Egypt and the Gaza tunnels

Jared Malsin, reporting for Mada Masr: 

“On the Palestinian side, they’re just watching the destruction on the Egyptian side,” says Mohammed Omer, a Palestinian journalist, describing the scene in Palestinian Rafah. “There is quite tight control. The Egyptian military are controlling across the borderline, which means they [the smugglers] cannot really operate, even if they can operate freely from the Gaza side,” he says.

On the Palestinian side, they’re just watching the destruction on the Egyptian side By all accounts, the Egyptian military’s current operation has paralyzed the vast majority of the tunnel system. Of an estimated 300 tunnels operating before June 2013, approximately 10 were operating on September 21, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs. The quantity of goods moving through the tunnels is 15 percent of what it was in June.

Of Gaza and KFC

Of Gaza and KFC


What started out as a blurb on the Xinhua news site this week on the smuggling of KFC for US$30 an order into Gaza via Egypt - a tunnel trek that can take between 3 and 7 hours - has gone viral, prompting several other outlets to send correspondents into Gaza to report on the Al Yamama delivery company’s entrepreneurial niche. The tunnels have been used to deliver everything from rockets and rebar to TVs and fiancées - up to 30% of all the strip’s imports come through them, says Reuters - so fast food is not a stretch, even at the prices quoted.

Unfortunately, most social media responses to it have focused on the novelty at the expense of the context, even though the two fullest accounts I have read, from the NYTand Christian Science Monitor, do address the environment of the Israeli blockade and the tunnel economy that the Egyptians have been cracking down on so hard these days to try and interdict Sinai arms smuggling.

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Gaza blockade eased - not lifted

Israel eases Gaza blockade following truce deal | Egypt Independent

This is good news to be sure, but an interesting detail: construction material and other critical types of goods for Gaza's reconstruction must still go through the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing, and not Egypt:

Israel is easing its blockade of Gaza to allow construction materials and other goods into the enclave under the terms of a truce deal mediated by Egypt.

The decision allows private companies and individuals to import construction materials that were previously restricted exclusively to international aid groups under the terms of Israel's blockade, AFP reported.

The truce between Israel and Gaza's leaders Hamas ended more than a week of Israeli air strikes and Palestinian rocket fire last month.

This is the first time Israel has allowed such goods into Gaza since 2007, said Palestinian customs official Raed Fattouh.

Starting on Sunday up to 20 trucks carrying gravel will be allowed into the strip daily Sunday through Thursday via the Karem Abu Salem border crossing in southeast Gaza, Fattouh said. Karam Abu Salem is the only commercial crossing open to the transport of goods and fuel and is closed on Fridays and Saturdays.

In other words, these Egypt-brokered talks are still steering away from lifting the blockade as Palestinians have called for along with Egypt-based activists. Whether this amounts to the ruling Muslim Brotherhood's recognition of the complexity of the border issue (including the fear that if the Rafah crossing is fully opened to commercial traffic Israel will simply dump the Gaza problem onto Egypt) or that General Intelligence, which is running the talks, has a veto power on this issue over the Morsi administration is not clear. 

Hamas normalized, Israel marginalized

Adam Shatz · Why Israel Didn’t Win · LRB 24 November 2012

I have the same read — as distasteful as it is to call winners and losers, Hamas (not Gazans) came out a winner in this war, Israel a loser:

Israeli leaders lamented for years that theirs was the only democracy in the region. What this season of revolts has revealed is that Israel had a very deep investment in Arab authoritarianism. The unravelling of the old Arab order, when Israel could count on the quiet complicity of Arab big men who satisfied their subjects with flamboyant denunciations of Israeli misdeeds but did little to block them, has been painful for Israel, leaving it feeling lonelier than ever. It is this acute sense of vulnerability, even more than Netanyahu’s desire to bolster his martial credentials before the January elections, that led Israel into war.

Hamas, meanwhile, has been buoyed by the same regional shifts, particularly the triumph of Islamist movements in Tunisia and Egypt: Hamas, not Israel, has been ‘normalised’ by the Arab uprisings.

. . .

The Arab world is changing, but Israel is not. Instead, it has retreated further behind Jabotinsky’s ‘iron wall’, deepening its hold on the Occupied Territories, thumbing its nose at a region that is at last acquiring a taste of its own power, exploding in spasms of high-tech violence that fail to conceal its lack of a political strategy to end the conflict. Iron Dome may shield Israel from Qassam rockets, but it won’t shield it from the future.

Worth adding that in my opinion Morsi came  a short-term winner and Egypt a probable long-term loser.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Sherine Tadros: Covering This Gaza War

Sherine Tadros: Covering This Gaza War

This piece by Sherine Tadros about the media and Gaza is so good that 1) I am breaking my rule against linking to HuffPo and 2) I cannot excerpt the good bits because all of it is good and should be read. 

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

When Will the Economic Blockade of Gaza End?

↪ When Will the Economic Blockade of Gaza End? - Robert Wright - The Atlantic

President Obama and Bibi Netanyahu are on the same page when it comes to the justification for Israel's bombardment of Gaza. Netanyahu : "No country in the world would agree to a situation in which its population lives under a constant missile threat." Obama: "There's no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders."

It's true that if, say, Canada were lobbing missiles into the US, the US wouldn't tolerate it. But here's another thing the US wouldn't tolerate: If Canada imposed a crippling economic blockade, denying America the import of essential goods and hugely restricting American exports. That would be taken as an act of war, and America would if necessary respond with force--by, perhaps, lobbing missiles into Canada.

Gazan Youth Manifesto for Change

Via Mondoweiss, where you can read the full thing — Update: this is from January 2011, but it certainly feels relevant to the moment and their Facebook page is very much alive. 

GAZAN YOUTH’S MANIFESTO FOR CHANGE

Fuck Hamas. Fuck Israel. Fuck Fatah. Fuck UN. Fuck UNWRA. Fuck USA! We, the youth in Gaza, are so fed up with Israel, Hamas, the occupation, the violations of human rights and the indifference of the international community! We want to scream and break this wall of silence, injustice and indifference like the Israeli F16’s breaking the wall of sound; scream with all the power in our souls in order to release this immense frustration that consumes us because of this fucking situation we live in; we are like lice between two nails living a nightmare inside a nightmare, no room for hope, no space for freedom. We are sick of being caught in this political struggle; sick of coal dark nights with airplanes circling above our homes; sick of innocent farmers getting shot in the buffer zone because they are taking care of their lands; sick of bearded guys walking around with their guns abusing their power, beating up or incarcerating young people demonstrating for what they believe in; sick of the wall of shame that separates us from the rest of our country and keeps us imprisoned in a stamp-sized piece of land; sick of being portrayed as terrorists, homemade fanatics with explosives in our pockets and evil in our eyes; sick of the indifference we meet from the international community, the so-called experts in expressing concerns and drafting resolutions but cowards in enforcing anything they agree on; we are sick and tired of living a shitty life, being kept in jail by Israel, beaten up by Hamas and completely ignored by the rest of the world.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

What Hamas wants (mostly from Egypt?)

Gaza Clash Escalates With Deadliest Israeli Strike - NYTimes.com

David Kirkpatrick reports:

Reda Fahmy, a member of Egypt’s upper house of Parliament and of the nation’s dominant Islamist party, who is following the talks, said Hamas’s position was just as unequivocal. “Hamas has one clear and specific demand: for the siege to be completely lifted from Gaza,” he said. “It’s not reasonable that every now and then Israel decides to level Gaza to the ground, and then we decide to sit down and talk about it after it is done. On the Israeli part, they want to stop the missiles from one side. How is that?”

He added: “If they stop the aircraft from shooting, Hamas will then stop its missiles. But violence couldn’t be stopped from one side.”

Hamas’s aggressive stance in the cease-fire talks is the first test of the group’s belief that the Arab Spring and the rise in Islamist influence around the region have strengthened its political hand, both against Israel and against Hamas’s Palestinian rivals, who now control the West Bank with Western backing.

It also puts intense new pressure on President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who was known for his fiery speeches defending Hamas and denouncing Israel. Mr. Morsi must now balance the conflicting demands of an Egyptian public that is deeply sympathetic to Hamas and the Palestinian cause against Western pleadings to help broker a peace and Egypt’s need for regional stability to help revive its moribund economy.

Indeed, the Egyptian-led cease-fire talks illustrate the diverging paths of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, a Palestinian offshoot of the original Egyptian Islamist group. Hamas has evolved into a more militant insurgency and is labeled a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel, while the Brotherhood has effectively become Egypt’s ruling party. Mr. Fahmy said in an interview in March that the Brotherhood’s new responsibilities required a step back from its ideological cousins in Hamas, and even a new push to persuade the group to compromise.

Lifting the blockade would be unlikely to happen on the Israeli side, so it's essentially about the Egyptian side. Morsi did not want to be tackling this so early, and any solution will be quite complicated. He has not lifted the blockade thus far, although he could have, and that's because the Egyptian security establishment is nervous about being made responsible for Gaza — and the idea that the Israelis will just dump it on Egypt's lap and make Cairo responsible for it. Can't blame them on that.

Also see this.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Ehud Barak thinks the real war is against Egypt

↪ Operation Pillar of Defense is Ehud Barak's test

Interesting interpretation by Aluf Benn in Haaretz:

Barak believes in the "leverage and pressure" method - first employed by Israel during Operation Accountability, in Lebanon in the summer of 1993. In this method, which Barak likes to demonstrate through the use of hand gestures and timetables, the goal of the warfare is to obtain a reasonable cease-fire arrangement between Israel and its adversary, whether Hezbollah or Hamas. The tactic is to apply pressure on the enemy's "state patron." Israeli firepower, or the threat of such, demonstrated through a wide call-up of reserve troops, is intended to signal to the patron state that its proteges are at risk of receiving a massive blow and it must intervene to calm the situation.

Egypt is the state patron of Hamas in the current round, and Israel's actions are aimed at prodding the new rulers in Cairo to stop the fighting and to act as guarantor of a future cease-fire. That is the role played by Syria and Iran, Hezbollah's sponsors, in the rounds of fighting in Lebanon. "It is obvious that Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood regime provides a tailwind for Hamas in Gaza," together with economic aid from Qatar, Barak said last Sunday during a lecture. He also warned that Israel would not quail at any military measure in order to restore calm and security to Israelis living near the Gaza border.

U.S. fears Israel-Hamas conflict escalates to ground invasion

U.S. fears Israel-Hamas conflict escalates to ground invasion 

From CNN :

The major concern of the United States in the current Israeli-Hamas conflict is a potential Israeli ground incursion into Gaza, U.S. officials said Friday.

That would be a disastrous escalation that could trigger a larger conflict, a senior U.S. official told CNN.

"Escalation is what we are concerned about. We don't want it to escalate to the point where Israel feels it has to take additional action, specifically ground force action," the official said.

Perhaps US leadership should stop talking like Israel has carte blanche then.

Levy: Israel, Living By The Sword

Living By The Sword

Daniel Levy puts forth a plausible outcome for Netanyahu out of the Gaza situation:

Netanyahu is much happier fighting this election on the terrain of national security than on issues of social justice, inequality, and being in bed with “swinish capitalism” as his critics are prone to brand him. Netanyahu can rely on his election rivals all lining up to support his military surge against Gaza, which has indeed been the case in the past 48 hours. Shelly Yachimovich (Labour leader) and Yair Lapid (leader of new YeshAtid party) have looked like they were auditioning for cabinet seats in Netanyahu’s next government, which is very possibly what the future has in store for them. Netanyahu has been noticeably cautious and limited in the goals he has set for this military action, in contrast to the grandiose ambitions that his predecessor Olmert claimed at the launching of operation Cast Lead in 2008. It is not unreasonable to assume that a preferred scenario for the Israeli Prime Minster has him giving some variation of the following speech, ideally within a relatively short time (in 48 to 96 hours perhaps):

“As Prime Minister of Israel I set out realistic goals for this operation, unlike my irresponsible predecessor. We have achieved in Operation Pillar of Defence six important goals in preserving Israel’s national security. First, while Gilad Shalit is back at home with his family, his captor, the arch terrorist al-Jabari, has met the same fate as Osama Bin Laden. Second, our deterrence has been restored. Every Hamas leader and terrorist in Gaza knows that they are within reach of the long arm of the IDF and that rocket fire on Israelis will not go unpunished. Third, while rocket fire against any Israeli target and certainly Tel Aviv is unacceptable, it is also something we knew was possible, but the threat has now been significantly diminished by our success in hitting the stockpiles of weapons accumulated in Gaza. That particular mission will continue. Fourth, and contrary to the childish scare-mongering in some of our media suggesting that Israel is now more isolated internationally, we have conducted this operation with firm Western backing. I have personally spoken to President Obama and Western leaders and appreciate their recognition of Israel’s right to self-defence. And this time there will be no internal committees of enquiry or scurrilous UN Goldstone commissions. Fifth, we have proven we can navigate the choppy waters of a newly destabilised Middle East while retaining our freedom of military action. And finally, and perhaps most important, we have maintained national unity at home and I thank the leaders of the other responsible Zionist parties for standing together as one.”

There are some additional wins Netanyahu would like to secure without necessarily including them in his victory speech. For instance, this operation will possibly postpone or at least reduce the significance of any vote on upgrading Palestine’s status at the UNGA. Even if the vote happens, and even if Abbas secures a few more ‘yeses’ against the backdrop of operation Pillar of Defence, Netanyahu can reassure the Israeli public that what matters is that the Western powers stood by Israel during this military operation. Netanyahu could be sending a signal to Iran that his own track record of being circumspect regarding major military strikes cannot be counted on. And finally, he may have shrunk the space for Olmert, Livni and others to enter the election race, especially if he can show that his operation achieved better results than their Operation Cast Lead.

Will Arabs turn out for Gaza?

Will Arabs turn out for Gaza?

Lynch has this right:

Morsi has demonstrated his preference to pursue a pragmatic foreign policy here, offering some sympathetic rhetoric and a visit from his relatively anonymous Prime Minister but thus far avoiding dramatic gestures such as opening the border with Gaza or throwing Camp David on the table.  But as much as Morsi values solidifying relations with the U.S. and the international community, and is constrained by the status quo orientation of the Egyptian military and foreign policy apparatus, he may also see real opportunities to gain domestic popularity and assert Egyptian regional leadership.  Morsi's conversations with Erdogan may be implictly focused as much on coordinating to avoid a bidding war over Gaza which pushes both countries towards overly risky moves.  But it is not clear that such a stance can be maintained if the tempo of protests and the human toll of the war escalates.  

The coming days will, among many other things, offer some of the first real evidence about the strategic effects of the Arab uprisings.  It is important to recognize how limited the response of the Arab public and leaders has been thus far.  But it's also important to recognize how quickly this could change, and how unsurprising this would be should it happen.  The Arab uprisings have introduced far greater unpredictability and complexity into everyone's calculations, raising the potential payoff to dramatic political gestures and decreasing the confidence of rulers that they can safely ignore public demands.   All of those ready to confidently dismiss the possibility of such rapid developments should go back first to read what they wrote about Tunisia in December 2010, Egypt in January 2011, or Syria in February 2011.  All the more reason for all parties to push hard for a ceasefire now, so that it isn't put to a test.  

So far Morsi has handled this well: he has done enough in terms of domestic opinion and perhaps even more importantly the Brotherhood base. His inner circle feel content that they calibrated their reaction correctly. But that's today. If this continues, it may be that Morsi will be constrained by US threats and other considerations, for now, and take a humiliation that Netanyahu may be interested in giving him. But even if things don't change immediately, it will have set in motion the preparations for a strategy to act differently next time.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Another take on Jabari's assassination

WEBfo15no GazaTurn

The picture above is of the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been held by Hamas and was freed after a prisoner exchange negotiated by Egypt. Ahmed Jabari, the Hamas military leader who masterminded the operation to capture Shalit and headed the negotiations on the prisoner exchange, is to his left. The man on his right is, I believe, Mohamed Raafat Shehata, then a senior Egyptian intelligence officer in charge of the Israel-Hamas mediation, and now the head of Egypt's General Intelligence Service.

Jabari's assassination removes a man who was a chief point of contact for the Egyptians, and who the Israelis were at one point interested in establishing direct contact with (during the talks, they asked this, Jabari refused). Of course, there are other contacts and Jabari will be replaced. But in the delicate type of negotiations Egypt has led in the last few years, personal relations are important. Over time, negotiators get to know their interlocutors and develop a nuanced understanding of their quirks as well as a personal relationship — which can be tremendously helpful in crisis situations.

In the Egypt-Israel relationship today, there is no political track: the elected leaders of both countries do not talk to each other, and appear unlikely to do so. Part of Israel's aims in the current Gaza bombings may be to force President Morsi to engage the political track. The Israelis are known to want that direct political engagement and recognition. Aside from the political track, the Egypt-Israel relationship today is chiefly conducted through other channels: through the diplomatic corps of the two countries for routine matters, through intelligence channels for all the important crisis-management and negotiations stuff, and to a lesser extent through the militaries for border issues.

In other words, Egyptian intelligence is Israel's best contact in Egypt, the only one with which it has both a solid relationship and that has real clout inside of Egypt (the diplomats don't have clout and the mil-mil relationship is not as deep as the intel-intel one). One can't help but think that in assassinating Jabari, the Israelis have hampered Egyptian intelligence's ability to conduct mediation as effectively as possible. It appears Israel's decision to assassinate Jabari was to show that, now that Shalit has been freed, his abductor has been killed: it's a trophy of sort, compensating for a capture that taxed Israel's political leadership. Whether it'll be worth the cost in terms of the relationship with the Egyptians — for instance the next time an Israeli soldier is held captive or Israel's leadership wants to negotiate with Hamas — is another thing. Both at the political level and at the intelligence level, the Egyptian leadership must be asking itself, long-term, whether it can do business with Israel.

Related posts:

Assassinating The Chance For Calm

Assassinating The Chance For Calm

Gershon Baskin, who has been conducting negotiations to secure a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, writes in Open Zion:

Yesterday morning, hours before Israel assassinated Ahmed Jaabari, my counterpart in Hamas presented the draft to Jaabari and to other Hamas leaders. Senior Hamas leaders on the outside had already seen it and had instructed him to check the reactions to it in Gaza. I was supposed to receive the draft yesterday evening to present to Israeli officials who were waiting for me to send it to them.

That option is now off the table. Jaabari is dead and so is the chance for a mutually beneficial long term ceasefire understanding. Why did Benjamin Netanyahu do it? The cynical answer already offered by Aluf Benn in Haaretz is elections consideration. Cast Lead was also conducted before elections. Hitting Jaabari, according to Netanyahu’s thinking, would help him in the upcoming Israeli elections. Perhaps this is true, perhaps not.

It seems to me that some of the commanders of the Israeli army have been very frustrated that the previous agreements to return to calm left Israel in a weaker position, with Hamas calling the shots. They have been calling to rebuild Israel’s deterrence. Let them in Gaza feel the pain of a serious Israeli attack and then they will think seven times before shooting more rockets, is what they proposed. In the last days there has been a lot of talk from politicians, military experts and officers to return to the policy of “targeted killings.” This, they claim, would make the Hamas leaders hide for their lives and stop shooting at us. These military geniuses failed to realize that what never worked in the past will not work now either.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

The meaning of Ahmed Jaabari's assassination

Untitled

"The IDF has begun a widespread campaign on terror sites and operatives in the Gaza Strip, chief among them Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets," the IDF announced this morning, signaling a new round of escalation under the name of Operation Pillar of Cloud. Ahmed Jaabari, head of the group's Izz el-Deen Al-Qassam brigades, was reportedly killed by the IAF. Further targeted killings of military commanders are expected. Rocket launching sites are also being bombed: so far, there is no hint of a ground incursion despite the rocket firing paralyzing civilian life in southern Israel though the IDF today announced that is it prepared to carry one out, a declaration it's made every time the two sides have exchange heavy fire since 2009.

While there's suggestions of this being part of an effort to prep world opinion for another war in Gaza Sol Salbe notes the similarities in the Israeli media's tone in the winter of 2009, right before Operation Cast Lead began, and the present this is also aimed at Hamas supporters in the region, intending to drive them apart and force their hands.

Since Hamas's leaders with their Fatah re-unity plans again on indefinite hold are now casting about for support from Qatar, Egypt and Turkey, the resumption of IDF assassinations is likely also meant to send a message to those parties.

And though it is unlikely Israel hopes to provoke an Iranian response here, it will have that effect and possibly drive Tehran and Hamas ever-closer together since Iran's statements and actions will obviously not be hampered by military agreements with the US. Here, for Iran, is an opportunity to reassert itself in Gaza, which is an unfortunate development for those in Hamas who've grown skeptical of the Damascus-Tehran alliance like its political chief, Khaled Meshaal.

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✚ Gaza, Likud' primaries, and Egypt-Hamas relations

 Gaza, Likud' primaries, and Egypt-Hamas relations

From a Tablet interview with Nathan Thrall of ICG:

What makes this different from other rocket barrages from Gaza, which have been going on for months?

What is the difference this time? This time we had hundreds of thousands of residents of southern Israel who are going into shelters and their kids weren’t going to school. Forget about left and right in Israel. Basically, the entire political spectrum in Israel was saying very clearly that this was unacceptable and was in favor of doing something. And you had the various analysts and commentators and security officials saying things like, ‘there’s no good solution and if there was one, you would have seen it already.’

There are no good solutions for Israel for this problem and the fact is that nobody in Israel believes that whatever they do, whether it’s another Cast Lead or something strong but short of that, if they go in with ground troops in a limited way, if they go in with ground troops all over Gaza, if they occupy just the border between Egypt and Gaza, if they split Gaza into three and occupy little strips, or if they occupy the whole thing, everyone believes that at the end of that, Egypt’s not going to take it and Abu Mazen is too weak to be put back there, so what you’re left with is Hamas control of Gaza again.

I think it’s not unfair to say that the real difference this time is that we have a Likud primary in two weeks and Israeli elections coming up very shortly. It’s simply untenable for there not to be a response as there had not been a response in previous rounds of these escalations.

So you absolutely see the influence of the upcoming Israeli elections in this operation.

I don’t see any other explanation. Given that the other escalations have been even bigger, there have been more rockets. Not only that, but this thing started after people were already talking about a ceasefire. The front page of Haaretz this morning was talking about a ceasefire and there was a lull at four in the afternoon when Jabari’s car was hit.

Likud looked very impotent the last few days. Everyone I talked to in Israel—whatever their political persuasion—was of the view that something had to be done. I don’t see how it could have been ignored. I don’t want to overthink it by saying ‘well, this is the eve of Olmert’s announcement of his reentering the race and he is someone who actually did quote-unquote “take care of Gaza,” he is someone who actually did eliminate a nuclear program instead of just talking about it. Whether Olmert specifically plays any role, it’s certainly the case that the elections made a difference.

✚ Egyptian revolutionaries and liberals call for Gaza protest

Egyptian revolutionaries and liberals call for Gaza protest

And of course the protest is not just against Israel's attacks, but also the Egyptian government's lack of reaction:

The statement argued that the attacks in Gaza over the weekend cannot be understood separately from current events in Egypt's Sinai peninsula. The statement accuses Israeli intelligence of involvement in the current security problems in Sinai, adding that the Egyptian government are also to blame for its "bad management" of the situation.

"We reject the situation whereby after a revolution, the government can continue to hide its deals with Israel and instead continue to blame the Palestinians for deteriorating security in Sinai," the statement read, further blaming the lack of Egyptian opposition to events in Palestine on the new regime and its "lies", and demanding that the Camp David peace treaty with Israel is made public "for citizens to know its catastrophic effect" on Egypt.

The statement was signed by a number of political organisations, including the Egyptian Popular Current, the National Front for Justice and Democracy, the Revolutionary Socialists, the Popular Committees for the Protection of the Revolution, the Alliance of Revolutionary Forces, the National Assembly for Change, the Free Egyptian movement, the Free Egyptians Party, the Free Front for Peaceful Change, and the Kefaya movement.

Just like under Mubarak: the government (in this case the Brotherhood) is sandwiched between an angry population and regime interests, the opposition is leveraging this to its own advantage and making requests that don't quite make sense (the Egypt-Israel peace treaty is quite publicly available, for instance — although perhaps they are referring to subsequent memoranda). The irony is that two years ago the MB would have been on the opposite side. I wonder how long this is sustainable for them before they are forced to take the lead.

Update: Of course the government — actually not the government or Morsi himself since they won't talk to Israelis, but General Intelligence — is mediating a truce between Hamas and Israel. Complicated world we live in.

More on Hamas' disappointment with Egypt

More on Hamas' disappointment with Egypt

From Nic Pelham's latest NYRB piece:

But Egypt remains the missing piece in Hamas’s regional jigsaw puzzle. With the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s ideological twin, the Gazan leadership anticipated a rapprochement, and on the night of Mohammed Morsi’s election victory, Hamas loyalists cheered in the streets. Hamas ministers prepared feasibility studies for a highway stretching from North Africa’s farthest reaches to Gaza, and appealed to Gulf labor markets to absorb Gaza’s jobless graduates. The Gaza-Egypt border crossing at Rafah “will open fully and Egypt will supply fuel, medicine, and electricity. No one will be refused entry,” mused Mahmoud al-Zahar, a veteran Hamas leader, as we sat in his garden in July on his return from a meeting with Morsi.

But after the initial welcome, Egypt backed off, swayed both by pressure from western powers negotiating an IMF package and by its security forces’ claims that Gaza was complicit in the August 5 attack. In late September, Prime Minister Haniya arrived in Cairo at the head of a twenty-man Gazan delegation only to find his anticipated audience with Morsi declined and his requests for upgrading ties rebuffed. Egypt, he discovered, remained noncommittal on the Qatari fuel it had blocked after the August 5 attack, on boosting Egypt’s supply of electricity and water to Gaza, and above all, on the launch of a free trade zone on the Gaza-Egypt border that would make Hamas a legitimate trading partner. In a further slight, the foreign ministry described Haniya as a visiting guest, not an official.

Passenger crossings between Gaza and Egypt at the main Rafah terminal, which had reached almost quarter of a million since the start of the year, fell back to levels of a year earlier. And at their common border, Egyptian bulldozers began digging up tunnels with a tenacity Morsi’s predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, had rarely shown. Tunnel traffic dwindled to a third of pre-August 5 levels: had it not been for a significant easing of Israel’s closures on Gaza the impact would have been intense. In a huff, Hamas removed the banner of a smiling Morsi and Haniya holding hands against the backdrop of the pyramids from the walls of its Gaza City parliament, and replaced it with a large portrait of Qatar’s Emir.

Pelham also scores an interview with leading Gaza-based jihadist Abu Walid al-Maqdisi.

Le Figaro: L'émir du Qatar affiche son parti pris pro-Hamas à Gaza

Le Figaro: L'émir du Qatar affiche son parti pris pro-Hamas à Gaza

Interesting speculation in this article by Georges Malbrunot:

À Ramallah, Naplouse ou Hébron, le pari du Qatar viserait en fait à préparer l'après Abbas, en imposant Meshaal, qui se présente de plus en plus comme un leader nationaliste. Le travail de sape contre Mahmoud Abbas aurait déjà commencé cet été… par la diffusion par la chaîne qatarienne al-Jazeera du documentaire sur l'empoisonnement supposé de Yasser Arafat par Israël, avec probablement l'aide d'une «main palestinienne» dans l'entourage du chef de l'Autorité.

Khaled Meshaal as Abbas' successor? That would be a very different Middle East.

Qatar's Gaza policy and Egypt

Qatar's Gaza policy and Egypt

From Qatari state television al-Jazeera's coverage:

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the emir of Qatar, is set to arrive in the Gaza Strip to inaugurate a $254-million Qatari investment project to rebuild the impoverished and overcrowded coastal enclave.

The leader of the Gulf nation will be the first head of state to visit Gaza since the imposition of a widespread international boycott of the Palestinian territory.

"This visit has great political significance," said Hamas government spokesman Taher al-Nunu.

"He is the first Arab leader to break the political siege."

The investment project seeks to build 1,000 homes for poor families in the devastated Khan Younis area in the south of the Strip.

The 41km-long Gaza Strip, home to 1.6 million people, sustained major damage during a huge 22-day Israeli military operation in December 2008 and January 2009.

Khan Younis has been particularly hard hit during the international blockade of Gaza, imposed since 2007, and during the half-decade before that. A 2011 EWASH report revealed that 90-95 per cent of Gaza's water is safe to drink.

In a phone conversation on the eve of the visit, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the emir's intentions to help the people of Gaza, under an Israeli-led blockade since the Hamas takeover.

A late night statement from the office of Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi said his country welcomed the emir's visit to Gaza, which it said were part of Egypt's effort "to break the siege on the people" of the territory.

The Qatari emir's visit to Gaza is indeed a massive boon to the Hamas regime there, and not just financially. They have wanted, and the international community has denied them, the kind of formal recognition this visits grants for years. And it will really sting Mahmoud Abbas and the PA, whatever nice words they have to say about it, because the erosion of the idea that the PA is the sole representative of the Palestinian people is the single most damaging thing for them.

The Qatari emir can't go to Gaza through Israel, and thus must make his way via the Rafah crossing and Egypt. This must be a difficult thing for Egypt to swallow: Qatar, which is lending $2bn this calendar year alone to support the Egyptian pound, is doing more politically and financially for Gaza than Muslim Brotherhood Egypt has. Egyptians have long fumed about "little Qatar's" over-active foreign policy and its meddling in Gaza, an Egyptian near-abroad. I suspect the Muslim Brotherhood, whatever its initial euphoria and dreams of reconquering historical Palestine, will have similar reservations about the Qatari visit. They have, in the past few months, been slowly adjusting to the reality that the Gaza-Egypt-Israel relationship is a complex one and no dramatic change in policy — such as opening the border to commercial traffic and effectively ending the Gaza blockade —  has yet come. More than that, officially Egypt still sticks to the protocol of considering Mahmoud Abbas as the representative of Palestinians and Gaza as under theoretical PA authority (or that the end state of Palestinian reconciliation should be a West Bank and Gaza united under PA control). Qatar's visit undermines this — at a time when Morsi is under pressure from his own over his Israel policy.