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Feb 28, 2017 | 18:30 GMT

Hamas: At the Mercy of Others

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Hamas: At the Mercy of Others

Hamas is the primary political party in the Palestinian Gaza Strip. But the rise of competing Salafist organizations, as well as the Islamic State, has made it harder for Hamas to sustain its recruitment levels and its legitimacy. At the same time, the party's militant arm has been losing access to crucial supply lines. The Sinai Peninsula's Islamic State affiliate has set up a blockade against Hamas in retaliation for the party's refusal to work with the extremist group. To make matters worse, Egypt and Turkey — two of Hamas' most important supply sources — have cracked down on its smuggling operations and militancy in an effort to maintain stable relations with Israel. Now Hamas is at their mercy for basic supplies. The party has turned to Iran, which has historically provided Hamas arms and other material assistance, to fill in the gaps. But it is unclear whether Iran has managed to furnish weapons and materiel to Hamas given the close eye that Egypt — and, of course, Israel — has been keeping on the group.

Hamas has subsequently introduced changes in its leadership to maintain legitimacy and relevance among its constituents, installing a new deputy leader, Yahya Sinwar, and setting the stage for the incumbent deputy to take over as head of the entire organization. Still, the leadership transition will do little to prevent another incident with Israel. In fact, it will only increase the risk of conflict. Sinwar, hardened after years spent in Israeli prisons, is more militant than his successor was and hardly heralds a turn to moderation or reform for the party. Furthermore, since Israel's government has stronger support from the United States than ever, its leaders on the far right feel emboldened to move ahead with their assertive settlement policy. In the process, they could lay the groundwork for a third intifada.

So it could fall to Egypt to keep the peace between the Palestinian territories and Israel. Egypt is important to Hamas, and its influence with the party has grown over the past two years. Hamas, meanwhile, helps contain the growing militant threat posed to Egypt's Sinai Peninsula by the Islamic State and other extremist groups. In fact, the rise of the Islamic State has brought Egypt, Hamas and Israel together to fight a common enemy. Egypt's relationship with Hamas puts it in an ideal place to circumvent a potential conflict with Israel, or at least moderate one before it gets out of hand. Egypt did that in 2014, settling a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. With Hamas focused on its political survival, it may need the help from other countries in the region to prevent an escalation with Israel.

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