For some, it makes little sense that Hamas would ever allow al Qaeda to establish roots in Gaza, given the purported ideological differences between the two groups. Hamas, they argue, is a nationalist group focused on securing a Palestinian state, with its sights set solely on destroying Israel. Al Qaeda, on the other hand, is engaged in waging a jihad primarily against the West.
Furthermore, Jihadi Salifis have railed at Hamas’s refusal to impose Sharia Law in Gaza, as well as its suspension of attacks on Israel. The deep enmity between the two groups was best evidenced in August 2009 when Hamas crushed the Jihadi Salfi group, Jund Ansar Allah, in a bloody street battle.
The Jihadi Salafi view of Hamas may best be summed up by a member of the Soldiers of the Monotheism Brigades: “We will not stop targeting the figures of this perverted, crooked government [Hamas], breaking their bones and cleansing the pure land of the Gaza Strip of these abominations.”
Yet, despite this, others see the two organizations subscribing to the same jihadist goal, noting that both groups practice suicide terrorism, which is influenced by radical Islamic beliefs. In fact, Hamas, founded by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in 1987, has never renounced the MB’s goal of a “world Islamist state.”
It’s a view shared by Yuval Diskin: “All the factions in Gaza want an Islamic caliphate. Hamas wants to achieve that through charity organizations, while other more radical groups want the same goal through violence.”
Additionally, both Hamas and the Jihadi Salfis have worked operationally together, most notably when the Army of Islam and Hamas joined in the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit in 2006.
In truth, the only apparent differences between the two organizations seem more tactical than ideological. Nothing confirms this view more than the recent efforts employed by Hamas to dissuade these extremist groups from launching missiles at Israeli civilian and military targets.
Since early 2010, Jihadi Salafis have fired over 200 rockets into Israel. Although Hamas does not shrink from a confrontation with Israel, it wants one on its own timetable. That is why it is loath to give the IDF an excuse for invading the Gaza Strip and violating the unwritten cease-fire from the 2008-2009 Gaza war.
Yet, whether from confidence gained by their support from Iran and other regional al Qaeda groups, the Gaza-based jihadist groups have openly rejected Hamas’s entreaties to stop firing missiles into Israel and refuse to call a ceasefire. The only concession they ceded was a promise to not escalate their actions.
Their intransigence has served to place Hamas in a very unenviable position, similar in many ways to the one occupied by the Taliban in Afghanistan. As the Taliban once gave safe-haven to al Qaeda, its invited guests launched the 9/11 attack against the United States. The Taliban’s reward for such behavior was an unleashed American invasion and an eventual end to their rule.
To that end, if any of these al Qaeda groups in Gaza manage to carry out a comparably large-scale attack, it may provoke a crushing retaliation, and consign Hamas to a similar fate. As the suicide bombing in Alexandria demonstrated, those efforts are already underway.
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