Cairo wary about security implications of Gaza violence

Egypt will not allow Hamas to fight Israel on its border on behalf of Iran to punish Israel for attacking Iran’s affiliates in Iraq, Syria or Lebanon.
Saturday 31/08/2019
Close monitoring. Egyptian soldiers stand guard in a watchtower across the border with Gaza. (AFP)
Close monitoring. Egyptian soldiers stand guard in a watchtower across the border with Gaza. (AFP)

CAIRO - Egypt has been monitoring the situation in the Gaza Strip amid fears that widening violence in the Palestinian territory would affect security in Sinai and lead to regional unrest.

Security conditions in Sinai and Gaza, Egyptian analysts said, are strongly connected. There is concern that deterioration in the Palestinian coastal enclave could have negative consequences for Sinai.

“Deteriorating conditions in Gaza directly threaten Egypt’s national security,” said Saad al-Zunt, the head of local think-tank Strategic Studies Centre.

Coordinated bomb attacks

August 27 on two security posts in Gaza City led to speculation about relations between Hamas and other factions in Gaza. Senior Hamas members, including spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, accused Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas of being behind the attacks that left three Hamas policemen dead.

“We will not jump to conclusions following the blasts,” Barhoum said on Twitter. “Nevertheless, the intelligence of the PA has always stood behind attempts to destabilise Gaza for the sake of the Israeli intelligence.”

Sources within Fatah, Abbas’s movement, which rules the occupied West Bank, accused Hamas of being responsible for deteriorating conditions in Gaza, including the latest flare-up of violence on the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Gaza factions fired several missiles into Israel, which led to Israeli air strikes August 25 only days after Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu threatened a wide-scale campaign in Gaza, regardless of Israel’s snap elections September 17.

“Netanyahu is keen on stepping up violence in Gaza to deflect attention from the economic and political crises he has at home,” said Hazem Abu Shanab, a member of the Revolutionary Council of Fatah.

The crisis in Gaza could be deeper than just traditional animosities between its factions and Tel Aviv.

Growing violence between Gaza’s factions and Israel is certainly linked to what is happening inside Israel, including the elections. It is also connected with regional developments, including a potential showdown between Iran and Israel.

However, there seem to be more details in the larger picture of what is happening in Gaza, analysts said. A new player is apparently emerging in Gaza who will be known only when the perpetrators of the

August 27 attacks are identified, they said.

Egypt will not allow Hamas to fight Israel on its border on behalf of Iran to punish Israel for attacking Iran’s affiliates in Iraq, Syria or Lebanon.

This may explain reports about Egyptian ultimatums to Hamas against firing missiles on Israel or launching a proxy war against Israel on behalf of Iran or Hezbollah.

Egypt, media reports said, threatened it would stop brokering negotiations between Hamas and Israel if Hamas allows Gaza to be used as site to launch missiles against Israel. Unidentified sources were quoted as saying Cairo asked Hamas to provide written assurance it would move ahead with de-escalation with Israel.

Some experts see a connection between Iran and violence in Gaza, given that the latest eruption of Gaza hostilities towards Israel comes a month after a delegation from Hamas visited Iran and met with several officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Delegation head Saleh al-Arouri, deputy chairman the Hamas Politburo, said Hamas and Iran were in the same camp.

An escalation of hostilities between Gaza’s factions and Israel could lead to war and a rush of Palestinians at the Egyptian border with Gaza as well as security threats in Sinai, analysts said.

Egypt has been battling a branch of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Sinai for several years. The Egyptian Army has significantly weakened ISIS but the group is capable of staging attacks.

Hamas cooperated with Cairo in squeezing ISIS, given that Gazans would often try to join the militant organisation. Hamas prevented Gaza extremists from crossing into Egypt through its network of tunnels.

However, factional fighting in Gaza could lead to the breaking of Hamas or the making of a new alliance between the Gaza ruling group and Gaza’s radicals. This would return Egypt to square one if Hamas eased the infiltration of radicals into Sinai in return for peace.

“After all, Hamas is responsible for the Gaza Strip,” said Tarek Fahmi, a professor of political science at Cairo University. “It can control the situation there if it really wants to.”

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