Hamas in Gaza is in serious trouble and could be becoming Iran’s next proxy army as a result of a crisis in the relations with the Palestinian Authority and the new isolation of Qatar, which has been Hamas’ main sponsor over the past few years.
The crisis in the relations between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority dates back to 2007, when the Islamist terror organization violently took over Gaza, resulting in the split of the PA and three wars with Israel.
In recent years there have been numerous attempts for a reconciliation between the Palestinian rivals and the formation of a unity government. But they all stranded on Hamas’ refusal to cede power in Gaza and the PA’s fear that Hamas would eventually try to take over the Palestinian Authority.
However, since the Trump administration announced a new peace drive in the 70-year-old conflict between the Palestinian Arabs and Israel, the Fatah-dominated government in Ramallah is seeking to increase pressure on Hamas to hand over rule of the poverty stricken Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority.
This is done by withholding funds for the payment of salaries to the more than 70.000 PA employees in Gaza who saw their income shaved by more than a third in April, and by cutting the PA contribution to the electricity bills that have to be paid to the Israel Electricity Company, which is the main supplier of the electricity to Gaza after the local plant in the Strip was shut down because Hamas says it could not pay the tax on diesel fuel the PA had imposed.
The PA explicitly asked Israel not to continue delivery of the same amount of electricity (125 MW) after it became clear that the bills would no longer fully be paid by the PA (40 percent reduction).
Israel has a long history of unpaid electricity bills with the PA — also in Judea and Samaria — but there has never been an energy crisis like this one in Gaza.
On Monday, Israel ceded to the PA request and decided to reduce the delivery of electricity to Gaza, leaving the more than 2 million people residing in the Gaza Strip with less than three hours of energy supply per day.
As a result of the diminished electricity supplies, 100 million liters of untreated sewage are pumped into the Mediterranean Sea daily and entire hospital wings had to close their doors during blackouts, the pro-Palestinian NGO Gisha reported.
Hamas asked Egypt to make up for the loss of Israeli electricity supplies, but the three electricity lines from Egypt to the Gaza Strip provide only 27 MW.
On Thursday, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman addressed the electricity dispute between Hamas and the PA and said Hamas has the funds to pay the bills, but prefers to invest in the rebuilding of the terror infrastructure in Gaza.
Liberman said Hamas collects more than $100 million monthly in taxes from its constituents in the Gaza Strip, but instead of investing that money into the education and health system, the money goes to rockets and terror tunnels the terror organization builds under the Israeli border.
“We demand from Hamas to invest the money in the education system and the health system. Israeli is ready to build industrial areas, places of work and power plants in Gaza,” Liberman said, but he made that conditional on demilitarization of the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Hamas’ threat that further cuts in the electricity supply to Gaza would lead to an “explosion,” and said Israel has no interest in an escalation of violence.
“It’s important to understand that the problem of electricity in Gaza stems from an internal dispute between Hamas and Fatah,” Netanyahu said earlier this week. But he emphasized that Israel is very concerned about the deterioration in the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip as a result of this dispute.
On Friday, reports indicated the PA has also stopped sending shipments of medical equipment to the Gaza Strip for more than three months.
According to the NGO Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, hospitals get only one-third of the essential medicines and didn’t receive 270 medical equipment items needed for operation rooms.
A spokesman for the PA Health Ministry denied the accusations, but the ministry’s website has stopped making announcements about the shipments since February 27.
The crisis in Gaza coincides with the pressure on Qatar — Gaza’s most important sponsor since the 2014 summer war with Israel — to terminate its financial backing of Hamas.
The Qatari regime has reportedly begun expelling Hamas officials from the gas-rich emirate, but the impending exit of Qatar from the Gaza arena creates an opportunity for Iran and Hamas to re-establish ties that had been reduced due to Hamas’ opposition to the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and its support for the Sunni Islamist opposition in the country.
After the election of Ishmael Haniyeh — a protégé of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — as the new leader of Hamas at the end of May, the Iranians started to make overtures to Hamas.
Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, for example, congratulated Haniyah with his election and welcomed back Hamas partnership in the “resistance exis,” a reference to the terror groups and Islamist regimes that fight Israel.
So it came as no surprise that last Saturday, Hanniyeh announced he will lead a Hamas delegation that will visit Tehran soon.
Iran is keen on transforming Hamas into a new proxy after President Donal Trump branded the group a “terrorist organization” at the American Arab Islamic Summit in Riyadh last month, because that would almost complete the encircling of Israel by Islamist groups and regimes hell bent on the destruction of the Jewish state. It would also give Iran a foothold on Israel’s southern border.
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