The United States will today declare an end to combat operations in Iraq, asserting that the fight against Islamic State can be led by local forces.
The announcement will be part of a deal signed with Iraq’s prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who is in Washington and will meet President Biden.
It will state formally that US combat troops will be withdrawn from Iraq and the forces that remain will perform only training and advisory roles. Its aim is to help Kadhimi to argue that he is no longer beholden to western military interests, and that attacks by pro-Iran militias on US targets, often bases shared with Iraqi troops, are illegitimate.
The public rationale is the defeat of Islamic State, whose surge across half the country
US President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on Monday will seal an agreement formally ending the U.S. combat mission in Iraq by the end of 2021, more than 18 years after U.S. troops were sent to the country.
Coupled with Biden’s withdrawal of the last American forces in Afghanistan by the end of August, the Democratic president is completing US combat missions in the two wars that then-President George W. Bush began under his watch.
Biden and Kadhimi are to meet in the Oval Office for their first face-to-face talks as part of a strategic dialogue between the United States and Iraq.
The shift is not expected to have a major impact since the United States has already changed the focus of its 2,500-stong force to training Iraqi forces.
US diplomats and troops in Iraq and Syria were targeted in three rocket and drone attacks earlier this month. Analysts believed the attacks were part of a campaign by Iranian-backed militias.
The senior administration official would not say how many U.S. troops would remain on the ground in Iraq for advising and training.
Kadhimi is seen as friendly to the United States and has tried to check the power of Iran-aligned militias. But his government condemned a U.S. air raid against Iran-aligned fighters along its border with Syria in late June, calling it a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.
The United States plans to provide Iraq with 500,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine under the global COVAX vaccine-sharing program, the senior administration official said.
Incendiary balloons launched from the Gaza Strip on Sunday led to multiple fires in the communities near the Gaza border.
The IDF attacked a military camp belonging to Hamas in the southern Gaza Strip, IDF Spokesperson reported on Sunday night.Israeli Air Force fighter jets attacked the military base which contained a number of buildings used by Hamas members. The base was located in a civilian area, close to a school, IDF Spokesperson reported.They also confirmed that the air strikes are in retaliation for incendiary balloons which were launched earlier on Sunday, leading to fires in the Eshkol Regional Council.
This followed a earlier closure of Gazan fishing space from 12 nautical miles to just six.After the resumption of incendiary attacks and a series of situation assessments, the Coordinator of Government Operations in the Territories’ (COGAT) Maj.-Gen. Ghassan Alian announced on Sunday that it was decided to restrict the fishing zone in the Gaza Strip down from 12 to 6 nautical miles.
The decision will take effect immediately and will continue until further notice. Prior to Operation Guardian of the Wall, Gaza’s fishing zone stood at 15 nautical miles.The decision to limit Gaza’s fishing space came after the renewed launch ofincendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip towards Israeli territory after 3 weeks of relative quiet.The decision comes only 12 days after Gaza’s fishing zone was expanded from 9 to 12 nautical miles due to the relative calm which was seen in recent weeks.In a statement, COGAT said that “The terrorist organization Hamas bears responsibility for everything that is done in and out of the Gaza Strip towards the State of Israel, and it will bear the consequences of the violence perpetrated against the citizens of the country.”
Earlier on Sunday, three fires were extinguished in the Eshkol Regional Council, near the Gaza border. The fire investigator determined all three were the result of incendiary balloons.
Washington told Beijing earlier this year its main aim was to revive compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and, assuming a timely return, there was no need to punish Chinese firms violating US sanctions by buying Iranian crude, the official said.
That stance is evolving given uncertainty about when Iran may resume indirect talks in Vienna and whether incoming Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi is willing to pick up where the talks ended on June 20 or demands a fresh start.
The US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Iran – which has said it will not resume talks until Raisi takes over – has been “very murky” about its intentions.
“If we are back in the JCPOA, then there’s no reason to sanction companies that are importing Iranian oil,” the official told Reuters this week, referring to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action under which Iran curbed its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions.
“If we are in a world in which the prospect of an imminent return to the JCPOA seems to be vanishing, then that posture will have to adjust,” the official added.
The Wall Street Journal first reported Washington was considering tightening enforcement of its Iran sanctions, notably against China.
Reuters reported on Thursday that the Chinese logistics firm China Concord Petroleum Co has emerged as a central player in the supply of sanctioned oil from Iran and Venezuela.
That US officials are hinting at a possible crackdown may be a veiled threat that Washington has ways to exact a price from Tehran, said Brookings Institution analyst Robert Einhorn.
“It’s probably to send a signal to Raisi that if the Iranians are not serious about coming back to the JCPOA, the US has options and there will be costs,” Einhorn said.
How Beijing, whose relations with Washington are strained over issues from human rights to the South China Sea, might react will depend on whether it blames Iran or the United States for the impasse in the talks, Einhorn said.
One Iranian official said it was up to Iran’s supreme leader when talks resume, suggesting this could happen when Raisi takes over on Aug. 5 or a few weeks later. He also said it was unclear if Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, would remain.
“We should wait for the new president to take office and decide whether he wants to change the nuclear team or not. It seems that Dr. Araqchi will not be changed, at least during the handover period,” this official said on condition of anonymity.
“They want their own terms and conditions and they have more demands like keeping the 60% enrichment or chain of advanced centrifuges and not dismantling them as demanded by Washington,” the second Iranian official said.
The uncertainty is forcing the United States to examine new approaches, even though US and European officials have said there are no good options to reviving the JCPOA.
“If … we were to conclude that the talks are dragging on for too long and we don’t have a sense of whether they are going to reach a positive outcome, then of course we would have to take a fresh look at our sanctions enforcement, including on Chinese entities that were purchasing Iranian oil,” the US official said, declining to predict the timing of any decision.
“It’s not … black and white,” he said. “We’ll make it based on the time it’s taking for Iran to come back and the posture they will take if and when they do come back
Biden to press Iraqi leader to help stop Iran’s drone strikes on U.S. troops
By Jeff Mordock
President Biden is expected to use his meeting Monday with the Iraqi prime minister to press him to take a stronger role in curtailing Iranian-backed drone attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq in Syria.
But Mr. Biden may not have enough leverage to overcome Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s fears of retaliation from Iran, analysts say.
“Iraq is not going to take a hard line against things that are not in the interest of Iraq,” said Robert Rabil, a professor at Florida Atlantic University, who has written books on the region.
“The prime minister is pro-U.S., but he is also a nationalist and pro-Iraq. He knows he can’t make an enemy out of Iran.”
Since President Biden took office in January, at least eight drone attacks and 17 rocket attacks have targeted U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria. An attack earlier this month on an Iraqi airbase hosting U.S. forces wounded two American service members.
The U.S. blamed the attacks on Iranian-backed militias operating inside Iraq and Syria. The militias make up a large part of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, a state-sponsored umbrella organization composed of roughly 40 mostly Shia Muslim paramilitary groups.
In response to the attacks, Mr. Biden has twice ordered airstrikes against the militia groups operating inside Syria, including a strike near the Iraqi border.
The president is going to need to sell Mr. Mustafa al-Kadhimi on taking a harder and more public line against the drone attacks if he expects to make progress in the region, analysts say.
So far, Mr. Mustafa al-Kadhimi has been reluctant to take a stronger approach, fearing not only retaliation but blowback in his own country, Mr. Rabil said.
“To go against Iran, he will not do,” Mr. Rabil said of the prime minister. “Iraq does not have a political party so he needs to work in consensus. He wants to improve Iraq but has been faced with a lot of challenges. Using Iraq to settle the score between the U.S. and Iran won’t help.”
Complicating matters is the tense relationship between Iraq and the U.S. that has lingered since the Trump administration.
Former President Trump last year ordered a drone strike that killed Iran military leader Qassim Soleimani and senior Iraqi military commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. The strike took place at the Baghdad International Airport.
Mr. Biden has sought a fresh start in U.S.-Iraqi relations and Mr. Mustafa al-Kadhimi appears to be on board. The visit to the White House is a sign of warming relationships.
Even if the prime minister won’t use harsher rhetoric against the drone strikes, there are still things he can do to assist the U.S.
First, he can share information with the U.S. about what Iraqi intelligence is gathering on the ground about the militias and drone strokes.
Mr. al Kadhimi can also work in the region to assist Mr. Biden in overcoming obstacles to reviving the Obama-era nuclear accord with Iran. There are signs that Iran is looking to curb the attacks on the U.S. military to reengage on a nuclear deal.
Mr. Rabil said the drone strikes appear to be structured to send a message to the United States but cause enough chaos to scuttle negotiations. For example, while the attacks have wounded service members, the U.S. has not sustained any casualties.
“If you look at the attacks, they are not aimed in a way to demand a strong retaliation,” he said. “They want to be able to say that we handled the United States on our terms, but not provoke a strong response.”
An explosion in a market in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Thursday killed one person and injured 10.
The explosion in the Al-Zawiya area caused the collapse of parts of a house and damaged dozens of buildings and shops, said the Palestinian interior ministry as reported by the AP. The cause of the blast is unknown.
The Israel Defense Forces called the explosion an “internal” matter. The blast occurred on the third day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
The World Bank had estimated that reconstruction in Gaza, following the 11-day conflict in mid-May that Hamas instigated by launching rockets into Israel, would cost $485 million.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Monday that while Israel wants to see a peaceful and prosperous Gaza Strip, the Hamas terror organization that rules it seeks the opposite.
The current, bumpy negotiations aimed at preventing the Iranian regime from developing nuclear weapons are among the Biden administration’s highest priorities. The administration liftedsanctions on more than a dozen former Iranian officials in June, a move that Iranian officials viewed as a victory.
Iran even claimed that 1,000 more sanctions will soon be lifted, which the US State Department spokesman denied. Days later, it was reported that the Biden administration might remove what it considers symbolic sanctions on Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
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This all comes as Iran faces new internal pressures. Severe water shortages have triggered six days of massive anti-government protests, including chants of “Death to [Ayatollah] Khamenei.”
As diplomacy continues, Iran is not relenting in pursuing its violent objectives. US troops in Syria were shelled by Iranian rocket fire following US airstrikes on Iranian-backed militias. While US forces responded to the attacks, it was not enough to stop six reprisal attacks by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria this month alone. “President Biden must put forward a real strategy for deterring and ending these attacks, rather than continuing his bare-minimum, tit-for-tat approach that is failing to deter Iran or its militias and puts American lives at increased risk.” said US Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK).
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council on Tuesday rejected a new draft nuclear agreement because it was incompatible with legislation passed by Iran’s parliament last December. That law prohibits the country from dropping below 20 percent enriched uranium, which would not be allowed in any negotiated nuclear deal.
In 2015, Iran signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)with the United States, France, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, and Germany. This lifted some sanctions on the Iranian government in exchange for restricting the amount of enriched uranium stockpiles Iran could maintain.
Since then, Iran has ratcheted up its expansionist plans in the Middle East, underwriting terrorist groups and even assassinating dissidents in Western countries.
Those aggressive international terrorist operations continue. Four Iranian nationals were charged in New York on July 14 with attempting to kidnapAmerican journalist Masih Alinejad and take her to Iran. The plot began in 2018, the indictment says.
The 2015 JCPOA clearly benefited Iran, freeing up money to expand its Middle East hegemony. In Lebanon, Hezbollah continues to use force to expand its influence on the state politics. Backed by $700 million in annual Iranian financing, Hezbollah has become Lebanon’s most influential political player.
In Iraq, the Popular Mobilization Forces PMF, which was allegedly formed to curb ISIS’ rapid expansion in 2014, has become an Iranian proxy, committing atrocities and assassinating citizens. Iraqi authorities arrested PMF commander Qasem Muslah in May, charging him in connection with the assassinations of pro-democracy activists.
Since winning election as Iran’s new president last month, hardliner Ebrahim Raisi has said that he will not negotiate over Iran’s missile program or meet with Biden, even if both sides agreed on terms to revive the JCPOA. No one has proposed such a meeting, but it is a sign that Iran’s hard-line policies are not going to change.
While Iran’s economy struggles, its support for terrorist groups continues. Despite May’s Gaza war, Hamas has enough Iranian money to continue its operations, said Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar. “All the thanks to the Islamic Republic of Iran, which never spared any expenses on us or other Palestinian factions, Sinwar said in a May 30 news conference. “They provided us with money, arms and expertise.” Hamas will “scorch the earth,” he threatened, if Gaza’s problems are not solved.
Threats of Israel’s annihilation are consistent with Hamas’ founding charter. But they also match Iran’s repeated goal. Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described Israel in 2005 as “disgraceful blot” that should be “wiped off the face of the earth.”
In 2017, Iranian authorities installed a doomsday clock, ticking toward 2040, the year Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei predicted Israel would be destroyed. But in a sign of Iran’s misplaced priorities, the clock stopped working earlier this month due to power shortages in the country.
For the past six months, the Biden administration has been sendingmessages that it intends to deescalate the situation with Iran, but Iranian officials interpret that as a sign of weakness. Iranian Revolutionary Guard intelligence chief Hussein Taeb last week urged an escalation in attacks against US forces in Iraq.
“History has repeatedly proven that appeasement will only embolden and empower a rogue state. But the Biden administration and the EU appear determined to pursue this dangerous policy with a regime that is a top state sponsor of terrorism, according to the US State Department, and a leading human rights violator,” wrote Iranian-American political scientist Majid Rafizadeh in the Arab News.
Iran is technically capable of enriching uranium to weapons-grade should it choose so, said outgoing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. After six rounds of talks in Vienna, an agreement still seems far away.
In spite of President Biden’s declarationthat Iran will not acquire nuclear weapons on his watch, it is becoming clearer that the current US administration has no tangible plan to counter or deal with the Iranian threat to the Middle East and US interests there, and is simply improvising. Accordingly, if the Iranian regime is capable of creating all the above mentioned havoc while still under US sanctions, how much worse will it behave when sanctions are lifted?
In a press briefing held on13 July, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby responded to a question regarding Iranian attacks by saying, “These attacks are dangerous and potentially lethal, and the Pentagon takes them seriously.”
The recent attacks indicate that Iran has been planning on escalating its military targeting of US bases. On 13 July, Reuters cited three sources from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and two Iraqi security sources who said that IRGC chief Hossein Taeb headed an Iranian delegation to Iraq and urged Iraqi Shi’ite militias to step up attacks on US targets during a meeting in the Iraq capital, Baghdad, last week.
Iranian officials advised the Iraqis not to go too far in their attacks on US forces in Syria to avoid a big escalation, Reuters quoted the sources.
Reuters cited a senior official in the region, who was briefed by Iranian authorities on Taeb’s visit, that Taeb met several Iraqi militia leaders during the trip and conveyed “the supreme leader’s message to them about keeping up pressure on US forces in Iraq until they leave the region.”
Would Iran force US troops out of Syria and Iraq?
A report by the Iranian al-Alam news TV channel entitled “Messages of the Five Targeting Operations Against American Occupation Bases in Syria” mentioned on 16 July that Iran’s long-term motives behind these attacks are to force US forces out of Syria by “popular resistance adopted by Iran through the attacks.”
Meanwhile, the short-term Iranian target is to pressure the US to “change its policy in Syria and ease sanctions,” the report said.
Iranian affairs researcher Alaa al-Sa’id told Enab Baladi that the Iranian targeting of US bases in Syria and Iraq does not put any pressure on America to leave these countries.
Al-Sa’id added that the US withdrawal from any country is not subject to Iranian pressures or the pressures of other sides. Such a decision is “purely American,” taken according to US interests with the aim of protecting national security.
Syrian writer and political analyst Zakariya Malahfji told Enab Baladi that Iranian attacks are not up to the aim of forcing US troops to withdraw from their bases in Syria or Iraq. Iran is involving itself in shenanigans, targeting US bases to win a pressure card on negotiating tables.
Iran’s attacks in Syria coincided with fiercer ones in Iraq targeting US interests there, opening the door to the possibility of Washington withdrawing its troops from the country it entered in 2003 to overthrow the regime of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
On 17 July, the US Associated Press news agency reported that a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi would take place in the White House on 26 July.
The meeting comes at a pivotal point in the US-Iraq relationship, and amid growing concerns about more frequent attacks against US troops in Iraq and Syria, the Associated Press said.
Since Biden took office in January, there have been at least eight drone attacks targeting the US presence, as well as 17 rocket attacks, according to the Associated Press.
An ostensible objective
Al-Sa’id said that Iran’s claim that its attacks aim to pressure the US to ease economic sanctions against the Syrian regime is nothing but an “ostensible objective.”
He added that Iran’s real objective behind attacking US bases in Syria is to use the Syrian regime’s forces on battlefields and drain their sources in case Iran was attacked back.
Since the US imposed the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, also known as the Caesar Act, entailing sanctions on the Syrian regime, Iranian officials released many statements rejecting US sanctions claiming that they “affect the lives of Syrian people.”
The statements also mentioned Iran’s assistance and support to the regime in the face of US sanctions in various sectors, chiefly oil derivatives.
New presidency, new goals
On 19 June, Ebrahim Raisi won the Iranian presidential elections after receiving the highest percentage of votes with 63 percent of the voters.
Al-Sa’id said that Iran’s new presidency and intensified attacks are interrelated in the sense that the new presidency led by Raisi wants to show itself strong at the beginning of its term.
Raisi wants to appear strong to silence his opponents, on the one hand, and to send a message to the US on Iran’s force to ease pressures related to nuclear talks in Vienna, al-Sa’id added.
Political analyst Malahfji pointed out that Raisi is a hardliner who is accused of several war crimes and that his election to the presidency indicates Iran’s intentions of escalation.
The new Iranian presidency is trying to pressure the US indirectly to win the Vienna talks between Tehran, the US, and world powers on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal in Vienna, which restricted Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for lifting international sanctions.
In July, the US base in the al-Omar oil field in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor was targeted three times, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA).
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby denied the targeting of the US base in the al-Omar oil field and said that there were no military exercises for the US-led International Coalition Forces (ICF) in the area.
Iran has officially declared on many occasions that its presence in Syria is for advisory reasons at the Syrian government’s demand. However, since its early intervention in Syria, Iran has supported the regime politically, militarily, and economically and expanded its influence in Syria during the past years in various military, economic, and cultural fields.
International monitors are watching Iran’s fast-expanding nuclear program with growing alarm as Tehran refuses to extend an expired inspections pact and insists the experts must trust that it’s accurately documenting uranium-enrichment activities.
Iran claims it’s still preserving data captured by International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring equipment, the agency’s director general, Rafael Mariano Grossi, said in an interview in Rio de Janeiro. But officials won’t give his investigators access to it until Iran concludes stalled talks with world powers to restore a broader 2015 agreement that lifted sanctions.
“It’s a rather uncomfortable situation for us because this assurance is informal in nature and we don’t know whether this is the case or not,” Grossi said on Monday. “But we do not have a choice.”
The deal struck six years ago this month restricted Iran’s nuclear activities, but it has crumbled since then-President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. in 2018. After Trump reimposed sanctions, Iran started breaking caps on its nuclear work, and it has now stockpiled nearly enough highly-enriched uranium to build a warhead.
“We need to verify that all this material at those higher grades is going to remain in peaceful uses,” Grossi said. “The only way to do that is to cooperate with the IAEA. If they don’t do it, they are outlaws.”
While the Biden administration, along with China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.K., have been trying to revive the 2015 accord since April, diplomats are expected to reconvene only next month after new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, a hard-line cleric, is installed in office.
The discussions are being closely watched by energy markets anticipating a surge in Iranian oil and gas exports if sanctions on the country’s sales are lifted.
Grossi spoke amid reports that policymakers in Washington could start raising the pressure on Iran if talks to revive their agreement fail. Dow Jones reported that the U.S. might target Iran’s oil sales to China, which have surged since President Joe Biden entered the White House, if the talks break down.
That’s simply one among a number of alternative scenarios the U.S. is thinking about if there’s no return to the multinational nuclear accord, according to a U.S. official who asked not to be identified discussing internal deliberations. China is where Iran exports most of its oil today, and the U.S. has conveyed the possibility of new sanctions to China, the official said.
Iran has more than tripled its stockpile of uranium enriched to 60% to 19.6 pounds (8.9 kilograms) from 5.3 pounds (2.4 kilograms) verified by international inspectors in a June report, according to a tweet from Iran’s foreign minister last week. That purity of uranium is technically indistinguishable from the material needed to make nuclear weapons, with as little as 10 to 15 kilograms of the highly-enriched metal needed to manufacture a crude nuclear device.
Iran has always maintained that its nuclear program is for civilian uses, but concern in Western capitals and Israel over the potential for bombmaking helped prompt the original agreement.
“We will have to see what the new government decides in terms of returning to the format,” said Grossi, whose agency isn’t represented at the talks but plays a key role enforcing the deal’s nuclear covenants.
Grossi said that his inspectors continue having a presence inside Iran but that their visits are restricted to declared nuclear sites. The IAEA’s probe into trace amounts of decades-old uranium found at several locations and linked to Israeli revelations remains at a standstill.
“That is basically stopped,” Grossi said. “We have exchanged a few letters, but there is no real engagement.”
The failure to clarify the source of the material opens another potential pathway for the U.S. to mount pressure on Iran. Washington’s IAEA envoy Louis Bono has suggested the Islamic Republic could face formal censure if progress isn’t made in the investigation before September.
Hamas believed its support among Palestinians would increase after its defense of Sheikh Jarrah and the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the fierce war with Israel called the “Battle of the Sword of Jerusalem,” an expectation that was fulfilled according to surveys conducted by independent Palestinian research centers. The surveys showed that the movement’s popularity increased because it engaged in a military confrontation with Israel not because of the siege on Gaza, the delay of the Qatari financial grant, or because one of its leaders had been assassinated but rather in defense of Jerusalem.
Hamas’ popularity was evident in its ability to galvanize and mobilize Palestinians within not only Gaza but the West Bank, Jerusalem, Israel, and neighboring countries, for example at the Lebanese and Jordanian borders with Israel. This widespread response was unprecedented for Hamas, as the movement traditionally has found little support for its military confrontations with Israel outside of Gaza, a fact that has long frustrated the movement.
Palestinians’ admiration for Hamas throughout the war was due in large part to the movement’s ability to combat the Israeli war machine without surrendering. Palestinians raised Hamas’ green flags throughout the West Bank and placed pictures of the movement’s leaders in Al-Aqsa Mosque. Even Fatah members were spotted chanting Hamas slogans during protests in the West Bank.
The Retreat of Fatah
The Palestinian Authority, in contrast, appeared to be a mere spectator at the conflict between Hamas and Israel, playing no role apart from making the usual calls to stop the violence. Neither Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, his prime minister, nor any ministers initiated a visit to Gaza, which received a number of Arab and international delegations. Ramallah, the headquarters for the leadership of the Fatah movement and the Palestinian Authority (PA), received no such visits, a fact that angered the PA and aroused the fear that Hamas would be seen as a viable alternative by the international community when it came to reconstruction.
What was most unusual for Palestinians was that while Israeli planes bombed Gaza, Abbas delivered a speech in which he invited Hamas to join in the creation of a single national government. Hamas quickly rejected the invitation for two reasons: the timing was bad considering the ongoing war with Israel; and Hamas had little interest in forming a government. What would have been of interest to Hamas instead was holding general elections (which Abbas postponed unilaterally in April) and reforming the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).
Despite Hamas’ refusal, the Palestinian Authority sought to promote its goal of forming a unity government through consultations with regional and international mediators including Egypt, the European Union, and the United States. Hamas in parallel consulted with its allies among Palestinian factions about forming a national leadership, as the PLO does not include Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other affiliated factions of the resistance.
Despite the war seemingly working out in Hamas’ favor, the PA gained the upper hand when it was granted the authority to administer a $30 million grant from Qatar and rebuild Gaza after the war, an effort that was spearheaded by the Biden administration and approved by Israel, Egypt, and other international actors. Hamas has vehemently rejected the PA’s role because it views the effort as a means to nullify its military triumphs and prevent them from being translated into political victories.
It has become clear that there is a concerted U.S. effort to revive the PA after a period of estrangement during the Trump administration, with the goal of returning it to the negotiation table with Israel. Israel’s new government realized that the humanitarian agreements reached under Netanyahu—including a $30 million Qatari grant targeting underprivileged families—strengthened Hamas and contributed to its recent impressive military performance. Seeing that, Israel has decided to promote Egypt’s influence in Gaza at Qatar’s expense.
According to high-level sources within Hamas, “the movement fears a return to regional or international pressure, whether that be in the form of restricted cash flow into Gaza, the distancing of its allies, or the restriction of influence from allies such as Qatar and Turkey in favor of parties that are not completely aligned with the movement. All of these factors would diminish humanitarian conditions for Gaza residents and lead to more pressure from them on the movement.”1
Failure of the Cairo Talks
Since Abbas announced the postponement of general elections in late April due to fear of a Hamas victory, Hamas and Fatah have been estranged despite Egyptian efforts at reconciliation. Immediately following the war in Gaza, Cairo invited delegations from the Palestinian factions to meet. Egyptian sources indicated that the positions of Fatah and Hamas “appeared far apart, as Hamas, through its political chief Ismael Haniyeh, asked the head of Egyptian General Intelligence Abbas Kamel to ensure that the discussion would be a collective one among all factions rather than a bilateral one between the two movements, as Fatah prefers.”2 According to an inside source, Hamas “insisted that the discussion begin with the most important subjects: the PLO and setting dates for the general elections.”
The Fatah delegation, led by Central Committee Secretary Jibril Rajoub, arrived in Cairo with only one item on their agenda: the formation of a new government, eschewing any discussion of elections or the PLO. Because of the difference in agendas, the talks were doomed from the start.3 Fatah and Hamas’ positions further diverged when the PA (with regional, Israeli, and international support) showed its desire to exclude Hamas from everything related to the administration of Gaza, thereby igniting new disagreements in an already tenuous relationship.
The Palestinian political scene, which appeared unified throughout the war in Gaza, has returned to a state of internal division and might deteriorate further due to bullying by the PA and external actors. Hamas faces difficult political choices as it finds that its military achievement has not delivered the expected increase in internal and external political legitimacy.
Adnan Abu Amer is a professor of political science at al-Ummah University and a writer and researcher at the Arab Studies Center. He holds a doctorate in political history from Damascus University. Follow him on Twitter @AdnanAbuAmer2
1 The author spoke to these sources within Hamas.
2 The author spoke to well-formed Egyptian sources in regards to these meetings.
3 The author interviewed a knowledgeable Egyptian journalist familiar with the Palestinian discussion in Cairo on June 21.