all but defeated the Zionist Entity — winning Iran no small degree of Arab support for its material support to the Lebanese militant organization.Back then, Hamas was also still ensconced in Iran’s camp, and Syria was a stable ally that appeared to be gradually increasing its influence in the Middle East.

Indeed, while Israel and the Palestinian Authority may view Qatar’s embrace of Hamas with chagrin, it is Iran that is the central loser in this drama. The emir’s visit is part of a larger Qatari policy to unseat and reorient crucial Iranian allies around the Middle East — and by extension, amputate a long-used, effective limb of Iranian foreign policy. This is a remarkably forthright policy, for Iran will not — and cannot — take it lying down.

This new policy is most evident in Syria, where Qatar is explicitly and unashamedly supporting the 19-month insurgency with money, equipment, and at the very least light weaponry — little less than a declaration of war against President Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s core ally.

But Qatar’s new activism is also apparent in Gaza, where Doha has likely decided to take action precisely because of Hamas’s break from Iran. When Tehran stopped sending money to Hamas after the group failed to publically support Iran’s embattled ally in Syria, Qatar saw an opportunity to split the Palestinian group from its long-time sponsor. While its $400 million donation is earmarked for humanitarian development, not only is such support fungible, but there are doubtless other financial arrangements being made between Qatar and Hamas on this trip — further strengthening the ties between the Palestinian Islamist movement and Doha.

This move will, of course, catalyze another round of speculation that Qatar is supporting the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood across the Arab world. That Qatar’s supports the Brotherhood is not in doubt — indeed, it hardly tries to conceal its efforts at engaging with the Islamist movement in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and now with Hamas, another Brotherhood offshoot. Yet Qatar is not nefariously trying to replace the Shia Crescent with a Brotherhood Banana, curving from Syria through Gaza, Egypt, and on to Libya and Tunisia. Doha is much more pragmatic and less Machiavellian than that: It is leveraging its relations where they exist, and looking to bolster popular, effective, moderate Muslim parties with whom it has relations.

Qatar’s vanguard role in weakening a key plank of Iranian foreign policy indicates that Doha must feel deeply secure with its relationship with Tehran, for it would hardly undertake such aggressive moves if it felt imminently threatened. Indeed, there is an obvious flashpoint between the two regional powers: Qatar and Iran share the world’s largest gas field, which has been responsible forQatar’s recent spike in wealth. Traditionally, this has meant that Qatar treated Iran with a great deal of respect. Relations were carefully improved in the 1990s as the field was being developed, as Doha sought to avoid an escalation after numerous instances of Iran attacking and stealing equipment from unmanned Qatari gas rigs.

Today, Qatar’s relations with Iran are as pleasant as ever on the surface. However, the fact that Qatar is overturning one of the key tenets of its foreign policy by antagonizing Iran is a surprising and forthright move by the Qatari elite, which clearly does not accept conventional limits on what is and what is not possible in the Middle East.

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Son of Hamas founder an Israeli spy for 10 years 24, February 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of Hamas’ revered co-founder Sheikh Hassan Yousef, has revealed himself as a spy for Israel’s domestic intelligence service Shin Bet. For more than 10 years Yousef helped Israeli authorities prevent dozens of suicide attacks and reported key intelligence to Israel “on an almost daily basis from 1996 onwards.”

The Times of London continues and describes his pivotal role in arresting some of Israel’s most wanted such as Marwan Barghouti, his invaluable insight into the organization and his role in literally tracking down a suicide bomber in 2007. Yousef is revealing all these fascinating details in his book Son of Hamas, much to the displeasure of Shin Bet who are worried that it will reveal too many of their procedures and methods.

Further to the cringing embarrassment of Hamas et al, Yousef has since converted to Christianity.

Pressure for the US to recognise Hamas 16, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations.
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Stephen Walt over at the new Foreign Policy blog quotes the Boston Globe which lists US scholars, practitioners and ‘senior statesmen’ that believe that the US ought to be negotiating with Hamas. In addition to Walt himself, it is rather distinguished bi-partisan list: Brent Scowcroft, Henry Siegman, Carla Hills, Ted Sorensen, Lee Hamilton, Zbigniew Brzezinski, James Wolfensohn, Nancy Kassebaum, Paul Volcker and Chuck Hagel. The odds, however, of the US administration following the UK example (who decided to recognise Hezbollah recently) appear to be slim. Here’s hoping I’m wrong.

Hezbollah’s tactics not overly applicable for Hamas 7, January 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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Here is an excellent article discussing the vastly different situation facing Hamas in Gaza as opposed to Hezbollah in Lebanon. They explain that not only is the lay of the land crucially different, but Israel appear to have learned from their defeat against Hezbollah. (Thanks to Arabic Media Shack for the initial link).

1. Gaza, only 360 square kilometres in size, lacks the strategic depth that Hizbollah had in Lebanon. So Hamas guerrillas have much smaller and narrower areas of operations than Hizbollah guerrillas had in Lebanon, which gives Israel an advantage.

2. Hizbollah fighters are not members of government, civilian and military institutions such as the police and ministries, so Israeli jets had a limited list of targets. In Gaza they have a large number of easy targets that were hit in the first minutes of the attack, killing at least 200 Hamas members in public buildings.

3. Israel besieged Lebanon from air and sea but could never seal off land routes in and out of the country, so Hizbollah had a good supply of arms and supplies. Gaza was completely sealed off from all sides with the exception of a few tunnels that were mostly destroyed in the first two days of the attack. Now Israeli tanks have cut off Gaza City and the northern part of the Strip from its southern part and completely sealed off all entry points, so Hamas has no access to military supplies.

4. Hamas is much less able than Hizbollah to threaten the Israeli rear. While Hizbollah missile strikes hit dozens of Israeli settlements, towns and cities all over northern and central Israel and can now reach southern Israel, Hamas’s missiles can reach only up to 45km and are mostly ineffective. Missiles fired from Gaza in 2008 killed ten Israelis, while Hizbollah missile attacks on Israel in the 33-day war killed more than 100 and inflicted serious damage to property. So Hamas missile strikes will not be enough to force Israel into new ceasefire talks. Moreover, Hamas’s anti-armour capabilities seem to be ineffective against Israeli tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

5. Hizbollah had much better information, intelligence and counter-intelligence than Hamas. This has been made clear by Israel’s ability to hit many sensitive targets and to dominate the battlespace from the air. Hamas has failed to spring any surprises on the battlefield in the way that Hizbollah did in 2006, confusing the Israeli military command.

Bombing does not work: from the Blitz, to Tokyo to Gaza 7, January 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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Marc Lynch, the Professor of Political Science at GWU and the author of the long running Abu Aardvark blog comments on a talk given by the Israeli Ambassador to America . In the q and a towards the end, the Ambassador is persistently asked about Israel’s strategy in Gaza. I.e. how exactly their military force will weaken Hamas politically: what will literally happen to achieve this end.  Aside from referring to the numbers of Hamas fighters killed and their infrastructure degradation, he had no answer. Indeed, according to Lynch, he seemed to advocate the absence of a strategy as a positive step. Thus, the great unknown of how Israel actually hopes and plans to achieve their stated war goals remains something of a mystery.

This situation is somewhat reminiscent to the British and the Germans in World War Two. Both sides thought that by carpet bombing each other’s cities (Coventry and Dresden to name the most infamous examples) they would destroy the spirit and the support of the other’s population. Therefore – so the logic went – this now terrified population would thus seek to check their leaders and beseech them to seek peace or surrender. This was the prevailing theory at the time. It was, of course, proved not only to be incorrect but caused the exact opposite: it galvanised public opinion against their enemy and behind their political authorities. This kind of mistaken logic was also employed in the American fire bombings of Tokyo which killed more people than the Atomic bombs yet still did not begin to cause the Japanese population to revolt or seek the end of the war.

These examples, it seems to me, are a reasonable approximation of what it happening in Gaza and Israel. Both sides think that they can frighten their opposition into surrender. It is something of a seductive logic which initially might make sense. It ignores, however, countless other factors such as decades of built-up hate and anger and indeed, Israel’s own experiences. When suicide attacks and rocket attacks affect Israeli cities, this does not cause swathes of Israelis affected to demand that their government give up, surrender or even retreat in their policies. Exactly the same can be said about the previous Israeli attacks in Gaza and the West Bank. Indeed, support for Hamas is higher than ever. According to one Fatah local leader, ‘everyone’ in his area now supported Hamas. Vicious attacks on one’s community do not cause people to shrink away from the attackers, but they bring the population ever closer, united against a common enemy under the auspices of whatever group promises retribution.

Ahmadinejad severely criticised by ex-Presidential advisor and Parliamentary spokesman 26, January 2008

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Mohammad Shari’ati, advisor to former Iranian President Khatami, savaged Ahmadinejad on Al Jazeera. His criticism were wide ranging and severe. He began by prefacing his criticisms by saying that considering that Ahmadinejad had little international experience when he started, he changed far too many policies. With their neighbours, he believes that Iran ought to have continued along with their ‘friendlier’ policies of the last regime. He is also critical of the Ahmadinejad’s dealings on nuclear issues. The policies of Khatami, Rafsanjani, and al Rouhami were all “more realistic.” The fallout of this is that the former Iranian UN nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani had to resign – he seemed to be inferring – because of the dichotomy between the old and new policies and the difficulties of negotiating across the change.

Regarding Hamas and Hezbollah, Shari’ati maintained that they could not be cut off, but that they must be dealt with in some kind of framework. It was unclear what he was specifically referring to, but he went on to maintain that Iran ought not to meddle in the internal affairs of other countries, be it Iraq, by supporting militias about whom they really know quite little, or Lebanon where Iran “has ties everywhere.”

Domestically, he complained that there is, overall, less work and less money for Iranians and he castigated the government for signing fake contracts, to look as if they are doing something productive. Ahmadinejad’s excuse that this “is the result of out steadfastness” cut no ice whatsoever. Also on domestic issues, Hadad’Adel the Iranian Parliamentary spokesman, angrily reacted to Ahmadinejad’s attempts to abolish certain Majlis (parliamentary laws) by saying that only the Guardian Council had the right to do so.

http://www.thememriblog.org/iran/blog_personal/en/4830.htm

http://www.thememriblog.org/iran/blog_personal/en/4795.htm