Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Has Hamas miscalculated Turkey's role?- Some Thoughts on Regional Divisions

It has almost been a month since Israel launched its attack on Gaza, with the world standing by as over a thousand Palestinian civilians have been killed; it being clear that by all estimates Hamas militants killed in the fighting easily makeup the minority of victims.

Despite this, Hamas remains defiant from the start to continue with the “noble resistance” of shooting rockets into Israel, and attacking Israeli civilian and military targets via the tunnels. And, despite their large arms cache, and improved tactics, the Islamist group has proved mostly incapable of penetrating Israel’s iron dome and borders.

After such mass violence -- all claim that this round of violence far surpasses previous rounds of fighting -- it is clear that no protest, diplomatic sanctions, and international pressure, will distract the Israeli government from its onslaught. While it seems that both sides were not interested in the mass escalation, the question is why then have we reached this point where no ceasefire has been able to take hold. 

Anyone surprised at the death and destruction however should take a moment and place the current state of affairs in Gaza into the context of the current state of affairs of the Middle East. Following the Arab Spring, or more correctly, the popular uprising staged against the region’s dictators, the Middle East has become even more polarized, exacerbating regional divisions.   

Egypt’s former president Mohammed Morsi, who represented the Muslim Brotherhood, first brought hopes of change, providing support for Hamas. However, his policies set off mass protests at home, which led to a coup d’état.  The downfall of Morsi was not only a major blow to Hamas but also to Turkey’s Erdogan who saw himself as Morsi’s mentor. Without Egypt, Turkey would now represent Hamas’ stance; albeit, with little success. 

Just like Egypt, the Syrian conflict, which has led to the death over 170,000 people, shook the region and ignited the realigning of previous alliances. Just years before the breakout of the Syrian revolution, Erdogan placed his bets on Assad, which signaled a forming alliance against Israel, Mubarak’s Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and not surprisingly against the Palestinian authority. Once again Turkey landed on the side of Hamas.

As the Syrian revolution turned into a civil war, Turkey realigned itself with radical groups against Assad’s forces, while Hamas was left without Syrian-and Iranian-support. In fact, even if Turkey never officially pronounced its support for these groups, there is plenty of evidence that it supplied arms to ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra fighters and allowed them free movement within their border (with the grace of the United States).  

With this Middle East division, Hamas was left with two countries, Turkey and Qatar. In other words, the deadlock in reaching a ceasefire seems to be due to the fact that Hamas placed its hopes on Turkey and Qatar's ability to successfully lobby on its behalf. However, until now this has clearly failed.  
Just as Turkey's strategy failed in Syria, it seems that its strained relations with Israel and Egypt has made it more irrelevant than ever before. Even if Turkey succeeds in brokering a ceasefire, it will not be much more than a photo-op since in the end it seems it will most likely be dictated by Egypt. Regardless of the outcome, the current crisis has shown once again Turkey's inability to progress regional stability. 

No doubt that in the meantime Palestinians are in dire need of a ceasefire to stop the killing-something that Syrians, Iraqis (and Libyans) most likely will not get the chance to encounter in the near future.  However, rest assured that even if the polarized Middle East has caused a great deal of death and destruction, there could be much more in sight. 

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