The Takeaway: Hamas ‘balloon terror’ sparks conflict on Gaza faultline

Both Israel and Hamas turn to Qatar in wake of escalation; Turkey gets closer to Malta, as regional tensions escalate; Hadley Gamble on Lebanon’s creditors; a poem for Beirut; more!

al-monitor Masked Palestinians prepare to attach balloons to a gas canister before releasing it near Gaza's Bureij refugee camp, along the Israel-Gaza border fence, on Feb. 10, 2020. Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images.

Topics covered

lebanon explosion, beirut crisis, lebanon, turkish-qatari relations, turkish foreign relations, israeli-palestinian relations, hamas, gaza

Aug 12, 2020

Gaza: Israel strikes back over Hamas 'balloon terror' and rocket offensive

“I want to say to all of Iran’s forces, including in Gaza, there will be a very heavy price for the balloon terror,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today, as Israel attacked what it says were Hamas military sites in Gaza with helicopters and tanks.

Meanwhile, both Israeli and Hamas leaders have reached out to Qatar to renew humanitarian aid to Gaza  — and perhaps to help de-escalate tensions.  

Balloon terror:  Hamas launched a series of incendiary attacks from Gaza into southern Israel, starting fires in the Ashkelon area near the Gaza border. Hamas started using incendiary explosives tied to balloons and kites in 2018, but a shaky truce was reached in the fall of that year. In this latest round, Hamas blames Israel for stifling economic and development projects and border agreements. In a further show of force, Hamas test fired eight medium-range missiles into the sea of the Gaza Strip on Aug. 10.

An unwelcome southern front:  Hamas’ actions, and Israel’s reaction, occur as Israeli leaders and the Israeli Defense Forces have been focused on Lebanon. Israel deployed tanks to its border with Lebanon on Monday. The line from Jerusalem is that Hezbollah is taking advantage of the current instability following the explosion in Beirut last week, with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi going as far to say on Aug.11 that “political instability within Lebanon has allowed Hezbollah to essentially take over the entire country politically, militarily and economically, all at Iran’s command.”  

Road to Doha:  Both Israel and Hamas may be on the same page in seeking a continuation of Qatar’s humanitarian aid to Gaza. Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, is reportedly in Doha also in a bid to renew a $50 million Qatari grant for another six months. The Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, provided $50 million in assistance to Gaza in March; that aid runs out in September. Meanwhile, Israeli media reports that Mossad chief Yossi Cohen may have been directly in touch with Qatari officials about the aid. Mohammed al-Emadi,  chairman of Qatar’s Committee for the Reconstruction of Gaza, said Tuesday that Qatar’s aid was humanitarian and would continue, and that contacts with “Israeli occupation authorities” on aid to Gaza “are not new.”

Our take:  Hamas may be lighting up the Gaza border to remind Israel and the region that it too can play the role of disrupter and spoiler, including while Israel is rocked by anti-government demonstrations because of its handling of the coronavirus. Hamas has no governance wins to champion with its people, who continue to suffer under the siege, so conflict can divert their attention. Qatar plays a vital role not just in its steady humanitarian assistance to Gaza, but as a potential mediator to de-escalate conflict. Hamas will likely flash the Iran card at some point as well; Tehran was likely consulted before Hamas unleashed the recent balloons and rockets.

Read moreAhmad Abu Amer has the take here from Gaza; Rina Bassist has more on Mossad chief Cohen’s alleged contacts with Qatari officials. 

Turkey: Why Turkey is wooing Malta in the Eastern Med

Turkey has been cozying up to Malta, the smallest country in the European Union, another sign of the increased risk of escalation in the eastern Mediterranean stemming from friction between Ankara and Cairo.

Entangled alliances:  Turkey and Egypt are on opposite sides of the hot war in Libya. Turkey is allied with the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA); Egypt and its allies, including the UAE, France, Saudi Arabia and, to a certain extent, Russia, all back insurgent fighter Khalifa Hifter, whose power base is in the east, near some of the country’s oil fields.

Gas conflict flares up:  The conflict in Libya has spilled into a conflict in the eastern Mediterranean over gas rights. Turkey and the GNA reached an agreement on offshore gas exploration in November 2019 that was rejected by Egypt, Cyprus, Greece and Israel (backed by the EU) as an infringement on their exploration and development rights. Egypt and Greece agreed on a demarcation zone on Aug. 6, which Turkey considered a further escalation, prompting Ankara to announce licenses for seismic research in areas overlapping with the Egyptian-Greek zone, as Diego Cupolo reports here

Why Malta?:  Turkey, Libya and Malta have strengthened cooperation in recent weeks. These discussions don’t yet have a military dimension, but that seems to be Turkey’s ultimate intent.  Turkey is at a disadvantage relative to Egyptian naval and air power, and Malta could provide Turkey with a base for power projection into Libya. 

Our take:  Turkey’s alliance with Malta is a flare for the risk of escalation in Libya and the eastern Mediterranean, which are increasingly intertwined because of the conflict between Cairo and Ankara. Until now, however, Malta, a member of the EU, has not committed to a military agreement with Turkey. And Greece has not signed onto a military pact with Egypt. The trend lines nonetheless are in the direction of increased risk of escalation. The Trump administration is seeking to defuse the conflict through what it calls “360-degree diplomacy,” which we explain here.

Read moreFehim Tastekin breaks down the implications of the Turkey-Malta alliance here, and Metin Gurcan assesses the militarization and risks of conflict in the eastern Mediterranean here.

Lebanon: Will international donors 'throw good money after bad'?

Hadley Gamble, CNBC news anchor and international correspondent, said that international donors and creditors complain privately they “have been pouring money down a hole in Lebanon for decades and look where it’s gotten us … nowhere. … Until we see a government that’s not so aligned with Hezbollah, we really don’t see any reason to throw good money after bad.”

More:  Listen to my full podcast interview with Hadley here.

In Case You Missed It: A poem honoring Beirut's resilience

Lebanon’s unusual and inspirational mix of beauty, tragedy and resilience are often captured more poignantly in more artistic expressions such as poetry and the arts. Here is a passage from a poem by Daria Daniel titled “To You”:

 

Sweet Soteria, Beirut -

Storms, stones and thunderbolts do not bring you to your knees.

You are a kind and peculiar coastal sanctuary, of ochre light,

Of daily deliverance,

Your custodians, your refugees, your lovers – keep vigil over them.

Because Beirut, you are their beating, (bleeding), mighty heart.

 

You can read the full poem here.

Al-Monitor welcomes submissions of poetry and other forms of creative expression regarding events and trends in the region.

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