Hamas and Islamic State in Sinai have been cooperating in the smuggling of weapons, demonstrating that while Hamas is a nationalist Islamist movement, it also has common roots from which to build a functioning relationship with jihadists.
“Over the past two years, IS Sinai helped Hamas move weapons from Iran and Libya through the peninsula, taking a generous cut from each shipment,” according to a Washington Institute for Near East Policy report on Tuesday by Ehud Yaari, a Lafer international fellow at the think tank.
Yaari, a Middle East commentator for Channel 2, points to a secret visit by Islamic State in Sinai’s military leader, Shadi al-Menai, to Gaza this month to hold talks with Hamas’s military wing.
Both Hamas and Islamic State trace their origins to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, founded by Sheikh Hassan al-Banna.
Hamas is a direct offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, and until its official founding in 1987, it ran its activities through the Islamic Association founded in the mid-1970s and headed by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
It was the first intifada that led the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza to embark “upon a direct and violent confrontation with Israel,” as explained in detail by Anat Kurz and Nahman Tal in a 1977 article for the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies titled, “Hamas: Radical Islam in a National Struggle.”
“The operational turn was marked by an organizational change – the establishment of Hamas,” they wrote.
While all Islamist movements, including Islamic State and al-Qaida, are offshoots from the more pragmatic Muslim Brotherhood, they have no patience and use violence to seek immediate results to achieve their goals.
Despite some shared goals between Salafist jihadists and Hamas, such as wanting to establish a caliphate to rule the world, they go about it in different ways.
Islamic State, for example, totally rejects the modern concept of nationalism, while Hamas, and its mother movement the Muslim Brotherhood, accept the reality in order to build its power base in each state over time.
In addition, “Hamas rejects the Salafi jihadist concept of declaring Muslims as apostates (takfir), if they fail to follow the strict Salafi interpretation, and the declaration of jihad against irreligious Muslim rulers,” says Prof. Meir Litvak, the director for the Alliance Center of Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University in a journal article “‘Martyrdom is Life’: Jihad and Martyrdom in the Ideology of Hamas.”
Litvak, an expert on Hamas, told The Jerusalem Post that while Hamas and Islamic State have ideological differences, they have a common enemy now, which is the Egyptian government.
“Hamas needs the Salafi jihadists to break the Egyptian siege on Gaza. The Salafists need Hamas’s technical know-how to produce short-range rockets and other weapons,” he said. “Hence, they ignore their ideological differences for the time being and cooperate.”
Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, told the Post, “Hamas has always been part of the global jihad movement, despite persistent claims that it is a nationalist terrorist group with strictly nationalist aims.”
Hamas and al-Qaida trained together in Sudan during the early 1990s and the two terrorist groups maintained close ties for more than a decade, said Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the US Department of the Treasury.
Furthermore, Hamas also cooperates with other Shi’ite terrorist supporters and is plugged into the Iran-sponsored terrorist network, he commented.
The Gaza-based group’s “deep ties to Hezbollah have yielded finance and operational gains over the years,” added Schanzer.
“It is further instructive to note that illicit channels of finance are often shared by multiple actors."
In this case, Islamic State and Hamas appear to be sharing the same channels for weapons smuggling and perhaps other financial means.
“In some cases, this is simply a marriage of convenience. In others, it is a deeper strategic cooperation,” continued Schanzer, adding that in the case of these two terrorist groups, the shared disdain for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government could be an indication of the latter.