The aftermath of President Mohammed Morsi’s ouster presents an opportunity for U.S. and Egyptian policymakers to weaken a common foe — the Palestinian jihadist organization Hamas.
Writing in Foreign Policy magazine
, former Treasury Department financial analyst Jonathan Schanzer argues that the Egyptian Army’s ongoing operations against the underground tunnels connecting Egypt and the Gaza Strip could “help cripple Hamas” and deserve support from the Obama administration because the group is violently opposed to a top U.S. policy goal: Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Hamas has reportedly taken in close to $365 million a year from the tunnels, which are used to smuggle weapons and consumer goods into Gaza. But the new Egyptian regime’s crackdown against tunnel traffic has made it extremely difficult for Hamas to continue the bulk cash-smuggling activities that enable it to maintain its financial independence.
It was widely believed that elements of the Muslim Brotherhood’s financial network were bankrolling Hamas —
even as the Egyptian economy was collapsing under Morsi.
Since his ouster as president July 3, the Egyptian military “has arrested 29 Brotherhood financiers, including at least one significant contributor to Hamas’ coffers, according to a senior Israeli security official,” Schanzer writes.
Moreover, the military is said to have destroyed 800 of the 1000 tunnels connecting Egypt with Gaza. Hamas’ economy minister recently told Reuters those operations cost the organization $230 million – close to one-tenth of Gaza’s GDP.
“All of this presents U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with a rare opportunity to hasten the group’s financial demise,” according to Schanzer. “And it is in his interest to do so. The group, after all, carried out suicide bombings against Israeli civilian targets in the 1990s to torpedo the peace process. It’s a fair bet that Hamas will launch a new campaign of violence now that [Israeli-Palestinian] talks are ramping up.”
Schanzer says Washington can ratchet up pressure on Hamas by encouraging Egypt to continue destroying the Gaza tunnels and pressing Qatar and Turkey, two of Hamas’ top financial backers, to stop supporting the group.
The Egyptian army’s tunnel operations “are slowly strangling Hamas,” he writes. “The more acute the crisis, the more Gazans will grow frustrated with their Islamist rulers. A Muslim Brotherhood government just fell unexpectedly in Cairo —
if Hamas doesn’t watch its back, it could happen again in Gaza.”
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