Tough choices for Hamas over Israeli annexation plans

A Palestinian boy wearing a headband attends a protest against Israel’s annexation plan, in Gaza. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 June 2020

Tough choices for Hamas over Israeli annexation plans

  • Despite a 2018 truce, Hamas and Israel still trade fire from time to time, with rockets or incendiary balloons launched from Gaza and reprisal strikes by Israel

GAZA CITY: Hamas has warned that Israeli annexation in the occupied West Bank would be a “declaration of war,” but the Islamist group must weigh the cost of a new fight, analysts say.
Recent weeks have seen almost daily protests in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip against US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan.
The proposals envisage Israel annexing its West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley, Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 and located around 50 km from the enclave of Gaza.
The Israeli government is expected to decide from July 1 on the implementation of the Trump plan. As the clock ticks, Hamas, which has fought three wars against the Jewish state since 2007, is seeking to define its strategy in the face of the latest challenge.
“There is no doubt that Hamas’ options are complex because any response to the annexation will have consequences for the Gaza Strip,” said Palestinian analyst Adnan Abu Amer.
Despite a 2018 truce, Hamas and Israel still trade fire from time to time, with rockets or incendiary balloons launched from Gaza and reprisal strikes by Israel.
“Tensions at the border fence may resume, with the launch of incendiary and explosive devices,” said Mukhaimar Abu Saada, professor of political science at Gaza’s Al-Azhar University.
But he ruled out “the option of military activities” against Israel by Hamas, which rules over a territory already impoverished and under a crippling Israeli blockade.
The movement “does not want Gaza to pay the price, and wants to wait to see what is going on, organize popular protests and not have to engage in confrontation with Israel,” he added.
On Friday Israeli air force jets struck Hamas positions in Gaza after rockets were fired from the territory toward Israel for the first time since early May.
The previous day, Hamas’s military wing had warned that annexation would prompt a war.

FASTFACT

As the clock ticks, Hamas, which has fought three wars against the Jewish state since 2007, is seeking to define its strategy in the face of the latest challenge.

“The resistance considers the decision to annex the West Bank and the Jordan Valley to be a declaration of war on our people,” said spokesman Abu Ubaida.
And an official told AFP that Hamas was in talks with other factions in the coastal enclave to “coordinate the resistance and resume the ‘return marches’.”
On Sunday the deputy head of Hamas’s political wing, Khalil Al-Hayya, said that “total resistance and armed struggle (were) necessary to face the enemy’s plan,” calling for a “Day of Rage” on July 1.
In March 2018, the Palestinians launched weekly protests along Gaza’s border with Israel to demand “the right of return” for Palestinians who were chased out or fled from their lands when Israel was created in 1948.
They also demanded the lifting of the strict Israeli blockade imposed over a decade ago on Gaza purportedly to contain Hamas.
Attendance at the rallies waned late last year, then restrictions related to the new coronavirus pandemic added further complications.
If Israel goes ahead with its annexation plan, Hamas may take a “more pragmatic” attitude and perhaps allow other factions to fire rockets at Israel or engage in clashes along the border, said analyst Abu Amer.
But it would do everything to prevent a major response from Israel, he added.
Abu Amer said that Hamas wants armed attacks against Israel in the West Bank instead, in order to spare the Gaza Strip.
But for that, there would need to be a dialogue between Hamas and the rival Fatah party of West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas.
The two parties have been at loggerheads since the Islamist movement wrested control of the Gaza Strip from the PA in 2007 after a near-civil war, a year after winning parliamentary elections.
Since then, all efforts at inter-Palestinian reconciliation have failed.
In mid-June, a senior Hamas official, Salah Al-Bardawil, called for Palestinian political unity.
“We call on our people to turn this ordeal into an opportunity to get the Palestinian project back on track,” he said.
Abu Amer, however, said an agreement between the PA and Hamas is very slim, even “impossible, because of the lack of confidence” on both sides.
“The Palestinian Authority continues to hunt down and arrest Hamas activists in the West Bank on a daily basis,” fearing Hamas will resume operations in the West Bank and oust it, as it did in Gaza, he said.


France-Turkey spat over Libya arms exposes NATO’s limits

The French stealth frigate Courbet is docked at Naval Base Guam, near Hagatna, Guam. France is suspending its involvement in a NATO naval operation off Libya’s coast amid growing tensions within the military alliance over Libya. (AP)
Updated 5 min 20 sec ago

France-Turkey spat over Libya arms exposes NATO’s limits

  • NATO headquarters refused to provide details saying the report is “classified,” and it’s unlikely that its findings will be made public
  • Trump has publicly berated European allies and Canada for not spending enough on defense budgets

BRUSSELS: The festering dispute between France and Turkey over a naval standoff in the Mediterranean Sea has shone a glaring searchlight on NATO’s struggle to keep order among its ranks and exposed weaknesses in a military alliance that can only take action by consensus.
The dispute has also revealed NATO’s limits when its allies are, or are perceived to be, on different sides of a conflict — in this case in Libya — especially when a major nuclear ally like France has lamented the “brain death” at the world’s biggest security organization due to a lack of American leadership.
According to French accounts of the June 10 incident in the Mediterranean, the French frigate Courbet was illuminated by the targeting radar of a Turkish warship that was escorting a Tanzanian-flagged cargo ship when the French vessel approached.
France said it was acting on intelligence from NATO that the civilian ship could be involved in trafficking arms to Libya. The Courbet was part of the alliance’s operation Sea Guardian, which helps provide maritime security in the Mediterranean.
In a PowerPoint presentation to French senators on Wednesday, which angered the French officials, Turkey’s ambassador to Paris, Ismail Hakki Musa, denied that the Courbet had been “lit up” by targeting radar and accused the French navy of harassing the Turkish convoy.
He also suggested that a NATO probe into the incident was “inconclusive” and that France had pulled out of Sea Guardian. The French Defense Ministry rushed to release its version of events and underline that it would not take part in the operation until the allies had recommitted to the arms embargo on Libya, among other demands.
NATO headquarters refused to provide details saying the report is “classified,” and it’s unlikely that its findings will be made public. A French diplomat said the investigators probably did the best they could, given that they were provided with two very different versions of what happened.
On Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused France of lying.
“We have proven this with reports and documents and gave them to NATO. NATO saw the truth,” Cavusoglu said. “Our expectation from France at the moment is for it to apologize in a clear fashion, without ifs or buts, for not providing the correct information.”
On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron had accused Turkey of flouting its commitments by ramping up its military presence in Libya and bringing in fighters from Syria.
“I think that it’s a historic and criminal responsibility for a country that claims to be a member of NATO,” Macron said. “We have the right to expect more from Turkey than from Russia, given that it is a member of NATO.”
It’s not the first time Turkey has been at the center of controversy at NATO. Ankara’s invasion of northern Syria last year angered its allies, while its purchase of Russian-made missiles, which NATO says would compromise allied defense systems, got Turkey kicked out of the F-35 stealth fighter program.
Despite concerns about its direction and close ties with Russia — NATO’s historic rival — Turkey can’t be ejected from the military organization. Legally, there is no mechanism, and decisions require the unanimous agreement of all 30 member nations. In any case, NATO insists that Turkey is too strategically important to lose.
In normal times, the US — by far the most powerful and influential of the allies — could be expected to bring its partners into line. But the last four years, with President Donald Trump at the helm in the US have been extraordinary times for NATO.
Trump has publicly berated European allies and Canada for not spending enough on defense budgets. He has pulled out of the Iran nuclear agreement, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Open Skies aerial surveillance pact, which the Europeans regard as important to their security.
Just after Turkey invaded Syria, Trump announced that he was pulling US troops out, surprising and angering his allies. In recent weeks, he’s threatened to take American troops out of Germany, again without consultation.
At the heart of the France-Turkey quarrel is the question of whether NATO allies should respect the UN arms embargo for Libya. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said last month that the alliance “of course supports the implementation of UN decisions, including UN arms embargoes.”
But in a interview on Tuesday, former UN Libya envoy Ghassan Salame said just after a Berlin conference in January where countries again backed the Libyan arms embargo, he saw pictures of weapons shipments showing that even Security Council members were sending “ships, planes and mercenaries” there.
With no firm US guiding hand, divisions among the allies over how Libya should be handled, and a decision-making process that requires everyone to agree — even on what they should talk about — it’s difficult to see when NATO might debate the embargo question in earnest.