Analysis: How Islamic Jihad is becoming a threat to Hamas

With help of Iran and Syria, Islamic Jihad has become a major player in Palestinian arena; group's leaders received as VIPs in Arab capitals.

By
October 31, 2011 02:49
4 minute read.
Islamic Jihad terrorists in Gaza

Islamic Jihad terrorists in Gaza 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

 
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Once Hamas was the second- largest armed group in the Gaza Strip, after the Palestinian Authority.

With the help of Iran and Syria, Hamas became so strong that one day, in June 2007, its men managed to seize control over the entire Strip.

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In recent years, however, Hamas has found itself in the same position as the PA was back then.

Now it’s the Islamic Jihad organization that has replaced Hamas as the second- largest armed group in the Gaza Strip. Today, it poses a serious challenge to the Hamas government.

With the help of Iran and Syria, Islamic Jihad has become a major player in the Palestinian arena. The organization’s leaders now visit Cairo and other Arab capitals, where they are received as VIPs.

Earlier this year, Egypt’s ruling military council invited its leaders to participate in discussions in Cairo over achieving Palestinian national unity.

In the past 48 hours, top Egyptian security officials have been talking to Islamic Jihad leaders and representatives, over the heads of Hamas officials, about a cease-fire with Israel.

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Alarmed by the growing political and military power of Islamic Jihad, the Hamas government has in the past few years detained some of the organization’s members in the Gaza Strip.

At one point, Hamas even stopped Islamic Jihad squads from firing rockets and missiles at Israel, especially after the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead offensive in late 2008.

The Hamas measures against Islamic Jihad were not the result of a shift in Hamas’s ideology or strategy toward Israel. Hamas was acting only out of concern for its own interests.

When Hamas had an interest in preserving the unofficial cease-fire with Israel, it was prepared to clash with any other group that dared to violate the calm.

Hamas has long boasted that, unlike the PA, its men have succeeded in the past four years in creating a strong regime in the Gaza Strip. Indeed, Hamas has since shown zero tolerance toward any group that posed a challenge to its rule.

However, in the past two days Hamas chose to sit on the fence while Islamic Jihad militiamen fired rockets and missiles at Israel.

Instead of trying to stop the attacks as it did in the past, Hamas let the Egyptians mediate a cease-fire between Islamic Jihad and Israel.

Some Palestinians in the Gaza Strip said on Sunday that Hamas is probably afraid of a violent confrontation with Islamic Jihad, whose members have managed to smuggle into the Gaza Strip new weapons stolen from Libya.

Besides, Hamas can’t afford to be seen as playing the role of “border guard” for Israel. Until today, Hamas maintains it’s the PA that is playing this role in the West Bank, the Palestinians said.

Islamic Jihad is no longer a small organization with a few hundred fighters and a small amount of weapons.

The organization is beginning to emerge as a major challenge to the Hamas regime, especially given the fact that dozens of disgruntled Hamas members are reported to have defected to Islamic Jihad. Former Fatah security officers, some of whom were trained by the US and EU, are also believed to have joined Islamic Jihad in the past few years.

Other Palestinians believe Islamic Jihad initiated the recent cycle of violence as a response to the prisoner exchange agreement between Hamas and Israel.

They said Islamic Jihad leaders are obviously unhappy with the fact that Hamas’s popularity has been boosted following the prisoner swap.

In the words of a Palestinian journalist in Gaza City, “Islamic Jihad is trying to spoil the party for Hamas, and the best way to do so is by initiating a new confrontation with Israel.”

Islamic Jihad is acting on instructions from Tehran and Damascus, whose leaders are also reported to be at loggerheads with Hamas.

According to informed Palestinian sources, relations between Hamas and the Iranians and Syrians have deteriorated because of the movement’s refusal to publicly support the embattled regime of President Bashar Assad.

Those who are hoping that the downfall of the Hamas regime would bring a more moderate group to power are living in an illusion.

It’s almost certain by now that Islamic Jihad – which is viewed by some as being more radical than Hamas – will one day rise to power in the Gaza Strip.

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