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Saudi Arabia: The New Sheriff on the Gaza Strip?

As Saudi Arabia seeks to strengthen its anti-Iran coalition, it may become the new sheriff in town on the Gaza Strip. An Israeli news site called Arutz Sheva spoke to sources in Israel’s security apparatus, who say that the Saudis and UAE have taken on the task of funding Gaza’s reconstruction. The reputed arrangement suits Egypt and Israel just fine, since they want to see Qatar’s influence in Gaza reduced:

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have played a significant role in returning Hamas to the negotiating table over a permanent ceasefire, a security official revealed Sunday on condition of anonymity, after pledging to contribute money to rebuild Gaza.

Hamas initially insisted on a financial plan backed by their longtime ally, Qatar, to recover from the conflict, the source stated to Walla!.

However, since Jerusalem and Cairo both aim to lessen Qatar’s stronghold on the terror regime – as well as the influence of Qatar-based Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Meshaal – Hamas then turned to Riyadh and contacts in the United Arab Emirates for assistance after Operation Protective Edge.

What’s more, according to these sources, the Saudis have pledged to keep the materials of war out of Hamas’s hands:

The Saudi funding is conditional on the promise that the funds will be used for legitimate civilian projects only – specifically barring the rebuilding of terror tunnels.

It is unclear what system of checks and balances exist to ensure that promise is kept will be in place, however, and the fact remains that Hamas routinely sets up headquarters in civilian buildings, and has stored rockets and booby traps in schools and hospitals.

To add a further layer of speculation, Arutz Sheva notes that the money paid to Hamas’ operatives over the weekend could have been part of this funding package.

These sorts of articles are impossible to verify (though notably, both Egypt’s President and the UAE’s Foreign Minister visited Saudi Arabia this week), but the purported agreement strikes us as feasible—and perhaps even desirable—for all parties except Hamas and Iran.

Here’s why: In becoming the new paymasters of Gaza, the Saudis and the UAE would gain an advantage in their standoff with Iran. In a sense, they’d be buying up the Palestinian movement, depriving Iran of its ability to play the anti-Israel, pro-Palestine card in the struggle for religious legitimacy in the Islamic world. They would also be continuing their policy of strong support for Egyptian President al-Sisi, helping him crush their common Muslim Brotherhood opponents and working to create an environment in which he can achieve his goal of cleaning up the mess in Sinai. While Egypt might not relish leaving Hamas in control of the Strip, it knows that the power vacuum opened up by Hamas’s fall could be even worse. Putting Hamas on a Saudi leash would be a very neat solution.

This deal, if true, has something in it for everyone: Egypt, the Saudis, and the UAE, Israel, and even the Palestinians. The Sunni states strengthen their anti-Iranian alliance, in which Israel has become something of a silent partner, while at the same time tamping down an extremist threat to regional stability. And with Hamas tied down and unable to start wars with Israel, the injection of Saudi cash could finally bring Gaza the prosperity and stability—not to mention hope—it desperately needs.

[This post has been edited.]

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  • Andrew Allison
  • Peripatetic

    Here’s something I’ve never understood: why not insist that the materials, supplies, and labor for reconstructing Gaza be provided by someone outside of Gaza? Is handing over large sums of money really the only way to rebuild?

    • Andrew Allison

      Most of the materials and supplies already come from outside Gaza (given the blockade, it would be interesting to know where all the building materials that went into the tunnels came from). Paying foreign labor to rebuild would probably not sit too well with the, largely unemployed, local labor force. What’s needed is external supervision of the use to which the materials are put. Unhappily (see above) the UN has disqualified itself from that role. Since the Saudi’s have both stepped up to the reconstruction mark and are no friends of Hamas, it’s pretty clear where it should come from (he who pays the piper and all that).

      • Breif2

        “given the blockade, it would be interesting to know where all the building materials that went into the tunnels came from”

        Originally, much of these materials were indeed blockaded. Israel was obviously denounced as a big ol’ meanie and its concerns were pooh-poohed. Following the famous flotilla incident, it gave in mostly to American pressure, and allowed the transfer of building materials for projects supervised by the Palestinian Authority and international bodies. Insert hollow laugh here.

        (And this leads us to one of the things that drives me up the wall about the recent criticism of Israel: the current round of fighting in Gaza has been (relatively) bloody mostly because of conditions that Israel was pressured into accepting by the very do-gooders now howling in outrage.)

        • Curious Mayhem

          Israel has always allowed food and medical supplies to enter Gaza and has always tried to interdict weapons or weapon materials. The controversy is over materials that fall in the gray zone in between. After the 2010 incident, Israel loosened the criteria to move the line further into the gray zone. But as we now know, building materials intended for homes, schools, and clinics can also be used — and have been used — to build bunkers, ammunition depots, and tunnels.

          Having a state (not the “international community”) inspect what’s going on in Gaza was always the right thing. Obviously, Israel is not acceptable for many parties in the region (and it’s not clear Israel would want that responsibility). So Egypt or Saudi Arabia have always been the logical parties. Both want to appear as champions of Palestinians and other Arab residents of Gaza, both are hostile to Hamas — the Egyptians especially having a direct stake in policing not just Gaza, but Sinai next door.

    • Johnny May

      Why? What have international organizations to gain by stopping Hamas from abusing their supplies to rearm and rebuild its military infrastructure?

    • rheddles

      Is handing over large sums of money really the only way to rebuild?

      If you’re a welfare queen.

  • lukelea

    “In a sense, they’d be buying up the Palestinian movement, depriving Iran of its ability to play the anti-Israel, pro-Palestine card in the struggle for religious legitimacy in the Islamic world.”

    But only so that they can play that card themselves. It would be unorthodox to expect anything else.

  • Breif2

    And once again the Saudis, acting in their own interest, prove themselves to be useful if not indispensable.

    My fantasy will have to wait.

  • ljgude

    I think it was pretty obvious, those in eternal denial excepted of course, that dear old Hummus was stuck on stupid this time around. So the tectonic plates of the stuck on stupid Middle East are perhaps shifting. One way to accelerate change is to indulge in ever more extreme behavior with the result that even you allies eventually ditch you. Good to see the Saudis and al Sisi (Obama’s inadvertent gift to the world) putting the squeeze on Qatar. And Iran.

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