Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Egypt-Hamas standoff in Gaza: a view from Israel

Shlomo Brom
Daily Star (Lb)
25 January '10

In the course of recent weeks, the relationship between Egypt and the Hamas government in Gaza has deteriorated and their latent conflict has become public. The specific reasons for this state of affairs are two decisions taken by the Egyptian government. The first was a decision to build a new metal wall that penetrates deep into the ground along the Gaza border with the purpose of preventing smuggling from Sinai into the Gaza Strip both above and below ground, through tunnels. The second decision was, first, to delay and then to prevent the entrance into Gaza of the better part of a large convoy of trucks and a delegation organized by Western pro-Palestinian organizations to break Gaza’s isolation. These two decisions led to verbal recriminations between the Egyptians and Hamas, as well as to violent clashes at Al-Arish in Sinai and along Egypt’s border with Gaza in which an Egyptian soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper.

Ever since Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, Egypt has had difficulty formulating a coherent policy to deal with the resultant dangers. Cairo’s basic attitude toward Hamas as an offshoot and branch of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is wariness. The Egyptian Brotherhood present the greatest challenge to the Egyptian regime, hence the existence of a territory ruled by a sister movement on Egypt’s border is a problem: it can serve as a model and a base of operations affecting Egypt itself; and it threatens Egyptian sovereignty, as manifested in January 2008 by the breaching of an Israeli-built Gaza-Sinai border wall and the flow of many thousands of Gazans to the Egyptian side.

The close relationship that has developed between Hamas and Iran and Hizbullah has only strengthened the perception of the threat posed by Hamas, especially after the uncovering in Egypt of Hizbullah cells that were part of a network smuggling weapons to Gaza. Evidence that these cells were planning attacks inside Egypt brought home to the Egyptian regime that its worst nightmare was coming true: Gaza was becoming an internal Egyptian security problem.

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