The electricity cutback in the Gaza Strip, engineered by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to flex muscle against Hamas rule, was just one piece on the checkerboard created by the crackdown Egypt, Saudi Arabia Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have imposed on Qatar for supporting terrorist groups like the Palestinian extremist Hamas. Therefore, Hamas leader Yahya Sanwar had little to expect from his mission to Cairo last weekend to persuade the El-Sisi government to ease its restrictions on the Gaza Strip.
He arrived at the head of a large mission, in which the group’s military arm, Ezz e-Din El-Qassam was heavily represented. Their appeals to Maj.-Gen Khaled Fawzy, director of Egyptian General Intelligence, met with a list of tough conditions. When the Palestinian delegation balked, Cairo acted to tighten its blockade on the Palestinian enclave.
The Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip found themselves in the same boat as their old friend, Qatar, in the week that their internal rival, Mahmoud Abba, docked payment for the electricity Israeli supplies the Gaza Strip. The power supply was cut by 40 percent.
From 2015, the emir of Qatar remained the only Arab ruler backing the Palestinian extremist Hamas with occasional cash donations to Gaza City and permission for its top officials to set up shop in Doha.
This flow of aid was abruptly cut off by the land, sea and air blockade Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt clamped down on Qatar last week over its support for terrorist groups and ties with Tehran. Sheikh Tamim bin-Hamad Al-Khalifa defied the ultimatum they presented him, and so Qatar’s banks and international assets have been losing dollars, its currency has plummeted and there is no money to spare for the Gaza Strip.
Qatar and Hamas are being pushed into the same corner.
The small Gulf island, which is the world’s largest supplier of natural gas, was been told by the four leading Arab governments to expel Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas officials from its soil, after years of providing them with hospitality plus pensions generous enough for them to live a life of ease and plenty, while also running their terrorist networks across the region and beyond.
Qatar was also told to discontinue its propaganda campaigns against Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and shut down its main platform, the Al Jazeera TV channel; and hundreds of Egyptian and Saudi dissidents granted political asylum deported forthwith.
With nowhere else to go, these dissidents could potentially head for sanctuary in the Gaza Strip, making it a “little Qatar,” which is why Cairo further tightened the Palestinian enclave’s isolation by blocking all routes of access.
The Hamas delegation was likewise confronted in Cairo with tough demands by the Egyptian intelligence chief:
1. To turn in the Muslim Brotherhood fugitives they were sheltering in the Gaza Strip.
2. Not just to sever cooperation between the Hamas military arm and the Islamic State networks in the Sinai Peninsula, but to surrender to Egypt all the intelligence they possessed about the jihadists and their activities.
3. To discontinue weapons smuggling operations through Sinai.
After balking at the Egyptian demands, Yahya Sanwar was forced to leave Cairo empty-handed with regard to eased restrictions and humanitarian aid - only to find on his return home that the Egyptians had raised their biggest gun against the Gaza Strip: They had cut off power.
A humanitarian catastrophe now hangs over the two million inhabitants of the tiny Mediterranean enclave. Hospitals are cutting back operations, refrigerators are switched off, clean water supplies are dwindling because desalination plants are without power, raw sewage is dumped into the sea and sanitary conditions deteriorating.
Cairo asked the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and the Israeli government not to relent, but to keep the pressure on the Hamas regime high. Ramallah must continue to hold back payment to cover Israel’s electricity bills, which suits Mahmoud Abbas’ campaign for bringing Hamas to heel.
But for Israel, there is a dilemma. Nonetheless, the Netanyahu government is extremely wary of breaking away from the anti-terror line taken by Arab governments, because this could put paid to the delicate ties established with them – especially in the military domain - through long and laborious effort.
In Jerusalem, it is therefore ardently hoped that the Qatar crisis is quickly resolved and Hamas and Cairo can reach terms exponentially for easing the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
For the time being, there is no sign of this happening. On the contrary, there are indications of the crisis moving onto a military plane. Sources in the Middle East are not ruling out possible military action by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE against Qatar.
Read more about this looming potential in the coming DEBKA Weekly issue (for subscribers) out next Friday, June 16.
A military crisis centering on Qatar would be a catalyst for an outbreak of violence from the Gaza Strip. And indeed, after the failed Sanwar mission to Cairo and the reduction of electric power to the Gaza Strip, Hamas spokesmen warned that an “explosion” was imminent.