Islamic Jihad rise in Gaza challenges Hamas rule

Analysis: With Hamas out of its orbit, Iran has upped its support of Islamic Jihad.

Islamic Jihad funeral 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Islamic Jihad funeral 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007, killing and expelling Fatah militiamen, it never faced a real challenge to its rule.
Until now.
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Its main adversary today is Islamic Jihad, which until about a year ago was considered one of Hamas’s proxies that heeded its authority and regularly fell in line with Hamas policy on when and when not to attack Israel.
In recent months though, Islamic Jihad has made an impressive leap in its capabilities and military infrastructure.
This is a direct result of Iran’s decision to divert funds traditionally allocated to Hamas to Islamic Jihad instead.
The main cause for the Iran-Hamas rift was the Palestinian terrorist group’s decision to abandon Syrian President Bashar Assad and begin the process of moving its political-military bureau out of Damascus, 13 years after moving there from Jordan. According to recent reports, most of the senior Hamas command has already left Syria and a headquarters that once numbered hundreds of operatives now has just a few dozen left.
Western intelligence agencies are tracking where the Hamas men are traveling to and where the new headquarters will be established. Leading candidates appear to be Egypt, Sudan and Jordan. Qatar is also a possibility but Khaled Mashaal, head of the bureau, appears to want to be close to the Gaza Strip, the organization’s main base of operations.
The departure from Damascus might have a positive outcome for Israel in the short term. Without a clear base and a patron like Assad, Mashaal and the overseas branch of Hamas will be slightly weakened and might have difficulty continuing the logistical support they had been providing for the group’s Gaza-based activities.
Iran’s decision to slash its funding of Hamas is also affecting the group and Hamas is looking for new sources of income, such as its decision last month to fine the Bank of Palestine $150 million on bogus charges.
As a result, Hamas is not interested – at the moment – in a major confrontation with the IDF, since attacking Israel would make its fund-raising efforts in Europe and throughout the Middle East more difficult.
This is believed to be one of the reasons why Hamas preferred to not get involved in the attacks against Israel over the weekend – even though it publicly condemned Israel for the targeted killing of a senior Aksa Martyrs Brigades operative on Thursday who was believed to be plotting an attack against Israel from the Sinai Peninsula.
With Hamas out of its orbit, Iran has upped its support of Islamic Jihad, which, according to some estimates, has a rocket arsenal that competes in its quantity and quality with that in Hamas’s warehouses. Islamic Jihad’s rise to power has created a new intelligence challenge for Israel, which now needs to track with almost equal emphasis both organizations and their capabilities inside Gaza.
Islamic Jihad’s reasons for not participating in the recent rocket attacks against Israel are similar. It is at the stage of building up its capabilities. It did not want to risk all it has created for a conflict that was destined to only last a few days and preferred to retain its capabilities for the larger and longer round that is looming on the horizon.
Iran might also be telling Islamic Jihad to wait.
The Iranian objective is to establish a force on Israel’s southern border that will have capabilities and quantities like those of Hezbollah in Lebanon and that together both fronts will deter the Israeli government from launching unilateral military action against its nuclear facilities.