(photo credit: REUTERS)
Blessed be the hands that captured them,” Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas’s political bureau, told Al Jazeera on Monday, referring to those who kidnapped the three boys Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah.
“I can neither affirm nor deny Hamas’s involvement but I bless those who did it because it is a moral obligation to free prisoners from Israeli jails,” he said.
Mashaal meant that the three teenage boys could be used as a bargaining chip in a prisoner swap with Israel, like the one performed in 2011 in which 1,027 Palestinian terrorists were released in exchange for IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.
Much is being made of the fact that Hamas has not taken responsibility for the kidnapping and that it has agreed to a unity government with Fatah – even though none of the ministers are Hamas members.
Some are even arguing that due to geopolitical pressures on Hamas, particularly from Egypt’s new regime led by Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, the terrorist organization will be forced to moderate its positions vis-à-vis Israel.
For instance, Dr. Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, argued in an interview with The Jerusalem Post this week that the Sisi regime’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and on Hamas, along with the loss of its support from Iran, might force Hamas to fundamentally alter its positions even on central issues such as peace with Israel.
Another factor that deeply influenced Hamas, argued Shikaki, was the willingness of the short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government led by Mohamed Morsi to recognize Israel, respect the Camp David accords and maintain military coordination.
“The Muslim Brotherhood’s behavior must have registered with the Hamas,” Shikaki said. “If the brothers in Egypt flipped their position it means they see relations with Israel as a political rather than a religious issue that can be decided on pragmatic grounds.”
But “moderate” does not properly describe Hamas’s behavior. Israel’s security forces are certain that the terrorist group is responsible for the kidnapping of the three teenagers whether or not Hamas thugs are willing to admit it.
It’s not just that the IDF has circumstantial evidence to this effect, said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, head of the IDF Spokesman’s Office. It is not just that Hamas has made dozens of foiled attempts over the past year to kidnap Israelis or that senior Hamas officials have declared this to be a goal of Hamas. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared Hamas responsible based on concrete evidence.
The IDF’s Operation Brother’s Keeper has targeted Hamas’s infrastructure in the West Bank, which includes arms smuggling, money transfers and recruitment bodies, Lerner said.
Now the IDF has publicized that Ziad Awawde, 42, a Hamas terrorist jailed by Israel in 1993 for murdering Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel and released in the Schalit deal, is the one who murdered Deputy Maj.-Gen. Baruch Mizrahi. Awawde was arrested over a month ago for shooting Mizrahi as he drove with his wife Hadas and four of their five children to Hebron on Passover eve.
If the reconciliation agreement with Fatah is a testament to Hamas’s moderation, as Shikaki and others claim, this testament is deteriorating quickly.
For the first time since the signing of the agreement with Fatah, a senior Hamas official has spoken out against reconciliation. Mohamed Nazzal blamed the Palestinian Authority security forces for “joining the occupation in the war against the resistance,” as the Post’s Palestinian Affairs correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh reported Tuesday.
Nor is there any proof that the reconciliation agreement is a sign that Hamas is becoming more moderate.
Hamas probably saw the deal as an opportunity to expand its influence from Gaza into the West Bank.
Now that PA forces are coordinating with the IDF to break up Hamas’s infrastructure in the West Bank, there is little reason for Hamas to maintain the unity deal.
Hamas might be under pressure from Sisi’s antagonistic, anti-Islamist regime in Egypt, it might be hurting after losing its Iranian funding, but the terrorist organization shows no signs of moderation.