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  • Beatriz Gutierrez

War on the House of ISHMAIL: HAMAS vs. ISIS.

Year 3 - Week 4

ISSN 2603 - 9931

Just a couple of weeks ago the branch of the Islamic State in Sinai, Wilayat Sinai, published a video on ISIS’ official propaganda channels in which targeted both Israel and the US. But along images of Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump, the 22 minutes video added not so common characters, as Khaled Meshaal and Ismail Haniyyeh, both of them two historic leaders of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement who controls Gaza Strip since 2007.

Hamas in government. Hamas remains one of the most controversial terrorist groups in active. Evolved from the ranks of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood branch, since its inception in 1987 the movement have focused on two main goals, the Da’wa doctrine and the Muqawama. The first one is based on Islam proselytism from a perspective of transparency and good practices through the provision of services such as education, health, et cetera, being those ones a mechanism of bond and cohesion building in the Palestinian society -by the way in opposition to the laicist, perverted and accused of corruption model represented by the PLO-al Fatah. The second, goal, worked out through the Muqawama doctrine, is the liberation of Palestine from Israeli occupation. In this way, Hamas behaves as a joint structure of State Building and military capabilities against Zionism, and it is in this arena where it carries out its terrorist activities.

Hamas as Israel’s enemy. Hamas war against Israel is rooted in the concept of resistance, a complex ideological and doctrinarian construction of attrition warfare based on the notions of just cause, spilling the blood of the enemy and the adaptation to any possible change in the operational terrain until victory. The just cause is provided by the very same ideas of Islam and jihad as holy war against an occupier of Dar al-Islam, that is, Islamic land. Following this reasoning, we can trace Hamas operational history against Israel from subversive activities during the I Intifada, increasingly prone to the use of violence in the beginning of the 90s, to the use of suicide bombings since 1994 and especially during the II Intifada, and, once sealed inside Gaza, the three wars based on rocket capabilities and the latest “Intifada of al-Quds” based on non-sophisticated attacks with knives and cars which is ongoing since October 2015. In this sense, the violent record of Hamas is impressive, especially for its ability to adapt to the environmental changes in the theater of operations in order to survive and to continue the fighting until victory.

Hamas as security provider. But Hamas as a terrorist group is just a side of the Movement. Among many Palestinians, especially in Gaza Strip, the Islamic Resistance Movement is a stronghold of accountability in front of the rampant corruption of al-Fatah and the Palestinian National Authority. A milestone came in 2006, when after the II Intifada and the re-establishment of the PNA, Hamas opted for first time to participate in the lesgislative elections, so they could participate, without integrating in the PLO structure, in the PNA decision-making process. And unexpectedly, Hamas won the elections, creating a political and social turmoil at local and international levels. But the turmoil reached its peak when Hamas not only didn’t resign to its electoral victory but, one year of stagnation later and vetoed by Israel and the leadership of the PNA to take part in the Legislative Council, Hamas echelons in Gaza Strip, traditional stronghold of the movement, toppled down the PNA administration, mainly controlled by al-Fatah and after two weeks of de facto civil war, reestablished order under its own rules. Suddenly Gaza had become an Islamic State inside the PNA.

Hamas movement relies on two interconnected branches, its political branch -divided in turn into different offices, among which outstands the Gaza leadership and the political bureau-, and its military branch, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Martyr Brigades. The sort of coup d’etat in Gaza was based in the action of the al-Qassam Brigades as a striking force against the security apparatus of al-Fatah to regain control and stability in the Strip. But problems continued when Hamas government attempted to restore an effective security sector and most of the former policemen, linked to al-Fatah establishment, dind’t show up at their posts. The problem was solved with the creation of a corp, right now dissolved, called the Tanfidhya or Executive Force, mainly formed with al-Qassam Brigades ranks who acted as a transitional police until the programs of recruitment started to give fruit the following year. But most important, the Tanfidhya became a extraofficial entity dedicated to extrajudicial assassination of oppositors, drug dealers and everything considered immoral according to the Sharia and the principles of order dictaminated by the new Hamas government.

And paradoxically, one of the main threats to the new government was related with the regional context and the rise of al-Qaeda as a primus inter-pares of global jihadism. The terrorist network lead by Osama bin Laden had also a ramification in the area, connected by secular smuggling tunnels of Sinan Peninsula and Gaza Strip. Hamas government had to deal with the expanding momentum of different minor global jihad-oriented pro al-Qaida groups as Bayt al-Maqdis and Jund Ansar Allah, and even the critics of al-Zawahiri for not integrating in the global jihadist network, remain just focused on the local jihad of the liberation of Palestine and even participating in an electoral process.

The global jihadist opposition soon became a risk to Hamas government, when the most radical elements in the Gazan resistance arena started to flirt with those groups, creating a hotspot of attraction for global jihadism and against the government of Hamas, that, since they were representing a secular government instituted by a democratic Western-like process, were branded as kuffar or infidels. The escalation of tension reached its peak in the summer of 2009, when Jund Ansar Allah proclaim the Caliphate and swore allegiance to al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden in a mosque of Rafah. The 15th of August, during the Friday prayings, Hamas deployed its forces, formed with the al-Qassam Brigades, the Palestinian National Security Forces and the Tanfidhya, and stormed the group’s safe house and the nearby mosque with gunfire. The toll was of 24 deaths and 120 injured according to official records.

Even though the relations with Bayt al-Maqdis, since 2009 main pro-global jihad group have followed different patterns until today, from August 2009 jihadist groups stopped representing a threat for Hamas government. The treatment given to these groups, who remain outside the Muqawama Council -a Council not linked to the public administration and formed by the military branches of the main resistance groups active in Gaza, as the al-Qassam Brigades and the Sarayah al-Quds- is to keep a trace on them and in case the carry out any kind of attack against Israel in a period of hudna -cease fire- the PNSF would deal with them. In that sense, deterrence seems to have worked well enough. On the other hand, there are, especially in period of tension and war as happened in 2012 and 2014, a de facto cooperation between the ranks of these groups and the Muqawama Council in fighting against the common enemy, Israel.

The relation with Bayt al-Maqdis was somehow different. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis was a group linked to al-Qaida operating mainly in Sinai Peninsula but with family ties into Gaza Strip. Having in mind the importance of clans in Arab culture and especially in a Bedouin region as is Sinai, these family connections were a priority over ideology, so cooperation between Bayt al-Maqdis and Hamas was frequent, although under Hamas terms. This relation changed when, in 2014, the Sinai movement change banners and adhered to the ISIS allegiance, opening a new period marked by taking distance from their traditional allies in Gaza Strip and clashing with Sinai competitors still linked to al-Qaida, such as Jund al-Islam. And in parallel with the fall of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, it was the Sinai front, and the former Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, renamed as Wilayat Sinai (Sinai Province) where the Islamic State seems to have strengthen its capabilities, as shown in ISIS propaganda and in actions such as the Coptic churches bombing in April, 2017, or al-Radwa shooting last November.

Hamas as target. The strained relation between Hamas and the Wilayat Sinai rises up along 2017 when the Gazan movement, after years of blockade and with Egypt and Israel realignment, tries to approach to Egyptian positions by hardening controls over the Wilayat Sinai operatives moving around Gaza’s South border, while preventing them to provoke the wrath -and the retaliation- of Israel. These action, added to years of persecution of jihadist members in the Strip, have turned Hamas into a target of the Islamic State branch. The Movement is accused not only of fighting the jihad, but also of acting as a kuffar regime, since they are in the government following a democratic, non-Islamic decision, and of disloyalty to the global jihad, since Hamas is a local movement with a very specific agenda focused on the liberation of Palestine. In other order of things, the pro-ISIS Egyptian branch accuses also Hamas of inaction after Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as capital of Israel, without defending the Muslim rights to the third holiest place of Islam. In that sense, it is true that Hamas gave a rhetorically belligerent response which wasn’t followed by any specific military action.

In the end, what we are facing, is the clash between two different models of jihad, the jihad as resistance for the sake of the liberation of a part of Dar al-Islam but without further territorial expectations, against a jihadist model where not only be Muslim matters, but also to be the Islamic State kind-of-Muslim. This is a model based on the internationalization of the struggle from a foco or nuclear, consolidated and highly radicalized liberated area, targeting multiple locations and actors worldwide appealing to the expansion of the Ummah and the cleansing of apostate governments.

With this scenario, we can conclude that we are facing the clash between two different jihadist models and where Hamas, present in almost every international list of terrorist groups and probably one of the most well studied of them, seems to be jihadist, but not jihadist enough for the ISIS standards.

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