A new front in the fighting is breaking out in the Gaza Strip. The battle between the Islamist terrorist organisation Hamas and the state of Israel has been a fact of life in the region for over 25 years, but recently Hamas has found itself contending with a new enemy. The Islamic State (IS), fellow Sunni Islamists, are now taking on the “tyrant of Hamas”.
Deutsche Welle reports an IS video recorded in the Syrian province and IS stronghold of Aleppo has been distributed via social media. In the 16 minute film IS accuses Hamas of working too closely with Shiite Iran. The recently-established group believes Hamas, whose Islamism is linked to Palestinian nationalism as opposed to a global struggle, does not enforce Sharia law strictly enough for their tastes does not fight against Israel as strongly as it should.
In the video masked and unmasked terrorists address the camera, challenging Hamas with comments including:
“We will uproot the state of the Jews [Israel] and you and Fatah [rules of the West Bank], and all of the secularists are nothing and you will be overrun by our creeping multitudes…
“…The rule of sharia will be implemented in Gaza, in spite of you. We swear that what is happening in the Levant today, and in particular the Yarmouk camp [referring to IS advances in Syria, in particular a district of Damascus founded by Palestinian refugees] will happen in Gaza…
“…The road to liberating Palestine goes through Iraq and we are getting closer every day, Hamas is increasingly losing sight of its goal.”
Although IS has no power to speak of in Gaza, it has about 1,000 sympathisers who are now emerging. In June the Omar Brigades, Gaza-based Salafist extremists affiliated to IS, fired several rockets at Israel. This was in retaliation, not for Israeli actions but for Hamas killing Yunis Hunnarduring, the head of the local “Army of the Islamic State” during a shootout and arrest of other IS supporters. A Salafist mosque was also destroyed by Hamas.
The reason IS fired on Israel rather than Hamas is because they wanted to draw Israeli fire on the region. Since the conflict of last summer Hamas has tried to limit the influence of extremist groups who want to break the ceasefire with Israel. Israel and Hamas have been holding intermittent off-the-record, indirect talks mediated by Qatar, Europe and the United Nations in order to reach an understanding, not necessarily for a permanent agreement but at least a long-term ceasefire.
“These groups which were previously aligned with al-Qaeda, and have now switched allegiances to IS, calculated that by firing rockets at Israel they could drag Hamas into another confrontation with Israel….
“…Israel and Hamas have a shared interest in keeping Gaza calm. Israel does not see any point in having another war with Hamas as this would not change the situation strategically.
“Israel also sees that currently there is no political alternative to Gaza and would much prefer to see Hamas controlling the coastal enclave than the IS-affiliated Omar Brigades. Hamas is economically and politically weak so another war would further weaken them, destroy and damage more buildings, exacerbate Gaza’s crippled infrastructure, while leading to many more dead and injured.”
While it is true that Hamas wants to retain in power without challenges from smaller groups made up of local Islamists, secular nationalists and leftists, the defeat of IS affiliates is said to be in Israel’s interests. If Hamas lost Gaza the resulting instability could lead to anarchy on Israel’s borders, more rocket attacks and even another war.