Gaza/Israel airstrikes continue, all else changes
The Hamas prime minister of Gaza Ismail Haniyeh welcomes Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Qatar-based chairman of the International Federation of Muslim Clerics. Although reportedly not welcomed by people in Gaza, Haniyeh awarded him Palestinian citizenship and a passport. Hamas’ refusal to support the Assad regime in Syria has cost it Iran’s support.
By Ma’an news
March 12, 2014
GAZA CITY — An Israeli airstrike killed three Palestinians in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday, an official said.
Gaza Ministry of Health spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra told Ma’an that three Palestinian resistance fighters were killed by the airstrike in southeast Khan Younis near the Sufa crossing.
Al-Qidra identified the victims as Ismail Abu Judah, 23, Shahir Abu Shanab, 24, and 33-year-old Abd al-Shafi Muammar.
The bodies were taken to the European Hospital in Khan Younis, al-Qidra said.
Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad movement, said in a statement that the victims were militants affiliated to the group.
Ismail Abu Judah, Shahir Abu Shanab, and Abd al-Shafi Muammar.
“They were in confrontation with the occupation trying to stop the progress of Israeli military vehicles which were approaching the area,” the statement said.
The Israeli army said in a statement that “terrorists affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the southern Gaza Strip fired a mortar shell at IDF forces.”
“An IAF aircraft responded immediately in order to prevent further attacks on Israeli civilians and targeted the terrorist squad. Direct hits were confirmed, the army statement said.
Earlier on Tuesday morning, an Israeli drone fell in the area of the attack.
The airstrikes came just hours after Palestinian security sources said a man died after Israeli soldiers fired at him while he was driving near the West Bank city of Tulkarem.
The Israeli army also killed two Palestinians in the West Bank on Monday.
Israeli soldiers shot and killed 18-year-old Saji Darwish near Ramallah late Monday, after he allegedly threw stones at Israeli vehicles.
Earlier, Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian-Jordanian judge at the Allenby Bridge crossing with Jordan.
March 12, 2014
The Israeli government hit back at Gaza militants who fired more than 30 rockets into southern Israel without causing casualties. Visiting British premier David Cameron condemned the barrage.
Islamic Jihad militants claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s rocket fire from Gaza. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the Jewish state had “no alternative” but to re-occupy the “entire Gaza Strip.”
He made his remark to the private Israeli Channel 2 television. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu avoided a reoccupation threat but said his country would act against those who launched the rockets “with great force.”
“We will continue to foil and hurt those who want to hurt us,” Netanyahu said in a social network message.
Israel responds with shelling, bombings
The Israeli military said its artillery and tanks stationed on the Gaza border replied by shelling at least two launching sites in Gaza. It also bombed 29 targets in the Gaza Strip.
Visiting Jerusalem, Britain’s Cameron said the rocket attacks were “completely indiscriminate.” Referring to lengthy diplomatic efforts to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel, he said “there is no violent route to statehood.”
Largest in two years
Wednesday’s rocket barrage from Gaza was the largest since 2012, said Israel’s military, referring to an eight-day offensive against Gaza militants four years ago that claimed the lives of 177 Palestinians and six Israelis.
The Islamic Jihad said Wednesday it had fired the rockets to avenge an Israeli airstrike that killed three of its fighters on Tuesday.
One rocket landed in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, but caused no injuries, said Israeli officials, adding that eight rockets had impacted in built-up areas. The others fell in open areas.
Residents were told to shelter indoors. Of some 30 rockets fired, three were intercepted by Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile system, said Israel’s military.
Border crossing closed
Palestinian officials said Israel also responded to the attack by closing indefinitely the Kerem Shalom border crossing for freight.
In 2005, Israel pulled its soldiers and settlers out of Gaza, which is now run by Hamas Islamists. Israel has since maintained a naval and air blockade.
Last week, Israeli special forces captured a ship in the Red Sea that was carrying rockets and other weapons that Israel claims were supplied by Iran and destined for Gaza.
Egypt’s army chief Abdelfatah al-Sisi (right) meets with Arabtec Construction CEO Hasan Abdullah Ismaik on March 9 in Cairo. Photo by Egyptian Armed Forces/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
By Sarah A. Topol, Bloomberg Business Week
March 13, 2014
Field Marshal Abdelfatah al-Seesi, the army chief who ousted the freely elected government of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood, flew to the United Arab Emirates on March 12 to observe military maneuvers. A few days before his trip it was announced that the UAE’s Arabtec Construction would collaborate with the Egyptian military in a $40 billion project to build a million low-income housing units in Egypt. The collaboration is part of the UAE’s assistance to get Egypt back on its feet. It is also a sign that the Egyptian military’s grip on the economy is growing stronger.
Egypt’s business executives say they owe the army a lot for unseating Mursi. After the 2011 fall of Hosni Mubarak, many of his supporters found themselves facing a public reckoning for the corruption and crony capitalism of the old regime. Prosecutors filed charges against them in criminal courts. The prosecutions “happened to many business people, and that’s why the business people, or a part of them, stopped investing,” says Mohamed Abou El Enein, owner of Egypt’s largest ceramics exporter. “Part of them left.” But in the last year, the Cassation Court has overturned all the corruption verdicts it has ruled on.
The business class has been vocal in its support of al-Seesi, who is probably the next president. “We’re back on the right track,” says El Enein, who was acquitted of charges of organizing attacks on protesters in Tahrir Square.
The army may have saved Egypt’s business owners, but it has little interest in re-creating Mubarak’s Egypt. “It’s not only a different game than before Mubarak. It’s a game without rules,” says Tamer Wageeh, director of the economic and social justice unit at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. “The new thing is that the army is getting stronger and … is dictating more and more its will, even in business.”
The army has been expanding its businesses since the 1970s. Today it develops real estate and operates hotels, cleaning services, and gas stations; it sells pasta, mineral water, and olive oil; it makes refrigerators and washing machines. Now it is filling a vacuum created by the end of the Mubarak era, when Hosni and his son Gamal controlled the fates of many tycoons. The Mubaraks’ influence has vanished, and companies run by their supporters, which before 2011 would have won bids, are not assured of success now.
This became clear when a government stimulus package of 30 billion Egyptian pounds ($4 billion) was announced in August 2013, financed in large part by the UAE. A close look at the distribution of funds suggests the army got half the projects, including paving roads and industrial infrastructure deals, according to Mohamed Farouk, a member of the Egyptian Council for Economic Issues. None of the contracts, he says, went to the big construction companies, a departure from the Mubarak era.
Although the military is known for delivering projects on schedule, critics say none of the army’s budget is published, making public accountability impossible: “With the same amount of money spent,” Farouk says, “you could have made double the amount of projects on the market.”
In a Feb. 6 interview with the business newspaper al Mal (Money), Major General Taher Abdullah, director of the Engineering Authority of the Armed Forces, detailed the army’s UAE-funded activities. He suggested that the UAE asked the military to handle the aid portfolio. Abdullah said the military was building 50,000 housing units, 78 medical clinics, and 25 warehouses. “The state gave to the army the task of making these projects, because we have a good reputation in accuracy and timeliness, and we make them at 60 percent of the cost of the budget,” he said. “Besides that, citizens trust us.”
The military uses private subcontractors, but without a published budget, analysts cannot figure out who they are. Even when a civilian company wins a contract, the military machine may be involved. Care Construction and Maintenance received a 43 million-pound contract to build low-income housing. Managing Director Yousry Fadel says this is a boon for a company with revenue of 30 million pounds. Two members of Care’s board, one of whom is a shareholder, are listed as ex-generals.
Businessmen have publicly said the dire situation makes the army’s growing role in the economy understandable. According to Mideast specialist Robert Springborg of the Naval Postgraduate School, the cabinet announced late last year that in cases of emergency the government could award contracts without competitive bids. That makes it easier for the army to win government contracts.
El Enein says that after Egypt recovers, the army shouldn’t take advantage of its position: “I assure you, this is unacceptable that the military gets something because of advantages more than the normal investors.” Retired General Sameh Seif Elyazal, chairman of the Al-Gomhouria Centre for Political and Security Studies, says he has already spoken with al-Seesi about preferential treatment for the military and retired generals under his possible presidency. “He has no intentions whatsoever to do that, I promise you that,” Elyazal says. “That’s not in his mind at all.”
By Jonathan Spyer, Middle East Forum
March 14, 2014
A number of events in recent weeks cast light on the current intersecting lines of conflict in the Middle East. They reflect a region in flux, in which new bonds are being formed, and old ones torn asunder.
But amid the confusion, a new topography is emerging.
This was the month in which a long-existent split in the Sunni Arab world turned into a gaping fissure. On March 5th, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates announced that they were withdrawing their ambassadors from the Emirate of Qatar.
This decision was clearly a response to Qatar’s continued support and sponsorship of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. This movement is regarded as a subversive threat by the three Gulf states. They are worried by the Brotherhood’s capacity for internal subversion.
Qatar, by contrast, affords generous subsidies to its tiny citizen body, and has little to fear from potential internal unrest. It continues to support the Brotherhood and to domicile key leaders of the Egyptian branch of the movement. The latter is now engaged in an insurgency against the Egyptian authorities.
Saudi patience was at an end. The removal of the ambassadors reflects this.
On March 7th, Saudi Arabia made the additional move of declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. A Saudi researcher and former general, Dr. Anwar Eshki, was quoted on the Now Lebanon website as asserting that the decision was made with particular focus on the Egyptian Brotherhood, which is involved in “terrorist” activity.
In the same week, an Egyptian court banned all activities by the Hamas organization in Egypt, and referred to the movement as a “terrorist organization.”
The proximity of these announcements reflects the very close emergent alliance between Saudi Arabia and the de facto Sisi regime in Egypt, which is likely to become de jure following presidential elections later this year.
This alliance is the core component of an emergent dispensation in the Sunni Arab world which also includes UAE, Bahrain and Jordan, as well as the fragile West Bank Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas.
This alliance is set to emerge as the strongest element among the Sunni Arabs.
It is opposed both to the Iran-led, mainly Shia “resistance” bloc, and to what is left of the Qatar/Muslim Brotherhood alliance that just a short year ago was proclaiming itself the wave of the future in the Middle East.
The Hamas authority in Gaza has no buy into the new Saudi-Sisi bloc. Formerly aligned with Iran, it put its bets on the Qatar/Muslim Brotherhood axis.
But this putative bloc was fatally damaged by the Sisi coup in Egypt of July 3rd, 2013, and by the departure of the Muslim Brotherhood-related Nahda party in Tunisia.
Hamas appears to be trying to find its way back to the Iranians. Gaza’s “foreign minister” Mahmoud al Zahar and Iran’s parliament spokesman Ali Larijani both made statements this week suggesting that relations had returned to normal between Teheran and Hamas.
It is not clear what this actually means. But Iranian funding to Hamas in Gaza was slashed following the latter’s failure to offer support to the Iranian client regime in Damascus. It is unlikely that Iran has either forgotten or forgiven. Al-Zahar, in any case, is among those Hamas officials most closely supportive of Iran and his statements should not be taken as representing the movement as a whole.
This means that Hamas is probably stuck between Qatar and the Iranians, with the support of the former no longer worth what it once was, and the support of the latter available only in a truncated and reduced form.
The week’s events in Gaza, meanwhile, showcased the continued vigor of the Iran-led camp.
The most staunch supporter of Iran among the Palestinians, and now apparently the main beneficiary of Teheran’s largesse, is the Islamic Jihad movement. This is a purely paramilitary and terrorist group, with no pretensions to mass political leadership. As such, it is a less complicated prospect from Teheran’s point of view than Hamas.
The recent apprehending of the Klos-C arms ship by Israel, as it brought a consignment of weapons evidently intended for Islamic Jihad in Gaza, was the latest indication of Teheran’s willingness to offer practical backing to those it favors.
Islamic Jihad’s furious response to the Israeli apprehending of the craft, and to the killing in recent days of a number of its operatives by Israel, was certainly done with Iran’s blessing and probably at its instruction (along with tacit permission from the Hamas authorities in Gaza).
The interrupted route of the weapons intended for Gaza (from Syria to Iran, to Iraq, to Sudan and then to the Strip) and the subsequent rocket fire should remind us that the Iran-led Shia bloc remains a potent gathering, capable of coordinated, region-wide action.
So three power blocs currently dominate the Middle East — the Iran-led Shia group, a rival emergent Cairo-Riyadh axis leading a group of smaller Sunni states, and a smaller, much weaker Qatar-Muslim Brotherhood alliance. Their competition is set to dominate regional affairs in the period opening up.
Israel, of course, will be a charter member of none of these groups. But Jerusalem is a de facto ally of the Saudi-Egypt camp.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia, along with Israel, were in recent decades the main allies of the U.S. in the area. The former two countries are now in search of new friends, and have found each other. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have tried to lobby on Sisi’s behalf in Washington in recent weeks, though as yet with limited success.
The shifting sands of the Mid-Eastern strategic map are all the result of the perceived withdrawal of the U.S. from its role as a regional patron. This process is still underway and it’s too soon to draw any final conclusions regarding its results. But the current drawing together of Saudi Arabia and Sisi’s Egypt is surely among the most significant responses to it. It is likely to form the basis for the Sunni Arabs’ attempts to contain Iranian ambitions in the period ahead.
Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.
Arab states withdraw ambassadors from Qatar in protest at ‘interference’, Guardian, March 2014.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad: Iran Supplies All Weapons in Gaza,Al Monitor, May 2013
Qatar’s ties with the Muslim Brotherhood affect entire region, The National, May 2012