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By Tariq Suleman
August 14 2014
Though it seems as if Netanyahu failed miserably to achieve his changing war aims in the current conflict by the hour yet he has emerged as someone who has achieved what no other Israeli leader has managed to achieve in Israeli history.  

First, he managed to reduce the Palestine-Israel conflict to a Hamas-Israel dispute. The Occupation of Palestine seems to have taken a back seat. Whereas the rhetoric emanating from the West during the past conflicts focused on the slogan “Hamas is not Gaza, and Gaza is not Palestine”, the ongoing Gaza crisis has transformed Hamas into Gaza while Gaza is being equated with Palestine.

As Dov Weissglas, chief of staff to Israel’s former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said at the time of Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005, Israel’s disengagement from Gaza would serve as “formaldehyde … so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.” By separating Gaza from the West Bank, Israel could then concentrate on consolidating its control over the West Bank through the process of ever-expanding settlements.

Netanyahu’s second achievement, arising from the current conflict, is the “unique link” that Israel has ostensibly forged with ‘moderate’ Arab states since the war started. This link has been flaunted by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuin the following words: “This…is a very important asset for the State of Israel. With the cessation of the fighting and the conclusion of the campaign, this will open new possibilities for us.”

The reference seems to be to states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that also see certain forms of radical Islamism as an existential threat.

Could there be some kind of clandestine arrangements involving coordination with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE as Joshua Teitelbaum, a senior research associate at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies believes. Netanyahu is probably seeking to install a mechanism to rehabilitate the utterly devastated Gaza Strip with Saudi funds and have the Egyptians monitor the process to make sure Hamas doesn’t abuse the aid to rearm, according to Teitelbaum.

Khalil Al Anani, a scholar at Durham University, Britain, stated in 2012 that the new Arab nations ready to take a stronger stance against Israel could change Israel’s calculations in favor of more restraint. “It shows that Gaza is not alone. This will put pressure on Israel, and they [Arab states] can move further if they want, by lobbying internationally and putting a spotlight on Israel and its lack of interest in peace,” he said.

In 2012, it was the international pressure primarily built by Arab states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Gulf states which compelled Israel to end its fight against Palestinian militants in Gaza.

But why it was so different this time around?

Firstly, because Hamas has lost the support of Egypt with the arrival of the new President Abdel Fattah al-Sis at the helm in Cairo. Since support for Hamas brings bad press, Muslim leaders would prefer avoiding any affiliation with Hamas. This partially explains why, despite over 1800 Palestinians killings, mostly civilians, the Muslim states stay silent.

The military junta in Egypt has led a very different coalition of Arab states right after ousting the Islamist government in Cairo last year. This coalition of Arab states, which included Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, for all practical purposes seemed on the side of Israel in its fight against Hamas. Analysts such as Martin Kremer hold that this coalition of the anti-Hamas Arab states was responsible for the failure of the Israel-Hamas cease-fire. “Egypt — no longer run by the pro-Hamas Mohamed Morsi — is bent on squeezing the Islamists and is working closely with Israel” writes Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator under several US Presidents. He further states, “The Arab states’ loathing and fear of political Islam is so strong that it outweighs their allergy to Benjamin Netanyahu”. He added: “I have never seen a situation like it, where you have so many Arab states acquiescing in the death and destruction in Gaza and the pummeling of Hamas.The silence is deafening.”

The interest of these Arab states seems to be rapidly converging with the interests of the state of Israel as a natural ally. In the battle with Hamas, ‘the Arab states’ loathing and fear of political Islam’ and the Israeli struggle against Palestinian militants seems to be aligning.

As the bloodbath in Gaza went beyond a reasonable estimate, and global outrage over mounting civilians’ deaths in Gaza was mounting, Mr. al-Sisi’s office issued a statement, which, without blaming Israel, only referred to “the bloodshed of innocent civilians who are paying the price for a military confrontation for which they are not responsible.” Even one of Israel’s closest allies, France, was more vocal in condemning Israel. Israel’s right to security does not justify its actions in Gaza, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on 4th of August, as he called for a political solution to be “imposed” by the international community.

However, as opposed to previous conflicts in Gaza, when the leadership in the West Bank had been reluctant to side openly with Hamas, and with a unity government in place, this studied reluctance should have evaporated. The Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Secretary-General Yaser Abed-Rabbo, not only issued a strongly worded statement, he also praised the Gaza’s “valiant resistance” and fully backed Hamas’ demands for a cease-fire and lifting of the blockade on Gaza. But such statements seemed to be short on sincerity and long on political considerations. 

Also, Egyptian officials have directly or implicitly blamed Hamas instead of Israel for Palestinian deaths in the fighting, even when, for example, United Nations schools have been repeatedly hit by Israeli shelling. “The reading here is that, aside from Hamas and Qatar, most of the Arab governments are either indifferent or willing to follow the leadership of Egypt,” said Martin Kramer, an American-Israeli scholar of Arab politics. “No one in the Arab world is going to the Americans and telling them, ‘Stop it now,’ ” as Saudi Arabia did, for example, in response to earlier Israeli crackdowns on the Palestinians, he said. “That gives the Israelis leeway.”

In this Arab governments are setting their face against the Arab street which is overwhelmingly supportive of Palestinian aspirations. Consequently, Israel seems to have emerged as an unexpected beneficiary of the  current conflict, with Hamas ever more isolated. On the other hand Israel has found itself supported by the leaders of the conservative neighboring Arab states as allies in their common fight against political Islam.

A senior Israeli official said that the IDF is in the middle of demilitarizing Gaza, a goal shared by the international community – including many states in the Arab world.“The Hamas military machine is being depleted as we speak,” the senior official said. “When this is over, the challenge will be: how do we prevent Hamas from rearming? For that we need international cooperation and we believe we have partners in that effort both in the region and beyond.”

The official was referring to the “unique link” which Israel has ostensibly forged with moderate Arab states, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointed out on 2nd of August. This unofficial alliance, Netanyahu said, is “a very important asset” for Israel, which after Operation Protective Edge will “open new possibilities” for the state.

Beyond Hamas, Egypt and other Arab states, especially the Persian Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are already finding themselves allied with Israel in a common opposition to Iran, a rival regional power that has a history of funding and arming Hamas. So a common stance against Iran and political Islam makes these Arab states and Israel unlikely bedfellows.

Ironically, the only support Hamas seems to have received is from an unexpected quarter. According to Reuters, the outgoing US Defense Intelligence Agency head Michael Flynn warned against the dangers of toppling Hamas, saying what may replace the Islamist group could be even worse. “If Hamas were destroyed and gone, we would probably end up with something much worse. The region would end up with something much worse,” Flynn said.

Could that also be an Israeli concern?

If so, how will Israel wed the new situation with its old policy devised in the wake of Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, which regarded Hamas’s control of the Strip as a security interest and protective force for the State of Israel?

Originally published by ViewPoint

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