Squeezed Between Gaza Electricity Crisis and Qatar Showdown, Hamas Said to Be Facing ‘a Perilous Time’
As it simultaneously confronts a domestic crisis in Gaza and an international one over Qatar, Hamas is living in “a perilous time,” a leading expert on the Palestinian Islamist terrorist organization told The Algemeiner on Tuesday.
With the Gaza Strip now facing critical electricity shortages of as little as 45 minutes a day, Hamas upped its militant rhetoric on Tuesday, following Israel’s decision to accede to a request from Mahmoud Abbas — the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) — to slash the amount of electricity which the Jewish state supplies to the coastal enclave. The PA informed Israel in April that it was no longer prepared to foot the electricity bill for Gaza, which has been ruled by Hamas since 2007 when it violently ousted Fatah from power there.
“The decision of the occupation to reduce the electricity to Gaza at the request of PA President Mahmoud Abbas is catastrophic and dangerous,” Hamas spokesperson Abdel Latif al-Qanua said. “It will accelerate the deterioration and explode the situation in the Strip. Those who will bear the consequences of this decision are the Israeli enemy, who is besieging the Gaza Strip, and PA President Mahmoud Abbas.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed that Israel had “no interest in escalation, and any analysis to the contrary is mistaken.”
“Hamas is demanding that the PA pay for the electricity and the PA is refusing to do so,” Netanyahu said. “This is an internal Palestinian argument.”
Hamas may not be in a position to initiate a conflict with Israel in the first place. “In the short term, Hamas is not on solid ground to launch yet another war,” said Jonathan Schanzer — a Middle East expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) think tank in Washington, DC and the author of several books and articles on Hamas.
Schanzer pointed out that Hamas lacked a necessary support base for entering a new armed clash with Israel. Qatar, currently facing a blockade led by Saudi Arabia, is not in a position to back Hamas as it did during the previous Gaza war in the summer of 2014, while Iran and Hamas are only at the stage of “rekindling their ties,” Schanzer told The Algemeiner.
The gravity of the showdown between Qatar and an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain — sparked by Qatar’s funding for terrorist groups and its alignment with Iran — will only further tie the hands of Hamas, the Qatari-funded broadcaster Al Jazeera noted in an analysis of the situation.
Pulling no punches about the potentially enormous impact of both the crisis with Abbas and the increasingly untenable position of Hamas’ Qatar-based leadership, the article asserted that Hamas may “no longer be able to sustain itself.”
It was likely that Hamas would “lean towards political accommodation and reach a compromise deal with Abbas and Fatah that will allow the return of PA power in Gaza again,” the Al Jazeera piece said.
Schanzer said the present “is a perilous time for Hamas.”
“The PA smells an opportunity here, Israel also sees an opportunity here,” Schanzer said. “Hamas is getting squeezed in Qatar and this means that it is looking for another headquarters abroad.”
Schanzer added that, according to his sources, part of the reason for the present electricity shortage in Gaza is that Hamas has been diverting the power supply to the underground tunnels it is once again constructing. Since seizing power in Gaza in 2007, Hamas has used these tunnels into both Egypt and Israel as smuggling routes, weapons storage sites and launch pads for attacks inside Israeli territory.
The tunnels were also a prominent theme in the remarks of House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) at a congressional subcommittee meeting on Tuesday. “Earlier this month, more Hamas tunnels were found under two UN Relief Works Agency schools in Gaza,” Royce said.
“Hamas is still using civilians and children to hide its activities,” he added.