While deteriorating relations with Qatar and Turkey have been setbacks for Hamas, by far the hardest pill to swallow has been its jihadi parent company’s ouster from power in Egypt. Founded in 1988 as an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas has always looked to the group for ideological inspiration. But Egypt’s former secular President Hosni Mubarak, and his predecessors Anwar Sadat and Gamal Nasser, considered the Muslim Brotherhood — and by extension, Hamas — a top enemy. With Mubarak’s removal in February 2011 and the election of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi in Egypt, Hamas believed it finally had a partner next door.
Under Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood promised Hamas that it would allow them to open an office in Cairo and ease border controls between Gaza and Egypt. But with Morsi’s ouster and the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood by the Egyptian military, Hamas has been cut off. The Egyptian military is also deeply concerned with lawlessness in the Sinai Peninsula and has held Hamas accountable for the support of jihadi groups there.
According to reports, Hamas has been careful in its response to the situation in Egypt. It has not held any large-scale rallies in support of the Muslim Brotherhood, despite the offensive recently launched against the group.
Within Hamas, there has also been a debate over the future of the organization. Longtime exiled leader Khaled Mashaal sought to distance the group from Iran and align more with Sunni powers and the Muslim Brotherhood, whereas Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called for more focus on Gaza. Meanwhile, other Hamas leaders, such as Hamas’ former envoy to Iran, Imad al-Alami, have insisted on a rapprochement with Iran.
In late July, Hamas representatives met with Iranian and Hezbollah officials in Beirut, the London-based Arab daily Ashraq al-Awsat reported.
“It is in the interest of Hamas today to revise its rapport with Iran and Hezbollah for many reasons,” Hani Habib, a political analyst based in the Gaza Strip, told Reuters. “At the end of the day, all the parties have an interest in this partnership.” Iran, however, has made it clear that Hamas needs to fully revise its stance on Syria if it would like to be welcomed back into the Shi’a resistance club.
Domestically, Hamas may also be feeling the heat in Gaza. Despite its jihadist credentials, Hamas has long been a target of Islamic Jihad, another smaller Palestinian terror group, as well as ultraconservative al-Qaeda-inspired Salafi groups, which ironically consider Hamas too moderate and seek to replace Hamas with their own Islamic-style emirate in Gaza.
Meanwhile, Tamarod, the Egyptian movement that led to the protests and eventual ouster of Morsi, has recently set its sights on Hamas.
“It is time we rejected death forcibly under Hamas’ pretext of security. Our people, regardless of their political and even religious affiliations, have been targeted by their criminality,” a statement from the group declared. The group explicitly accused Hamas of murder, torture, sabotage, bribes, vandalism and smuggling, Ma’an News Agency reported.
Tamarod has called for Nov. 11 to be an official day of protests against Hamas.
“There is lot of public discontent with Hamas in the Gaza Strip,” Levitt said.
With the restart of Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiations, which are being conducted with Hamas’ archrival, the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority, Hamas may be able to play the role of spoiler, launching rockets or terrorist attacks against Israel in hopes of derailing peace — a familiar role harkening back to the 1990s.
But last fall, Israel launched an eight-day air offensive known as Operation Pillar of Defense on Hamas in response to Hamas rockets that were terrorizing southern Israel. An Israeli airstrike at the beginning of the campaign left one of Hamas’ top operatives, Ahmed al-Jabri, dead.
Unlike previous engagements with Hamas, Israeli ground forces did not enter the Gaza Strip. Many analysts credit Israel’s groundbreaking Iron Dome anti-missile system for reducing Israeli civilian causalities and thus alleviating pressure on Israeli leaders to launch a more comprehensive ground campaign. The Iron Dome, according to The New York Times, has shot down more than 400 Hamas rockets with an 85-percent success rate, effectively neutralizing Hamas’ primary weapon against Israel.
“It is not clear that Hamas is in the position to cause as much trouble as it once did. It has missiles and rockets to fire, but they also know it will be on the receiving end of a strong
Israeli response,” Levitt said.
Sean Savage writes for JNS.org.