Hamas via Gaza's new-found access to Egypt
Hamas via Gaza's new-opened access at Gaza Egypt border makes way for Egyptian materials, goods and services, can now ease Gaza's depressed economic condition, and thereby diminish the differences between Gaza and the more prosperous West Bank. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians flooded the northeastern corner of the Sinai Peninsula after January 23, spending approximately $130 million in local Egyptian markets.
The opening of the state of Gaza to Egypt reinforces Hamas control that no external pressure will be able to reverse at this juncture. Abbas's prospects of regaining control in Gaza are remote, at best. Notwithstanding reports of an agreement with Egypt to include Abbas's Presidential Guard at Gaza's Rafah border crossing, Hamas will not give up its achievement and allow forces loyal to Abbas to control the border, despite Egypt's preference for such an arrangement.
Hamas has upgraded its strategic posture by opening its southern border and forcing its Egyptian neighbor to allow free and largely unimpeded access for nearly two weeks for hundreds of thousands of Gazans who crossed Egypt's sovereign borders and returned to Gaza at will. Hamas's success in forcing Egypt to negotiate over the crisis has upgraded its status.
Hamas has agreed to cooperate with Egypt to close the breached border. However, the gesture is temporary and must also be considered in the context of Hamas's stated intention to disengage completely from Israel, abandon the shekel and adopt an Arab currency and seek fuel, utilities, trade and a new open border regime with Egypt.
Hamas - the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and the ideological precursor to al-Qaida - has gained full control over contiguous territory and population, and has now effectively become a state government without real opponents or internal challenges for power.
Gaza's new open border with Egypt represents the fulfillment of a long-held dream by the Muslim Brotherhood across the region, and suggests far-reaching ramifications for neighboring Arab countries including Jordan, Syria and Egypt. In fact, on January 27, a senior Muslim Brotherhood delegation from the Egyptian parliament paid an official visit to Hamas's government compound in Gaza.
A senior Hamas delegation headed by its political leader, Khaled Mashaal, has also been invited to Saudi Arabia to discuss "developments" since the border was opened.
In the Palestinian-Israeli context, Hamas's success enhances its political power among Palestinians and further weakens Abbas's image as the leader of the Palestinian people. While Abbas is eager to return Fatah control to Gaza, recent events have ratcheted up Hamas's control.
Hamas's border breach has also been a signal to Egypt of the Gaza government's strength.
The events in Gaza may signal an historic change: the end of Fatah as the ruling political power in Palestinian society. Fatah's continued control in Palestinian areas of the West Bank today is the direct result of the Israel Defense Forces' control of the territory. Only the continuing IDF operations in the West Bank have prevented Hamas from staging a takeover similar to its military coup against Fatah in Gaza in 2007.
Another strategic shift is reflected in Gaza's new status as an enemy state entity with open borders. Gaza has transformed from its prior status as part of the Palestinian Authority to its new role as a mini-state that is now an integral part of the Arab world. Hamas will now be able to more freely obtain weapons, ammunition, explosives and training via Egyptian Sinai. Since the border opening, advanced weapons have flowed unimpeded into Gaza across the Egyptian border, enabling the transfer of higher-grade weapons than can be smuggled via underground tunnels.
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) has confirmed that Hamas smuggled large amounts of long-range rockets, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza since the border was breached.
This new weaponry will enable the continued upgrade of Hamas's highly disciplined army that is largely financed and trained by Iran and is modeled after the Iranian-backed Hizbullah in Lebanon.
Terrorist operatives and groups such as al-Qaida, that have already used Egyptian Sinai as a rear base, are now able to reach Gaza more easily. Several al-Qaida-affiliated operatives, some of which infiltrated from Egypt, Sudan, and Yemen, have been active in Gaza since 2006. Over time, al-Qaida-affiliated organizations have also emerged in Gaza, including Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) that was responsible for the kidnapping of BBC journalist Alan Johnston. Other groups were also formed like Jaish al-Umma (Army of the Nation), al-Qaida in Palestine, and Mujahidin Beit al-Makdes (Holy Warriors of Jerusalem), which attacked the American International School in Gaza last month.
Global jihadi leaders, such as Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Ansari of the Lebanese-based Fatah al-Islam, called for jihadi fighters around the world to exploit the breached Rafah crossing and enter Gaza.