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Egypt's military plots destabilization of Gaza

March 24, 2014 at 4:16 pm

Egyptian military officials have been making more threats against the Hamas-led government in the Gaza Strip. Speaking to different journalists, they say they will embark on a new campaign of subversion against Palestine’s Islamic Resistance Movement.

To the military dictatorship that has overtaken Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is public enemy number one. Despite winning several elections since the overthrow of former dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood is now banned as a “terrorist” organisation. Almost all of its leaders and many of its members are in jail.

Former President Mohammad Morsi was kidnapped by the army and languishes in jail. He is facing several groundless charges, one of which is “aiding” Hamas in Gaza.

After the Muslim Brotherhood, the spectre of Hamas has been been another primary bogeyman for the generals. Pro-regime media outlets have relentlessly harped on with one farcical conspiracy theory after the next about Hamas – including the ridiculous claim that Morsi wanted to hand the Sinai over to Hamas.

With the Brotherhood dealt with, these latest Egyptian army threats do not come as a surprise.

“Gaza is next,” one anonymous “senior security official” told Reuters: “We cannot get liberated from the terrorism of the Brotherhood in Egypt without ending it in Gaza, which lies on our borders.”

“Their day will come,” another anonymous “senior security official” said of Hamas.

This could be hot air and idle threats – bluster intended to intimidate Hamas. Since the July 2013 coup in Egypt, there have been rumours of an Egyptian “invasion” of Gaza. This seems highly unlikely, to say the least. Palestinian resistance groups in Gaza would not be a push-over for Egypt’s conscript army, and any such war is likely to rapidly haemorrhage popular support in Egypt.

What is known, however, is the Egyptian regime’s recent history of subversion in Gaza, as a partner with Israel and the United States. This month’s comments seem to threaten a ratcheting-up of such covert (and overt) actions.

One intended tactic seems to be physiological warfare, such as that the Deep State carried out in Egypt in 2013 to defeat any threat of nascent democracy and bring the army back to full and direct control. Another anonymous military source told Reuters: “The aid Egypt will mainly provide to the anti-Hamas groups will be logistical not financial. Tamaruds don’t cost much.”

This is a reference to the same astroturf “Rebel” movement that helped lend a thin veneer of legitimacy to the July coup. But supposed Palestinian “Tamarud” groups have been damp squibs.

Another “Egyptian security source” told Reuters: “We know that Hamas is powerful and armed but we also know that there are other armed groups in Gaza that are not on good terms with Hamas and they could be used to face Hamas.”

This a probably a reference to groups loosely affiliated to Fatah. But there are other, smaller and more obscure armed groups in Gaza. Some of the more suspicious ones even have al-Qaeda-like tendencies. Hamas has stamped out such groups in the past. A small, but armed, religious cult proclaimed a short-lived “emirate” in 2009.

In March 2007, the BBC journalist Alan Johnston was kidnapped by a group calling itself “The Army of Islam” (which was likely a front group for a sort of local family mafia). Hamas later defeated the gang and freed Johnston.

It is worth recalling Egypt’s work to undermine Gaza back in 2007.

Fair and credible elections to the Palestinian Authority led to Hamas coming to power in the West Bank and Gaza in 2006. But Israel and its allies were incensed by this, and immediately set about trying to reverse the results.

In February 2007, after months of clashes between their armed supporters, Hamas and Fatah formed a “national unity government” led by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Hanniyeh and Fatah President Mahmoud Abbas.

This enraged Israel even more. The US military, along with Egypt and a faction of Fatah led by the notorious Mohammed Dahlan plotted to overthrow Hamas militarily in Gaza. The coup attempt was defeated when it was pre-empted by Hamas, who expelled Dahlan’s armed gangs from Gaza.

The Egyptian military’s role in this episode was made even clearer in January 2011, with the publication of the Palestine Papers – leaked PLO and PA diplomatic documents. Two of the papers concern Dahlan’s failed 2007 Gaza coup.

Egypt’s military and spy agencies were part of a “Quadripartite Meeting of the Gaza Security Committee” which plotted to overthrow Hamas in Gaza (along with the US, Israel and Dahlan). This ultimately led to Dahlan’s failed Gaza coup. In attendance at the first meeting was Rashid Abu Shbak – then Dahlan’s man in Gaza.

More recently, this former PA Preventative Security colonel was tried in absentia by an anti-corruption court in Ramallah (as part of an ongoing Abbas-Dahlan feud which has seen Dahlan effectively exiled to the United Arab Emirates). Abu Shbak reportedly lives in Egypt now, and the coup regime has refused to extradite him, al-Quds al-Arabi recently reported. There have also been recent rumours of Dahlan himself shuttling between the UAE and Egypt.

Might Egypt’s generals be plotting for Dahlan’s return to Gaza on the back of their tanks? It seems unlikely, however much they may dream about it. But they may well engage in more covert subversion, and possibly even terrorist attacks against the Hamas government in Gaza.

Behind all this ultimately sits the US, and its Israel ally. In the Palestine Papers, one of the two documents summarizes it well, in the words of Israeli General Amos Gilad: “I always believed in the abilities of the Egyptian Intelligence service (GIS). It keeps order and security among 70 millions – 20 millions in one city – this is a great achievement, for which you deserve a medal. It is the best asset for the middle east.”

Egypt’s military dictatorship is one of Israel’s most important allies in the region.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.