A Strategic Review by Ianiv Lowy
Ianiv Lowy is an Israeli born Canadian citizen. He has a Masters degree in Government, Counter-Terrorism and Homeland Security studies from the IDC in Herzliyah Israel. To contact him please send emails to email@example.com
It cannot be denied that Gilad Shalit’s return to Israel, to his home, and to his family and friends is a joyous occasion for the entire nation, even for those of who opposed it; one of Israel’s own has returned to freedom from the grasp of enemy hands. The Netanyahu government paid the heaviest price yet in Israel’s history for the release of an Israeli soldier. It is therefore easy to argue that Israel showed its flexibility but more so that hostage taking is a profitable market for Arabs and Hamas might just as well be preparing for the next kidnapping as a result. However, many fail to realize the strategic timing as well as the political realm that might just come to life because of this moment.
In the United States, two outstanding events took place before and after the announcement that Israel struck a deal with Hamas to return Shalit home. Firstly, the US had extracted information from an Iranian captive that the Iranian government planned and was directly involved in an assassination attempt on the Saudia Arabian ambassador to the US as well as the bombing of Saudi and Israeli embassies in Argentina and abroad. Secondly, Hilary Clinton had visited Libya the day of Gilad Shalit’s release, citing the most senior US official yet to visit and acknowledge the Libyan Transitional Council as the new leader of Libya. What this means in the bigger picture is that the US is slowly tightening the noose on Iran and separating it from influencing Libya’s outcome but more importantly loosening its grip on its proxies, beginning with Hamas.
With the reality on the ground in Syria, Hamas no longer has a safe haven in Syria. Damascus is slowly sliding into civil war. The Syrian government shelled out billions in their attempt to squash the resistance, leaving them next to bankruptcy. The sanctions the EU and US have placed on their central banks forces them down to their last lifeline, Iranian bank loans but that can also last only so long. Furthermore, Hamas went against Iranian wishes when they opposed Syria’s crackdown on its civilians. This means Hamas needs a new home. When they originally approached Egypt, they were flatly denied. Now with the Shalit deal in place, the US and Egypt permitted Hamas delegations as part of the deal to begin setting up a new political base in Egypt. Lest we not forget, Hamas is the birth child of the Muslim Brotherhood, already headquartered in Egypt. Therefore, the real deal is that the US realizes that their support in the Arab Spring allowed the Muslim Brotherhood, a very influential force in the so-called Arab Spring to resurface. They cannot turn back on their support for the ‘people and civilians’ so the best solution is to get the Brotherhood on their side. After all, the Muslim Brotherhood is a political movement; enough financial, economic and strategic incentive can change their constitutional beliefs in one day (although it will take a much longer dedication to complete that task successfully with the Muslim Brotherhood).
The PA may have isolated themselves more than Israel ever could with their attempt to launch a unilateral bid for statehood. The only thing that can reverse that now is a Palestinian unity deal not just in words but in writing and in action. If that doesn’t happen Hamas may just stay on course to open a secret diplomatic and strategic channel with the West and that means they will privately stop their charter of assault on Israel. This is swaying Hamas away from the grip and dependence on Iran. This also continues to show the true face of Russia and China, whom of which vetoed crucial sanctions on Syria only because they sell weapons and armament to the Syrian government. The United States representative used the harshest words yet to explain this, with Russia replying that the US is trying to inch closer to Iran with every move; as if that is a wrong strategy considering Iran’s publicly openly violent rhetoric on the West and it’s calls for Israel’s destruction.
Ultimately Israel stands to gain from this because the Muslim Brotherhood may well just be the strongest political power involved in the Arab Spring and if the US and the EU can tone their hatred rhetoric of Israel down and instead open up political and strategic channels with them, it will give some peace of mind to Israel that the Arab Spring won’t turn into a cold winter for them. The Shalit deal cleared a lot of political turmoil and speculation on Israel that it was isolating itself, and Netanyahu respectably checked off one if the not the most crucial “to-do’s” on his list as PM. Now Israel can focus on the political turmoil surrounding its borders and more effectively work indirectly with Hamas to shrink the importance of the PA's statehood bid. After all, the PA statehood bid may be the direct reason as to the timing of Shalit’s release, and may just have been the light at the end of the tunnel that sealed the deal for his release. This could very well signal a turning point with Hamas but more so it may just have marked the first crucial steps in weakening Iran’s influence in the region.