Under authority of Hamas, using tactics of al-Qaida

Popular Resistance Committees hopes to escalate confrontation with Israel to influence direction of revolts in Arab world to Palestine.

By JONATHAN D. HALEVI
August 23, 2011 05:31
Security personnel next to bus after ambush, Thurs

Egged bus attacked 311 R. (photo credit: REUTERS/Lior Grundman)

The writer is a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is a co-founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd. and is a former adviser to the Policy Planning Division of the Foreign Ministry.

The terror attack in the South on August 18, in which eight Israelis were killed – six civilians and two members of the security forces – was initiated and executed by the Palestinian terrorist organization known as the Popular Resistance Committees, which operates as a terrorist arm of Hamas. The operation represents a change in Hamas’s approach to the issue of the Arab Spring, from acting only passively as an observer, limiting itself to damage control, to an entirely new stance that attempts to reshape reality in the Middle East.

The PRC was established at the beginning of the second intifada, at the end of September 2000, by Jamal Abu Samhadana, who brought together under his command former officers who served in the Palestinian security services, as well as activists from Fatah, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other groups.

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The ideology of the PRC is based on an extremist version of Islamism, which places the organization in the same category as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and even al-Qaida. The PRC was responsible for the October 2003 bombing attack on a US convoy in Gaza in which three American security personnel were killed.

Islam, in its view, is seen as the solution, or even a cure, for all the problems of the Palestinian people. The leadership of the Popular Resistance Committees believes that both “resistance in all its aspects” and “jihad as the way of Allah” are the only paths to liberate all of Palestine.

Hizbullah is perceived, in this context, as an exemplary model of how to wage the struggle against Israel.

The ideological affinity between the PRC and Hamas is also expressed through a strategic alliance that includes close operational and political cooperation in recent years.

The PRC backed the Hamas demand to hold Palestinian parliamentary elections, as planned, in 2006 and supported its religious approach, which sought legal justifications for participating in the elections. During the campaign, the Popular Resistance Committees stood on the side of Hamas, and its activists were instructed to assist Hamas with propaganda on behalf of candidates for the latter group’s Change and Reform list.

In the security arena, this strategic alliance was expressed through the appointment of Abu Samhadana as general supervisor of the Ministry of the Interior and National Security, with responsibility for the security forces in the Gaza Strip. The PRC joined forces with Hamas and Jaish al-Islam (the Army of Islam), which is identified with al-Qaida, to conduct an attack in June 2006 on IDF forces inside Israel, just north of Gaza, in which soldier Gilad Schalit was kidnapped.

Jaish al-Islam was involved in the kidnapping of foreign journalists, including Alan Johnston of the BBC and two journalists from Fox News. It has also been accused recently by senior Egyptian officials of organizing attacks in Egypt for al-Qaida, including a suicide bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria in January, which killed 25 people.

Hamas security forces accepted into their ranks many activists from the PRC, some of whom became senior officers. In all the military confrontations with Israel, including the Gaza operation in 2009, PRC operatives fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Hamas forces.

IN RECENT years, the Sinai Peninsula has provided Palestinian terrorist organizations with a base for transferring weapons to Gaza and for infiltrating Israel for operational purposes, or for building up a terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank. In October 2005, Israeli security forces stopped a terrorist unit near Mitzpe Ramon that included three senior operatives from the PRC. The unit had traveled from Gaza through Sinai and was headed for Jenin in the West Bank, where it planned to link up with the terrorist infrastructure in the city. Its goal was to build up its operational capabilities in the West Bank, including the manufacture of high-trajectory weaponry such as rockets and mortars.

The responsibility for the recent attack on the South belongs to Hamas, which employs various terrorist wings and provides them with sanctuary in its territory, including those that identify with al-Qaida, like Jaish al- Islam. At the root of this policy are both tactical and strategic considerations. The combined attack that the PRC conducted along the Egyptian border was intended to cause mass casualties among Israeli civilians and perhaps was supposed to involve the kidnapping of IDF soldiers and civilians.

Moreover, Hamas hopes to escalate the confrontation with Israel in order to influence the direction of the popular revolts in the Arab world and direct them to the issue of Palestine. Hamas sees the Arab Spring as an enormous opportunity to recruit the Arab masses against the pragmatic Arab regimes and force them to adopt a more anti-Israel policy. The operation in the South sets the stage for a broad-based military escalation in Gaza during the month of Ramadan that could create shockwaves across the Arab world, where leaders are already having a difficult time dealing with the popular revolts of recent months.

This Hamas policy replicates that of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the parent organization of Hamas. The Brotherhood stresses the need to exploit the Arab Spring and mobilize the masses to overthrow the Arab regimes as the first step toward liberating Palestine. After the fall of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, coordination between Hamas and the Brotherhood has grown.

Khaled Mashaal, the head of the Hamas political bureau, was just in Cairo meeting with the head of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Muhammad Badie.

In summary, the Arab Spring could become a “Security Autumn” for Israel, as the skies darken due to regional developments.

This article was originally published on the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs website.


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