A quick briefing from your intrepid reporter, always wanted to say that and “stop the presses” here in Israel. As usual the headlines are dominated by the escalation of tensions between Israel and the militants in Gaza. As expected, the release of Gilad Shalit, after five years as a hostage, has not brought closure to the fighting; in fact the opposite could be claimed.
If we wind the clock back just four short years, with Iranian and Syrian backing the upstart Hamas was able to overthrow the Fatah government in Gaza and establish itself as the power there. Fatah consolidated its power in the West Bank and the two rivals for control of the Palestinian cause have been at odds ever since. Fatah, backed by western support and aid, has established a growing economic enterprise while Gaza remains greatly isolated, with the exception of smuggling routes from Egypt, due to the militant uncompromising leadership of Hamas.
This week Hamas got some of its own medicine when Islamic Jihad, the number two armed militant organization in Gaza, fired a series of rockets and mortars into the southern cities of Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Beersheba killing one citizen and wounding several others. Israeli defense forces returned fire via drone and aircraft strikes killing 10 terrorists. Hamas is now finding out how much more difficult it is to govern compared to simply antagonize. Hamas leadership also knows that there are hundreds its brethren waiting to be released by the Israelis as part of the Shalit deal; a deal that could fall through if Hamas does not reign in Islamic Jihad. While an internal battle in Gaza may sound like a good idea to Israel, instability could draw Israel deep into this conflict. Israeli leaders have already warned Hamas that it needs to maintain the peace else it may be dealt harshly by the IDF, a proposition that Islamic Jihad would welcome.
Meanwhile the growing power of the Islamists in Egypt, namely the Muslim Brotherhood, is starting to show itself in brokering the Shalit prisoner exchange while also looking to normalize relations with Gazans. How this ends is still unknown as I don’t believe the Islamists are has bent on destroying Israel, as the right wing Likud party would lead you to believe, and I believe they are more interested in getting the Egyptian economy back on track. Perhaps the Muslim Brotherhood will end up like most Arab leaders: pay lots of lip service to the Palestinian cause, but focus on economic development.
Finally, who will be the dominating power in the region? Isarel? Iran? Turkey? Yes it is clear that the politically astute Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, shunned by Europe, has pivoted to the Islamic world to lead the cacophony of Muslim and Arab states. To do so he is embarking on a two pronged attack: (1) challenge Israel and come across as the hero of the Muslim street, the man who stood up to the Zionists while (2) working with the U.S. to counter the influence of Iran and Tehran’s proxies Syria and Hezbollah. As al-Assad and his Syrian government continue to lose legitimacy in the Arab world, it damages Iran and if Erdogan plays his cards right, he could reap the benefits. In the meantime, Israel will continue to feel isolated as the Arab world resets.