Hamas’ Strategy Revealed
Jonathan D. Halevi
The war in Gaza in July and August of 2014, fought between Israel and Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations, was viewed by Hamas as a critical link in the chain of jihad and armed struggle, whose long-term goal is the liberation of all of Palestine and the destruction of Israel. Since its establishment in 1987, Hamas has enshrined its goal in the Hamas Charter which it steadfastly has refused to modify. The analysis that follows will show that destroying Israel remains its goal and, unfortunately, there are signs that it has adopted genocidal doctrines as well, directed against the Jewish people as a whole, beyond its militancy toward the Jewish state. This ideology undoubtedly supported the readiness of Hamas to undertake mass casualty suicide bombing attacks against Israelis and to target Israeli civilians with its rocket forces.
There is built-in tension in how Hamas conducts itself between being a Palestinian organization and being committed to the global jihadi network. In its charter, Hamas defines itself as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the original organization which gave birth to many of the jihadi groups that have been active in the last two decades. In his first “Declaration of Jihad against America,” issued on August 23, 1996, Osama bin Laden made reference to five religious authorities whom he said would serve as an inspiration for his movement; they included Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the founder of Hamas.1
Over the past ten years, the cooperation of Hamas with the global jihadi network expressed itself in a number of ways. First, its external leadership established contacts with prominent elements of that network, like Sayyid Salah al-Din, the supreme commander of Hizb al-Muhajidin, which was part of the insurgency against India in Kashmir. There were also ties with Abd al-Majid al-Zindani, who recruited for bin Laden’s training camps and also held fundraising events for Hamas in Yemen.2
After becoming the dominant force in the Gaza Strip, Hamas gave several significant jihadi groups sanctuary within its territory, like Jaish al-Islam [Army of Islam]. While the two organizations went through periods of tension, nonetheless they engaged in joint operations, like the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The role of Jaish al-Islam in the global jihadi network was demonstrated in 2012, when the U.S. released documents taken from Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, including correspondence between Jaish al-Islam and the al-Qaeda leadership.3
High-ranking Egyptians have charged that Hamas has been cooperating with the jihadist group in Sinai known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which actually joined ISIS in 2014. These accusations were made at one point by Egypt’s interior minister in late 2013. These reports, along with the consistently uncompromising stand that Hamas took with respect to Israel, contradicted the view voiced sometimes in the West that Hamas was prepared to jettison its past positions and become a diplomatic player.4
Hamas’ strategic goals in this latest campaign were to fundamentally shake Israel’s security concept with attacks deep inside Israeli territory, impose ceasefire conditions on Israel, and create a balance of terror and a deterrent capability that would prevent Israel’s military command from opting for a ground operation in Gaza.
This strategy explains the importance of the tunnel project in which Hamas so heavily invested. In keeping with the Islamic concept of the hudna and the way of the Prophet Muhammad, ceasefires are always temporary and solely intended to improve military preparedness so that the jihad can be renewed under better conditions.
During the year-and-a-half before the fighting in the summer of 2014, Hamas placed special emphasis on building up its military force and acquiring the weapons and capabilities to inflict numerous casualties on IDF soldiers and Israeli civilians, and to kidnap Israelis alive or dead as bargaining chips for Palestinian terrorists serving prison sentences in Israel. Coordination with all the combat organizations in Gaza, including through the use of a joint operations room, is seen as supremely important for conducting the campaign against Israel. Hamas regards this coordination as a force multiplier that enables persistence in the struggle.
To accomplish these goals, Hamas established an army in Gaza based on infantry units and special units, including naval commandos, rocket-launching units, antiaircraft forces, and a small drone-operating unit. This army, which is blended with the civilian population and holds positions in heavily populated urban areas and whose forces wear civilian clothing during combat, is capable of delaying and disrupting activity by a regular army during combat in a built-up area, and of causing numerous casualties through booby-trapped residential buildings, sniper fire, suicide attacks, explosive devices, and high-trajectory fire.
A substantial qualitative and quantitative upgrade in rocket capabilities gave Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations the ability to strike with greater destructive power and at longer ranges than in the past. With the addition of attack tunnels penetrating Israeli territory and infiltration operations by naval-commando units, Hamas, before the latest round, had reached a great potential for the large-scale killing of civilians and IDF forces.
With the addition of attack tunnels penetrating Israeli territory and infiltration operations by naval-commando units, Hamas had reached a great potential for the large-scale killing of Israeli civilians and IDF forces.
Hamas’ approach was based, among other things, on the “surprise factor.” According to Hamas, Israel was surprised by the range of the organization’s rockets, the attacks on IDF force concentrations along the Gaza border, and the use of anti-aircraft weapons that limited Israel’s use of drones.
It is possible to get an internal look at Hamas military thinking. Hamas based its military strategy during the summer 2014 campaign upon the assessments that the organization made regarding its previous round with Israel in 2012 (called “Pillar of Defense” in Israel and “Sajil Stone” among the Palestinians). A glimpse into that thinking can be seen on the Al-Majd website run by Hamas’ security and intelligence services that analyzes the military lessons of the November 2012 war from Hamas’ viewpoint.
The Hamas security document detailed the organization’s achievements in the 2012 campaign: Israel’s request for a ceasefire as soon as the second day of the fighting, the eagerness of Arab states and the United States to help Israel reach a ceasefire agreement, the recognition of Hamas as a liberation movement rather than a terrorist organization, the erosion of the IDF’s image as an invincible army, and strengthening the belief that the Palestinians are capable of defeating the IDF.
A short time after the end of the November 2012 round of warfare, Hamas leader Khaled Mashal set forth the principles of Hamas’ strategy to destroy Israel, which rest on two main, complementary elements, the military and the political. Mashal suggested that Israel’s military superiority could be overcome by attaining tactical military advantages that would exploit Israel’s vulnerabilities, and by curtailing Israel’s military options by using political and legal tools, in the framework of jihad, with the help of Western leftist and human rights organizations. As Mashal put it:5
What occurred in the eight days [of the war] is an example of how to wage military campaigns, and particularly of the close connection between [political and military tools]. Whoever wants to conduct a political campaign must have strong cards on the ground, as this case exemplifies. We think that the cause of restoring the land, Al-Quds [Jerusalem], the right of return, and Palestinian rights requires real cards of power, and that stopping the aggression against Gaza requires the whole beautiful, strong, and faithful symphony.
How is it possible to regain Al-Quds and the land and return the expelled people to its land? What is needed is a campaign using all the cards of power, and above all the struggle waged with unified Palestinian ranks and a unified Arab position, and also with proper management of the political campaign.
Whoever thinks that the regaining of Palestine and Al-Quds will be achieved only through a process of negotiations is mistaken. Negotiations are a brief phase in the context of the resistance struggle and the national struggle that is supported by the Arab and Islamic and liberal forces in the world, until we attain our rights, and the jihad and the struggle are the strategic path to realizing them.
In November 2013, Hamas Political Bureau member Mahmoud al-Zahar revealed part of Hamas’ combat doctrine in the 2014 war: “We will invade them and they will not invade us.”
At a ceremony for the one-year anniversary of the Sajil Stone campaign, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a member of Hamas’ Political Bureau, one of its senior figures, and associated with the military command of the Al-Qassam Brigades, revealed one of the combat doctrines that Hamas would use in the summer of 2014. “We will invade them and they will not invade us.”6
Al-Zahar’s words implied that Hamas was planning to mount offensive operations inside of Israeli territory, and not settle for combat within Gaza or the firing of rockets from Gaza at civilian and military targets in Israel. In many respects he was hinting at a radical change in Hamas military strategy that would carry the war into Israel. The main instrument for accomplishing this ambitious task was the network of attack tunnels which were still under construction. In fact, al-Zahar even asserted that the Palestinian people have the right to tunnel under any territory and that Palestinian combat organizations are not committed to any borders, thereby hinting at an intention to use the attack tunnels that were dug from Gaza into Israeli territory.
Raid Saad, one of the heads of Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades and commander of the Gaza City Brigade, said at the same event that “a moment does not pass in which the Al-Qassam Brigades are not preparing, training, manufacturing, developing, building, digging, and equipping themselves for the encounter with the enemy,” emphasizing that “the Al-Qassam Brigades today [November 2013] are many times stronger” than in the past.7 Saad warned Israel that the brigades’ restraint regarding “the blockade” would not last for long.
Saad cited Hamas’ basic assumption that military conflict with Israel is certain and only a matter of time. He also set forth the fundamentals of Hamas’ program of military preparation for this conflict, particularly a massive investment in a military buildup including weapons development, upgrading fitness and preparedness, and the digging of attack tunnels.
In the Words of Hamas’ Military Spokesman
The Al-Qassam Brigades’ official spokesman, Abu Obeida (his full name is Hudayfa Samir Abdullah al-Kahlout), made similar statements about the lessons of the 2012 Sajil Stone campaign and about future combat methods, which indeed were implemented in the summer of 2014.
In an interview with Al-Hiwar TV on February 5, 2013, Abu Obeida, who is part of the brigades’ senior command, declared that in the next war, “we will make use of the ground-attack method, of long-range missiles, and of other surprises that we have not yet revealed.”8
In an interview with Al-Rai radio in November 2013, Abu Obeida said, “The occupation will struggle with a new kind of war that it was not accustomed to in the past, namely the tunnels,” which “will be part of the methods of the Palestinian struggle in any future campaign.”
“The tunnels are one of the methods of the struggle, and they will be the most effective weapon in any future conflict with the occupation.” – Hamas spokesman Abu Obeida, November 2013
He added: “The tunnels are one of the methods of the struggle, and they will be the most effective weapon in any future conflict with the occupation.” He continued: “The combat [organizations] have invented the war of the tunnels,” which “have achieved a profound effect and sown terror in Israel.”
The main difference between the 2014 Gaza war and the 2012 Sajil Stone campaign lies in Abu Obeida’s words about “shattering all the red lines” in the military campaign against Israel, stated at a ceremony in Rafah on November 13, 2014:9 Hamas’ massive, unending attack included the use of attack tunnels and of infiltration from the sea, along with the firing of long-range rockets with 75-90-kg. warheads at Israel’s nuclear reactors in Dimona (by Hamas)10 and at Sorek (by Islamic Jihad),11 a base where Hamas believes nuclear missiles are stored,12 at Ben-Gurion International Airport,13 and at the Haifa area where large chemical plants are located.14
Abu Obeida remarked that “the nature of the campaign against the enemy requires the combat [organizations] to operate clandestinely and to prepare,” adding, “when the moment of confrontation arrives and the campaign is launched, the enemy will become aware of the preparations that the Al-Qassam [Brigades] have made for [the conflict].”
In Abu Obeida’s view, the main achievement of Sajil Stone was “the total erosion of the deterrent power of the Israeli occupation,” which “feels weak and helpless in the face of the fighting Palestinian [organizations].”15
In an interview with the Hamas mouthpiece Al-Rissala Net in 2013, Abu Obeida said the Al-Qassam Brigades are always ready and engaged in preparations for any conflict and any aggression, and that all options are open including suicide operations.16
In an official video issued by the Al-Qassam Brigades in October 2013, Abu Obeida said the combat organizations were better prepared than in the past for a conflict with Israel, that they had “strategic weaponry,” and that full coordination existed between all the military forces in Gaza in the struggle against Israel, which he called “a common enemy” and “the enemies of humanity.”
The ultimate goal of the Palestinian struggle, Abu Obeida stressed, is the conquest of the cities of Jerusalem, Ashkelon, Ramle, and Beersheba – in other words, the eradication of Israel.17 In May 2013, Abu Obeida asserted that the anti-Israel strategy entails a struggle using all methods until the full liberation of all of Palestine. He emphasized that the land of Palestine is an Islamic trust where no one has the authority to concede a single inch, and negligence in fulfilling the commands of jihad for its liberation is a crime.18
In another interview on Hamas’ official site in December 2013, Abu Obeida clarified some main aspects of the anti-Israel struggle. The ceasefire reached after the November 2012 round, which Hamas called a tahdiyya (period of calm), “does not mean rest for the fighter as is claimed, but rather readiness, preparations, and preparedness.” He also asserted that “the [military] surprises will remain surprises, and they will not be revealed except at the time to be determined.”
He further stated that “so long as the occupation [of any part of Palestine] exists, we are in a situation of jihad or preparations [for jihad]….[The Al-Qassam Brigades] are actually an army.” He was asked: “Do you foresee imminent Zionist aggression and do you have a plan ready for dealing with any scenario of escalation?” Abu Obeida replied: “We foresee aggression at any moment and we have plans for dealing with it.” He also observed that there were “good and mutual relations at all the levels,” as well as “ongoing coordination and contact” with the military wings of the Palestinian organizations in Gaza, as evidenced by “the existence of the joint operations room in different scenarios.”19
Thus, Hamas’ strategy is derived from the supreme goal of destroying the State of Israel through a protracted struggle, which includes an ongoing terror offensive and high-intensity military clashes for variable time spans. In keeping with the Islamic concept of the hudna and the way of the Prophet Muhammad, ceasefires are always temporary and intended solely to improve military preparedness so that jihad can be renewed under better conditions.
Since the end of the 2012 Sajil Stone campaign, Hamas had been preparing for a further inevitable round of military conflict with Israel, which, as noted, it views as a link in the unending chain of clashes until all of Palestine is liberated. It was Hamas that, in its own manner, initiated the summer 2014 round, similar to how it initiated the previous rounds.
Most prominent were Hamas efforts to perpetrate attacks in the West Bank. These attempts were often directed by “outside” command centers and operatives, some of them in Turkey. A notable role was also played by individuals freed in the Shalit deal, who went to live in Gaza and directed terror activity in the West Bank.20
Hamas was well aware that a successful strategic terrorist attack, such as a kidnapping, suicide bombing, or mass murder of Israelis, would probably – in line with past experience and with Israel’s declared policy – prompt an Israeli retaliation against strategic Hamas targets in Gaza. Hamas regards all ceasefires as temporary, never entailing a full cessation of the anti-Israel struggle. During a period of calm, the modes and magnitudes of operations, and the theaters where they are carried out, undergo changes. That is, Hamas gauges its freedom of action for Gaza-based operations according to the anticipated Israeli response and the strategic interests of Hamas at any given time.
The more Hamas develops its power structure and military capabilities, and particularly the ability to mount ongoing attacks against strategic targets in Israel without Israel completely suppressing the sources of fire, the more Hamas strengthens its deterrent power – according to its conceptions. This mindset grants Hamas greater freedom of action to continue waging the armed struggle from Gaza and in other theaters, especially the West Bank and Jerusalem. Hamas believes it can use terror attacks to gradually stretch the limits of Israel’s “restraint” until Israel realizes that the price it will have to pay in an all-out conflict will be especially high.
Hamas has cast off all limitations in choosing targets to attack in Israel. The aim is to inflict mass killings of civilians in as large a magnitude as possible. In the next round Hamas intends to use rockets with larger warheads or missiles with guidance capabilities.
Hamas and the coalition of terrorist organizations operating under its command cast off all limitations in choosing targets to attack in Israel. The aim is to inflict mass killings of civilians in as large a magnitude as possible. Nuclear reactors, chemical plants, and passenger planes became legitimate targets for repeated attacks, and in the next round Hamas intends to use rockets with larger warheads or missiles with guidance capabilities. Rarely in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict did the Arab side seek to attack Israel’s nuclear reactors and its international airport in an attempt to hit passenger planes. In 1991 during the First Gulf War waged by the international coalition to free Kuwait from the Iraqi occupation, the Iraqi army launched Scud missiles at Ben-Gurion Airport and the Dimona nuclear reactor as retaliation for Israel’s bombing of Iraq’s Osirak reactor ten years earlier. Israel is the only Western country whose nuclear reactors have been subject to military attack.
Hamas and ISIS
In the summer of 2014, Hamas’ patterns of warfare once again evinced the ideological and pragmatic similarity between Hamas and the Islamic State (ISIS). From the start, Hamas directed a massive and ongoing rocket offensive at civilian targets, seeking to indiscriminately cause the greatest possible loss of life; and like the Islamic State, Hamas demonstrated that its terror policy and choice of targets are entirely devoid of moral boundaries.
Participating in the warfare against Israel were organizations identified with the Islamic State, such as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. Hamas, which is fully in charge in Gaza, provides a haven to all the Palestinian terrorist organizations (Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Fatah, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), and allows branches of al-Qaeda to operate freely there (as long as they do not flout Hamas’ authority).
On the ideological level, the religious duty to destroy the Jewish people (in other words, genocide) in the Land of Israel is reiterated by Hamas leaders. Mashal, who denied that the rockets Hamas fired were intended to kill Israeli civilians, stressed that in his view, all Jews residing in Palestine are combatants and not civilians. At a press conference in Qatar during the war (July 23, 2014), Mashal stated, “They accuse us [Hamas] of attacking [Jewish] civilians and of attacks that continue every day and are directed against civilians. It is not possible to say that the settlers [the Jews] are civilians. They live on occupied land, which is not legitimate for them. They are armed, they kill, and they cause destruction.”21
On July 25, the official Hamas TV channel, Al-Aqsa, broadcast the Friday sermon given at a mosque in Dir al-Balah in southern Gaza. In it the imam called for the total annihilation of the Jews: “Our doctrine is to struggle against them [the Jews] until their complete destruction. We will not leave even one of them alive, since you are foreign land thieves and perennial mercenaries. You are mercenaries in all periods. My brothers, learn the history. Everywhere that the Jews lived they spread corruption.”22
Threats of genocide against the Jews are voiced by senior leaders of Hamas and of the Al-Qassam Brigades. Before the war, in May 2014, the brigades posted a video calling on the Jews in Palestine to hurry and leave, warning that if they did not do so their fate would be death, as decreed by Hamas.23
Hamas dreams that it will conquer all of Israel and kill or deport the Jewish population. (Safa.Ps)
Hamas’ Theological Leader Endorses Genocide
Dr. Yunis al-Astal, a senior Hamas figure and Hamas member of the Palestinian parliament, gives legal justification to this Muslim imperative to destroy the Jewish people. Al-Astal served in the past as head of the committee responsible for religious law in the Association of Religious Scholars of Palestine (al-Astal was called “the Mufti of Hamas”), which is considered Hamas’ most important religious institution and formulates the movement’s Islamic ideological platform.24 Al-Astal also served as dean of the Faculty of Sharia and chairman of the Committee for Religious Law at the Islamic University of Gaza; founded and administered, as chairman, the Islamic al-Hoda schools in Gaza; and was a senior official of the Al-Rahma Philanthropic Committee in Khan Yunis.
In a legal ruling he posted on March 13, 200825 on the website of the Association of Religious Scholars of Palestine, al-Astal asserted that the fate of destruction, burning, and conflagration would not only befall the Jews in the next world but also in this world at the hands of the jihad warriors. He based himself on the Koran passage (“The Constellations,” v. 4-7) that states:
Cursed be the diggers of the trench, who lighted the consuming fire and sat around it to watch the faithful being put to the torture! The fate of death by fire would befall the Jews just as it befell the diggers of the trench (who killed the believing Muslims); Allah would show the Jews no mercy because of their insolence toward him, corruption, the murder of the Prophets, and the spilling of Muslims’ blood.26
In an interview with Al-Aqsa on June 20, 2012, al-Astal explained the role of the Muslims in the campaign against the Jews:
Allah punished the Children of Israel many times in the course of history. He punished them at the hands of the Assyrians and of the Babylonians. He punished them at the hands of the comrades of the Prophet [Muhammad] in the Arabian Peninsula, in Medina and in Khaybar. He punished them at the hands of the Germans, and before that at the hands of the Romans. At present it is the turn of the Muslim nation to punish them once again.27
Hamas MP Sheik Yunis Al-Astal: Allah will punish the Jews.
(Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV in Gaza)
In an interview with Al-Aqsa on March 6, 2014, al-Astal once again justified carrying out genocide against the Jews:
What is the solution for this gang of people?…We must slaughter them, so as to break them and prevent them from spreading corruption in the world….We must return them to the situation where they are subjected to humiliation. They must be dhimmi [tolerated but with an inferior status] residents. This status must be imposed on them through war. They must pay the jizya security tax when they live among us….However, in Palestine, where they are occupiers and invaders, they cannot enjoy the status of dhimmis.28
Hamas MP Al-Astal: We must massacre Jews. (Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV in Gaza)
The vision of genocide against Jews is consistent with Hamas’ worldview, which, in turn, is consistent with that of the Islamic State regarding a global Islamic revolution, centering on the creation of a caliphate that will wage an all-out campaign against the infidels on the way to conquering Europe. Islamic law is being implemented in Gaza, and members of the Hamas parliament have already prepared a bill to amend the criminal law and allow executions for severe transgressions of Islamic law. Punishments would include death by crucifixion, amputation of limbs for thieves, and flogging for drinkers of alcohol.29
Al-Astal said in this context that “when Palestine is liberated and its people return to it, the entire region by the grace of Allah will become the united lands of Islam, the land of Palestine will become the capital of the Islamic caliphate, and all of the states will be states within the caliphate.”30
In a sermon broadcast on the Al-Aqsa channel, al-Astal set forth Hamas’ long-term goals:
Very soon, by the will of Allah, Rome will be conquered, as Constantinople was conquered, and this will be in keeping with the prophecy of our Prophet Muhammad. Today Rome is the capital city of the Catholics, or the capital city of the Crusaders, which has declared its hostility to Islam and planted the brothers of the apes and the pigs [Jews] in Palestine to prevent the awakening of Islam. This capital city will become a springboard of the Islamic conquests that will spread throughout Europe, and from there will turn toward the two continents of America and also toward Eastern Europe.31
The worldwide Islamic revolution and the conquest of Rome as a symbol of the aspiration to defeat Christianity and Western civilization are fundamental to the ideological platform of the Muslim Brotherhood, the parent movement of Hamas.32 This ambition is also evident in the words of Dr. Subhi al-Yaziji, a Hamas member and dean of Koran studies at the Islamic University in Gaza, in an interview with the Al-Aqsa channel on May 25, 2012:
The conquest of Andalusia [Spain] is an old dream, something that the Muslims proudly hope for and will continue to hope for in the future….We put our hope and our trust in Allah that one day our victory will not be limited to Palestine. Our hopes go beyond this to the raising of the symbol of the caliphate over the Vatican, today’s Rome, and this in keeping with the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad: “Constantinople will be conquered and after that Rome.”33
Dean of Koranic Studies at the Islamic University of Gaza:
We hope to conquer Spain. (Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV in Gaza)
Hamas and the Islamic State differ on two main issues: first, the alliance Hamas has made with Shiite Iran has angered Egypt and Saudi Arabia because they view Iran as a strategic threat; and second, Hamas’ readiness to play the political game while softening its ideological contours. Unlike the Islamic State, Hamas is prepared to cooperate with human rights organizations and utilize them to achieve its goals. At this stage, the key goal is to tie the hands of the IDF in its fight against terror and the security threats facing Israel.
Ismail Haniyeh, one of the leaders of Hamas and formerly its prime minister, adopted the approach of Mashal, who believes in using political means and in recruiting the support of “liberal” forces in the West to help fulfill the jihad of destroying Israel. In an address to the nation on October 19, 2013, in which he reiterated Hamas’ dedication to the liberation of all of Palestine through jihad, Haniyeh said:
As we know, the success of the project of national liberation, in keeping with the experience of the peoples and the nations, requires a combination of the struggle and of political and diplomatic activity, and political activity is no less important than military and combat activity, since each of them complements the other. However, this depends on not causing contradictions between political activity and the struggle, or separation of political activity, slackness in it and losing sight of the main elements of the issue.
We call on our people, on the members of our nation and on liberal activists of the world in Europe and in other places to continue the activity to break the blockade and to broaden this activity….We demand of the Arab League, the United Nations, which provides sponsorship for a political process, of the human rights organizations, of the civil society organizations, and of the liberals of the world to condemn the Zionist blockade of Gaza, and we call on whoever is able to submit legal claims against the Zionist occupation to the international criminal courts for the war crimes that were perpetrated against our unarmed Palestinian people.34
This strategy, in Hamas’ eyes, is succeeding. Since the 2014 Gaza war, its success is evident from the international pressure on Israel to lift the “blockade” of Gaza, the visit by the United Nations secretary-general and the European Union foreign policy chief to Gaza, the removal of Hamas from the European Union’s list of terrorist organizations, the undertakings by the international community to provide $5.4 billion for the rehabilitation of Gaza, in UNRWA’s policy that actually helps Hamas, the ongoing campaign against Israel by international human rights organizations, and the International Criminal Court’s January 16, 2015, decision to open an inquiry into possible war crimes in the Palestinian territories.
Hamas’ Military Partners in Gaza
According to a senior Hamas official, the ongoing coordination and contact among the military wings of the Palestinian organizations in Gaza was a crucial part of Hamas’ war effort, as evidenced by the existence of a joint operations room in different scenarios.
The following are some of the key groups:
Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)
Formed in 1981 by Dr. Fathi Shkaki in Egypt, PIJ was deeply influenced by the success of the Iranian revolution and radicalization of student groups in Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood. PIJ was the first major Palestinian organization to present a religious-Islamic alternative to the secular-national agenda of Fatah. PIJ defines Palestine as the heart of the religious-historical conflict between Muslims and Jews, as well as the focal point for Western imperialism which seeks to conquer Muslim lands.
The solution to this challenge can only be achieved by the liberation of the entire Muslim nation, PIJ declares. According to this dogma, “freeing Palestine” is only the first step towards a pan-Islamic revival. However, this pan-Islamic aspiration remains mostly a declarative one, as the PIJ agenda is foremost a national one, rather than global. Israel is regarded as a moral and spiritual corruption afflicting all Muslims; therefore, eliminating Israel is a step that helps every Muslim heal his soul and society.
The movement was unique at the time among Sunni organizations in its acceptance and admiration of the Iranian revolution, and it adopted the Shiite model of subjugating the political echelon to the religious one. PIJ’s leadership is located mostly in Syria and Lebanon, with additional branches in Tehran and Khartoum. Most of the organization’s funding came from Syria, and it receives arms and training from Hizbullah, which also channels Iranian support to the PIJ. PIJ is similar to Hamas in drawing its influence from the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), but while Hamas sees itself as the Palestinian branch of the MB, PIJ no longer owes allegiance to the MB and has openly criticized it.
Ironically, this distance between PIJ and the Muslim Brotherhood sometimes works in PIJ’s favor: Communications between Egypt and Hamas is a very problematic issue due to Hamas’ relations and origins with the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement outlawed in Egypt. The result is that Egypt is often more willing to converse with the PIJ than with Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and the de facto ruler of Gaza. This Egyptian dynamic elevates PIJ’s importance as a political player and assures it “a place at the table.”
As a result, PIJ is the second most dominant force in Gaza, as well as the second most active organization that participated in Operation Protective Edge in 2014. This puts PIJ in a position where it can cooperate with Hamas from a position of leverage. Within Gaza, PIJ tends to be more hawkish than Hamas, as it is not burdened by the responsibilities of governing. Although PIJ does not have masses of fighting units comparable to those of Hamas, it made up for this by firing large quantities of rockets at Israel.
Fatah – Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades
Major clashes between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza in the mid-2000s left Fatah decimated. Hundreds of Gazans were killed during the “civil war,” which featured public executions, gun battles in hospitals, and the throwing of prisoners off of high buildings.
Fatah, the oldest of the Palestinian “resistance groups,” established in 1959, was headed by Yasser Arafat. Today, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas leads the movement.
Despite Fatah’s drubbing after Hamas captured Gaza in 2007, elements of the group still survived and resurfaced during the 2014 Gaza war. Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh reported, “Fatah has several hundred militiamen in the Gaza Strip who belong to various armed groups. Some, according to sources in the Gaza Strip, are former members of the Palestinian Authority security forces, who continue to receive their salaries from the Western-funded Palestinian government in Ramallah.”35
Two Fatah-affiliated groups boasted of their rocket fire early in the Gaza war. The Nidal Al-Amody force of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades “claimed responsibility for firing Grad and 107 millimeter rockets toward Ashkelon, Sderot, Netivot, Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha and the Sufa Crossing,” it was reported on July 10.36 “The Abdul Qader Husseini Battalions claimed responsibility for launching two Grad rockets at Ashkelon and four mortar shells at Kibbutz Nir Oz near Khan Yunis,” according to reports published on Fatah’s official Facebook page.37
On August 27, the Palestinian website Ma’an reported, [Fatah’s] “Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for firing 620 rockets into Israeli towns during the Israeli aggression (sic).”38 Fatah sources also published pictures of casualties in the Gaza fighting.39
On September 10, 2014, the Russian TV network RT reported on Fatah fighters in Gaza manufacturing rockets and mortars to replace those they fired during the Gaza war.40
Fatah shows that it is producing new rockets to replenish supplies to attack “the Zionist enemy” in “coming battles.” (RT/Sep. 10, 2014)
Popular Resistance Movement (PRC) Sallah A-Din Division
The Popular Resistance Movement Sallah A-Din Division is perhaps the third largest organization in Gaza. In the past the PRC was mostly a secular organization due to its Fatah legacy. However, an ongoing process of Salafist radicalization has been taking place since the end of Fatah rule in Gaza. Built on the remains of the Fatah infrastructure in Gaza, PRC incorporates many different factions from within the Gaza Strip, with an agenda ranging from secular-socialism to global jihad. This organization maintains strong relations with Hizbullah, which has been essential in providing funding, training, and technical assistance since the organization’s creation.
The organization was set up in 2000 by disgruntled Fatah operatives, and consists of two dominant factions:
- The Popular Resistance Movement, with its military wing El-Nasser Sallah A-Din Brigades, a faction that broke away from the PRC but still operates and cooperates with the organization’s objectives and infrastructure.
- Jaish al-Islam – This organization used to enjoy close ties with both Hamas and Fatah, but has since developed a global Salafi jihadist agenda to the extent that it has been referred to as the organization of al-Qaeda in Palestine. As a result it is no longer affiliated with Hamas, and has even carried out terrorist activities, such as kidnappings and bombings, against Hamas targets.
For the purpose of attacking Israel in the 2014 war, the groups joined the rocket assaults on Israel, firing hundreds of projectiles.
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis
One of the most active Salafi organizations in Gaza, it was formed in 2011 by disgruntled Hamas members, Sinai Bedouins, and foreign nationals. Its main power base is among Sinai Bedouins, who oppose the status quo between Egypt and Israel and seek to destabilize it. True to this objective, the group is as willing to attack Egyptian targets as it is Israeli ones and has proven its military ability to do so. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis repeatedly bombed the gas pipeline connecting Israel and Egypt and has carried out several high-profile attacks and assassinations against official Egyptian targets. This organization has recently declared allegiance to ISIS. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis has claimed responsibility for numerous rocket attacks on Israel
Majlis Shura al-Mujahidin
An organization with worldwide connections and support, Majlis Shura al-Mujahidin was antagonistic towards Hamas for participating in the “democratic game” and abandoning fundamentalist Islam. The organization holds a global Islamic agenda similar to that of al-Qaeda, rather than a national-Palestinian agenda, and is considered the most extreme jihadi organization in Gaza. It is built as a collaborative framework and infrastructure for all of Gaza’s Salafi factions, the biggest one of these being Jahafil Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad fi Filastin. Its ability to execute large-scale operations is limited and therefore was not a significant participant in Operation Protective Edge.
* The section of this chapter on Hamas’ Military Partners in Gaza was prepared with the assistance of Adam Shay.