Analysis: Israeli policy against Islamist groups disjointed

Netanyahu has often lumped together these Islamist groups when describing the threat that they pose to Israel and the world.

November 24, 2015 13:27
2 minute read.
netanyahu gestures

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he give an address. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Government policy expressed this week by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to revoke the citizenship of anyone joining Islamic State, but not Hamas or the Islamic Movement, demonstrates the difficulty it is having coming up with a uniform policy to deal with Islamist groups.

Netanyahu has often lumped together these Islamist groups when describing the threat that they pose to Israel and the world.

“The Nazis believed in a master race; the militant Islamists believe in a master faith,” Netanyahu said in his speech at the United Nations in September, where he descried Iran, Islamic State and Hamas as part of a united radical Islamic threat.

And last week, Netanyahu again mentioned that the northern branch of the Islamic Movement incites to violence against innocent civilians and cooperates closely with Hamas in seeking to replace Israel with a caliphate.

But if Islamic State equals Hamas and the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, then why is the new policy only directed towards those that join Islamic State? While all Islamists share a long-term goal of a caliphate ruling the world, the various streams carry this mission out in different ways.

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 goal.

Within Muslim Brotherhood style movements there are also degrees of difference. For example, Hamas is closer toward the jihadi level of groups than the southern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel is.

The southern branch has representation in the Knesset and participates in elections, something the northern branch rejects. Even the northern branch conforms in ways that jihadist groups would reject outright.

Prof. Hillel Frisch of Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies said politics is the art of the feasible.

“While Netanyahu can try to persuade the world that the Islamic Movement, Hamas, and Islamic State are one and the same thing, he may very well feel that all he can get away with legally and politically is to revoke the citizenship of members of Islamic State,” he said.

“It is easier for the state to deal with people who clearly cross the red line than those who, with the help of sophisticated lawyers and European- funded human rights organizations, do damage to the state in ways just short of traversing it.”

When it comes to those who participate in jihad, the state can act against them, but dealing with groups that refrain from reaching such a point, such as the Islamic Movement, can be tricky, continued Frisch.

It is more of a legal battleground, where NGOs and lawyers work to “undermine the state,” and where there has actually been more success than compared to Arab terrorism against Israel, argued Frisch.

Herb Keinon and Reuters contributed to this report.

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