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Hamas' regional standing: Reality and potential

Leader of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Es-Sinvar and Executive committee head Abdel Salam Siam arrive at the Rafah Border to implement an increase in the border security, in Rafah, Gaza on 6 July, 2017. ( Ali Jadallah - Anadolu Agency )
Leader of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Es-Sinvar and Executive committee head Abdel Salam Siam arrive at the Rafah Border to implement an increase in the border security, in Rafah, Gaza on 6 July, 2017 [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]

Hamas derives its regional standing from a number of factors, beginning with the importance of the Palestinian cause to the region and the world. Despite the apparent decline in the priority of the Palestinian cause imposed by other urgent and immediate matters elsewhere in the region and the world, the truth lies in something else. International chaos and the decline of the US' ability to control and dominate and the emergence of new possibilities for other regional powers to fill the vacuum reinforces the status of the Palestinian issue, although sometimes in directions opposite to the Palestinians' rights and interests. However this does not deny the true importance of the issue itself.

The prevailing Arab political analysis grants regional leadership to three forces, namely Israel, Iran and Turkey. Regional leadership involves fierce competition to weaken other powers, regardless of the origin of the antagonism in such competition. However, the rivalry imposed by this competition maintains the value of the Palestinian issue and in some respects it maintains this from the opposite angle.

With regards to Israel, the objective conditions of its existence require the guarantee of its superiority and the weakness of the rest of the region and the need for the Arabs to be weak, or any other Muslim force. It also requires the prevention of the rise of any completion regional power. As for Iran, its regional ambitions are sweeping and have reached the borers of Palestine. This may make it more possible that it will have a direct clash with Israel or it will do so via forces loyal to Israel in a war that is no longer ruled out. Israel is currently carrying out its largest military exercises in preparation for a war with Hezbollah.

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As for Turkey, it now realises its regional status, which is based on its own and independent powers. Only Turkey can ensure its interests and stability. Today, more than ever, it is finding itself lacking any reliable regional or international allies. Its Western allies, whom it served for decades, are not hiding their intentions and even actions to weaken Turkey and keep it as a functional state loyal to them.

The regional conflict is escalating and becoming more complicated. Despite the regional rivalry and profound disagreement over the Syrian issue, Iran and Turkey have not had problems reaching an understanding regarding a number of regional challenges. This is especially since Iran is aware that regional powers seeking to undermine the AKP are not friendly with Iran and also have a hostile position towards it. The understanding between the two countries has become more and more evident after the recent meeting between the Iranian and Turkish chiefs of staff in Turkey, but the relationship between the two countries has yet to reach a level of mutual trust.

In this fluid and changing context, Israel is playing a double game. On one hand, it seeks to ensure its superiority over the Arabs and on the other, it seeks to integrate itself into a regional axis aimed at strengthening its regional sovereignty and normalising its presence in the region. It does so by taking advantage of the weakness and weariness of some Arab countries, finding a window in the concerns of those countries towards Iran, and those countries' efforts to root out the Islamists and undermine the Turkish and Iranian roles in the region.

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Returning to Hamas, the movement is not in the best shape. Its regional standing has actually declined after its effectiveness was limited – as a result of a number of internal and objective factors – to within the Gaza Strip. In a composite form of resistance, which is Hamas' main function and governance, which, although it sometimes added something to the movement and reinforced its standing, has put Hamas in one of the worst positions it has been in throughout its history. This is a result of the imbalance of its regional alliance, the fluidity of the region, its lack of strategic certainty, the siege imposed on Hamas and its need for supporters.

However, the movement's crises has not caused it to lose its weight, as it is still very popular in the West Bank, despite lacking organisational effectiveness there and its inability to absorb the double attack it has been suffering there for years. In Gaza, it has a large organisation and a link to the geography, despite what it suffers as a result of the blockade or its government and administrative policies which often do not receive the popular approval needed to support a movement leading a besieged nation. Given the size of the movement, its Palestinian role and its resistance, it must continue to have some regional presence.

With the continued liquidity of the region and strategic ambiguity surrounding everything, leaving no room to expect the end of anything, and with the possibility of the emergence of a confrontation in the region, the world, on the borders of Palestine or with Hamas itself in Gaza, Hamas is obligated not to be surprised by such a confrontation and it must be prepared for it. It is also forced to remain within the regional calculations, and this in turn requires the movement to explore a regional function, based on regional alliances closer to Palestine, and to play on the contradictions of the regional scramble between its forces and blocs in the region.

The regional function here does not mean engaging in an axis involved in the current regional conflict, but rather means positive bridging and linking between the forces affected by Israeli territorial sovereignty and from any Arab regional axis where Israel is integrated without adopting a hostile discourse towards any regional parties, other than Israel of course. Hence, the bridging task must be Hamas' mission for the current situation and it must unite various understandings or alliances apprehensive towards Israeli sovereignty, bringing it closer to Palestine in a context that re-presents the Palestinian cause as a priority and exposes the danger posed by the Israeli factor to the whole region.

This task is not easy, and it is obstructed by major obstacles, some of which are related to Hamas itself, and other objective issues related to the regional situation and its complications. Furthermore, having a holistic view is no less important than immersion in the daily and the ongoing events.

This article first appeared in Arabic on the Palestinian Information Centre on 6 September 2017

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

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