Analysis: Hamas no longer the major player in Gaza

Hamas will have to live with the fact that PRC, Islamic Jihad pose a challenge to its control over Gaza.

Palestinians after funeral of terrorist 390 (photo credit: Suhaib Salem/Reuters)
Palestinians after funeral of terrorist 390
(photo credit: Suhaib Salem/Reuters)
Hailing the latest Egyptian-brokered truce as an “achievement,” Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, the two groups who were behind the rocket and mortar attacks on Israel, have proven that Hamas is no longer the major player in the Gaza Strip.
As of this week, Hamas will have to live with the fact that these two groups pose a challenge to the Islamist movement’s control over the Gaza Strip.
Until recently, Hamas had shown zero tolerance toward armed groups that defied its policies and rule. On a number of occasions, Hamas security forces did not hesitate to detain members of Islamic Jihad and the PRC who violated previous truces with Israel.
But now the rules of the game in the Gaza Strip appear to have changed. For the first time, Hamas refrained from taking action against the armed groups, instead seeking the help of the Egyptians in persuading Islamic Jihad and PRC to agree to halt their attacks.
By turning to the Egyptians, Hamas is in fact admitting that it no longer has influence over small armed groups operating in the Gaza Strip.
The latest round of violence has put Hamas in the same position that the Palestinian Authority found itself in when it controlled the Gaza Strip before 2007.
Back then, Hamas openly challenged the PA by launching terror attacks against Israel. PA leaders Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas also had to turn to the Egyptians to restrain Hamas.
Today, Hamas is facing the same kind of criticism that was directed back then at the PA: That it is sitting on the fence while Israel is launching military strikes against the Gaza Strip.
Representatives of Islamic Jihad and PRC and some Palestinians did not hide their discontent with Hamas for failing to participate in the fighting over the past four days.
Hamas’s exodus from Syria and divisions within the top brass of the movement over reconciliation with Fatah have played into the hands of Islamic Jihad and PRC.
Hamas’s refusal to support Syrian President Bashar Assad’s brutal crackdown on his opponents has also led to a deterioration in its relations with Iran, which used to provide the movement with financial and military aid.
Unlike Hamas, Islamic Jihad continues to sit in Syria, where it enjoys the full backing not only of Assad, but also the Iranians. Both Damascus and Tehran now have an interest in strengthening Islamic Jihad as a way of punishing Hamas for its refusal to side with Assad.
Hamas’s rapprochement with Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction has drawn sharp criticism not only from some of the movement’s leaders, but also from Islamic Jihad and PRC.
The two armed groups are now accusing Hamas of “deviating from the path of jihad” in favor of reconciliation with Fatah. They have even gone as far as claiming that Hamas was on its way to recognizing a two-state solution and possibly joining the peace process with Israel.
Islamic Jihad and PRC leaders boasted Monday that they have succeeded in securing a truce that for the first time includes an Israeli commitment to stop targeted killings of terrorist leaders in the Gaza Strip – something that Hamas failed to achieve in the past. Israel has denied that it made such a commitment.
Whether Israel made such a pledge or not is irrelevant because the two groups know that it is only a matter of time before the next round of fighting erupts with Israel. But what is clear today is that Islamic Jihad and PRC, whose members fired dozens of rockets and mortars at Israel over four days, are posing a serious challenge to Hamas’s rule in the Gaza Strip.