Israel’s latest military operation against Hamas began on July 8. If still in place on Tuesday, it will have been running for a fortnight. Its operation against Hamas in 2008 began on December 27 and ended on January 18, roughly three weeks later.
It may well be that Operation Protective Shield lasts less long than Operation Cast Lead. (Israel declared in ceasefire in 2009; Hamas followed.) But there is no intrinsic reason why this should be so. A startling feature of the conflict this time round is the friendlessness of Hamas. Nearly every major country in the region, for better or worse, wants it to be seriously damaged.
- Egypt’s government is anti-Hamas. Its President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, deposed the Muslim Brotherhood from power in Egypt and doesn’t want it in power in Gaza. He is closing the tunnel network that links the two. Hamas will get no help from al-Sisi.
Abdel Fattah al-SisiAbdel Fattah al-SisiAbdel Fattah al-Sisi Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, removed the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is part, from power in Egypt. He has closed tunnels that run from Egypt into Gaza.
- Saudi Arabia’s government is anti-Hamas. Its autocratic rulers fear an upheaval that would see them pitched out of government by the Brotherhood or its allies. The hostility of the Saudis to the Brotherhood is such that it wants the organisation banned in Britain.
- Until the Syrian conflict, Iran could have been relied upon to back Hamas unconditionally. But it is now effectively at war with the Brotherhood as part of that conflict. Iran has scaled back its arming of Hamas.
- Above all, Fatah has an obvious interest in seeing Hamas weakened. A weaker Hamas may mean a a stronger Fatah on the ground in Gaza. It certainly means a stronger Fatah in any unity talks and deals.
Turkey is an exception: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, its Prime Minister, is sympathetic to Hamas. He has attacked Sisi as a “tyrant” – thereby expressing Hamas’s distust of Egypt as an honest broker in peace talks with the Israelis. But he will not want to alienate Fatah altogether. (The eccentric state of Qatar is also relatively pro-Hamas.)
Officially, the diplomatic wheels continue to turn – with the Saudis, for example, calling for an end to Israel’s “barbaric” action, and Abbas charging Israel with “genocide”. Unofficially, the Saudis and Egyptians are happy to tip the Israel the wink.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are struggling for the supremacy of their brands of Islam. Any organisation in the Middle East which is somehow at odds with them both is not in good position. But this is precisely the place that Hamas now finds itself in.
Hamas will doubtless have the sympathy of the majority of the world’s Muslims, including Europe’s. Its supporters can help to bring central London to a standstill. But politically and diplomatically, it is more or less on its own.
Its leadership will know this very well, and has little option but to strike a note of resolution and defiance. It is making Millwall’s unofficial motto, slightly amended, its own: “Nobody likes us, and we don’t care – and nor does anyone else.”