January 10, 2018
IntelBrief: The Islamic State’s War With Hamas
On January 3, the so-called Islamic State’s Sinai ‘wilayat’, or province, released a 22-minute video showing the execution of a man it accused of collaborating with the Palestinian group, Hamas. The video’s narrator denounced Hamas for failing to prevent the U.S. from recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and accused it of helping both Israel and Egypt target Islamic State (IS) supporters. He went on to call for attacks on Hamas offices and members, using ‘explosives, silenced pistols and sticky bombs.’
While the connection might seem ludicrous to outsiders, tying Hamas to the U.S. and Israel is a clever move for the Islamic State. To the terrorist group’s ideologues, Hamas has failed the Palestinian cause by trying to have it both ways: talking just enough peace to mollify its critics in the West, and just enough violence to mollify internal supporters. The Islamic State has also fought with Palestinian groups before in refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon. With this latest call to war, it clearly hopes to tap into many Palestinians renewed sense of anger and frustration over recent moves by the U.S. and Israel to consolidate control over Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank. IS’ raison d’être, which is to violently destroy the status quo in order to restore a mythical paradise, makes Palestinians in general—and Gaza in particular—an obvious target for Islamic State expansion.
Even while IS is in eclipse as a territorial power in Syria and Iraq, it is thriving in some lightly-governed territories, including Sinai, where its ‘wilayat’ is among its most successful branches. Its proximity to Gaza all but ensures the terrorist group will continue its struggle to gain power among the Palestinians; building small cells, conducting attacks and assassinations, gaining control of small areas and consolidating when possible.
While Hamas remains the dominant power in Gaza, the terrible conditions there generate suffering and anger among many Palestinians, which the Islamic State can exploit. IS has done exactly that in Afghanistan, where it was once believed the group had little chance of establishing itself as a serious menace, given the competition it faces from the Taliban. Despite that—and increased U.S. and Afghan military pressure—the Islamic State in Khorasan, as it calls itself, has established a persistent foothold in Afghanistan.
While it would be unwise to dismiss the Islamic State’s chances of victory over Hamas out of hand, the terrorist group has not had much success establishing a foothold in either the West Bank or Gaza. The security services of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, Hamas in Gaza, and both Israel and Egypt, all have great interest in preventing IS from creating a presence. However, given the opportunity, IS will likely employ its brutal tactics in an effort to burn any moderating shades of grey out of the Palestinian issue. While it remains to be seen how much of an impact the Islamic State will have in Gaza, if the group ultimately fails to win power, it won’t be for lack of trying.
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