Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

The truth revealed about the Hamas-ISIS alliance

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It was a year and a half ago, at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2014, that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that:

"ISIS and Hamas are branches of the same, poisonous tree. When it comes to their ultimate goals, Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas. And what they share in common, all militant Islamists share in common."

Many rejected Netanyahu's remarks, insisting that the differences between Hamas and other Islamist terrorist organisations are vast, viewing Hamas as a movement aimed at "resistance" to "Israeli" occupation, as distinct from the more "caliphate-orientated" groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. These views were reinforced by their apparent ideological disparities.  Hamas believes that the global Caliphate must begin in Palestine and should be approached from within the systems of the international political arena.  Therefore, Hamas views ISIS as religious extremists and condemns its violent rampage undertaken to usher in a more imminent Caliphate. At the same time, ISIS views Hamas as apostate and betrayers of true Islam, due to its political relationships with foreign governments, specifically Shi'ite Iran (ISIS views Shi'ites as heretics), and its willingness to participate in elections, something ISIS views as blasphemous, placing human sovereignty over that of G-d.

Yet upon closer inspection it seems that this divide is in many ways tactical and  secondary to their shared, foundational objectives - and certainly no barrier to direct and very substantive cooperation.

For over a year, Israel had been warning of ISIS and Hamas' camaraderie in Sinai, but a combination of Israel's reluctance to share its sources and a tendency to discount any possibility of cooperation on ideological grounds, left most unconvinced. However, in recent months evidence has surfaced which corroborates these allegations, demonstrating not only relations, but genuine interdependence between Hamas in Gaza and ISIS in Sinai. This relationship is illuminated by a letter to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, published on the internet on 26 February 2016, from ISIS fighter Abu ‘Abdullah al-Muhajir. The author moved from an ISIS cell in Gaza to fight in Syria and calls on al-Baghdadi to condemn ISIS's relationship with Hamas. He bases his assertions on his time spent in the Strip, as well as on testimonies from his comrades in Syria who more recently spent time in Gaza.

Al-Muhajir declares that his main reason for deciding to publish his letter is that he feels a religious obligation to expose ISIS's morally bankrupt relationship with Hamas, especially in view of the fact that Hamas regularly cracks down on pro-ISIS organisations within Gaza.  He writes:

"Oh, Caliph of the Muslims, I wish to speak to you about an issue related to the foundations of the religion and the tenets of the faith... for which the blood of thousands of Islamic State jihad fighters has been spilled. For the sake of this principle, we are hostile towards the entire world, we are withstanding a war waged against us by the whole world, and even by some who claim to be jihad fighters. [But] even after all these great sacrifices, some brothers come along and destroy the principle... on weak pretexts and for reasons unbecoming of any jihad fighter who belongs to this mighty state."

The letter specifies that these interactions are taking place between specific factions of each organisation: The Sinai province of ISIS (Wilayat al-Sinai), and the military wing of Hamas, known as Izz ad-Din al-Qassam. The letter, as well as other supporting evidence, assumes that the leadership of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, as well as the political wing of Hamas, are both ignorant to the connection between the military wings of their respective memberships - something almost certainly untrue.

On a practical level, the relationship consists of a number of military and social operations, according to both the letter and outside sources.  There is said to be a direct and continuous supply route of weapons being sent from ISIS to Hamas, as well as explosives being made in Gaza and sent to ISIS in Sinai. In the last two years, ISIS has reportedly helped Hamas move weapons from Iran and Libya through Sinai, in the process keeping a large portion of the equipment for itself. In addition, there are ISIS uniforms being manufactured in Gaza, communication systems being provided by Hamas to give logistical assistance to the Sinai province, as well as Hamas-owned bulldozers and tractors excavating tunnels on the border with Sinai to ease the smuggling. Additional channels are being built in order to evacuate ISIS operatives into Gaza for medical treatment, as members of the Sinai province do not have access to hospitals. Moreover, ISIS smugglers, most of whom are Bedouin residents of Sinai, have been lavishly hosted in Gaza by Hamas officials, resulting in feelings of betrayal and abandonment on the part of Gaza ISIS supporters, who suffer at the hand of Hamas whilst their supposed brothers from Sinai break bread with them just metres away.

Indeed, the Gazan supporters of ISIS seem to benefit least from the relationship, as members of the Sinai province have apparently severed all ties with their Gazan counterparts so as to maintain their relationship with Hamas. Feelings of abandonment have resulted in Gazan ISIS followers accusing their Sinai brothers of selling their religion and straying from their path of Jihadist-Salafism. Al-Muhajir too sees this as the epitome of betrayal:

"They [Hamas' leaders] are clever, oh sheikh - they give table scraps to the province, so that they can divide...and deal with them as they please, since no one supports them. Hamas knows that no one but Sinai province can help the Salafis in Gaza, and has therefore taken possession of it, and has thus kept it away from the crimes being carried out in Gaza against the supporters of the Islamic State.... It has gotten to the point where many question Sinai province's [loyalty] to the [ISIS] path and the sincerity of its affiliation to the caliphate state..."

Furthermore, by assisting in the militarisation of the Sinai province, Hamas is aiding the ISIS fight against Egyptian President al-Sisi, attempting to end his regime and restore the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt - an agenda which is far from the interests of the wider ISIS, which sees the Muslim Brotherhood as no more true Muslim than what it regards as the Egyptian military regime. This is exemplified in recent evidence which has seen Egypt accuse the Muslim Brotherhoood and Hamas of involvement in the killing of a top Egyptian prosecutor last summer, as links were made between the bombing in Cairo, exiled Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Turkey, and a training camp in Gaza.  Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood denied the allegations.

Nevertheless, it is becoming increasingly clear that widespread assumptions that underground relationships between supposed "enemy" Islamist groups are impossible in the Middle East are just wrong.

For example, even Sunni al-Qaeda and Shi'ite Iran have frequently cooperated to serve their mutual interests. Recent evidence comes in the form of a letter found among a collection of 112 taken from former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's hideout after he was killed by U.S special operations forces in 2011. In the letter, bin Laden refers to Iran as "our main artery for funds, personnel and communication", and orders his deputies not to attack the Shi'ite state.  According to a ruling from the US Treasury Department, there has been no explicit confirmation of this deal from either party, but there is evidence of Iran acting as a "critical transit point for funding to support al-Qaeda's activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan", allowing al-Qaeda to "funnel funds and operatives through its territory".

The spectrum of Islamist extremism is wide and the subtle intricacies which differentiate one group from another do have important, practical implications, but they should not be overstated. Revelations over recent months have shown that these organisations share a common devotion to terrorism and a mutual hatred of the West which frequently overrides their differences. Ultimately, this means that assumptions that we can tackle the extreme phenomenon of ISIS in a vacuum without confronting the overall Islamist extremist ideological movement are almost certainly wrong.

Ari Wenig


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