Alex Fishman
Alex Fishman

Gaza's Hamas rulers must choose between Iran and their own people

Opinion: Iranian financial and military aid to the terror group comes with strings attached that increase the strength of the Islamic Jihad and threaten improvements to the lives of Gazans through international investments

Israeli officials are not rejecting the notion that Hamas knew and approved Islamic Jihad rocket fire at Israeli communities in response to the targeted killing of their military commander Baha Abu al-Ata, last week.



It is likely that the confrontation between the two Gaza-based terror groups was about the force of those rocket attacks.


Islamic Jihad rocket fired from Gaza at Israeli communities
Islamic Jihad rocket fired from Gaza at Israeli communities


Hamas, it seemed, intended the rocket fire to target border line communities only, while Islamic Jihad demanded massive attacks be launched further afield, which could have caused a deterioration into all-out war.


Hence the Israeli security establishment's decision to put the center of the country, including Tel Aviv, on high alert.


While the Gaza rulers demanded their smaller partners adhere to their demands, Islamic Jihad opted to ignore them.


This was not a tactical disagreement. It was a massive rift that forced into the open a new-old factor which had become more and more dominant – Iran.


Until recently, Hamas had not taken Iran's Mideast policies into account, both for ideological and practical reasons.


Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, assassinated by Israel in 2004, blocked efforts by the organization's political leadership abroad - primarily Khaled Mashal - from forging relations with the Islamic Republic.


Iran already had some foothold in the besieged enclave through Islamic Jihad's Al-Quds military force, but under the overwhelming superiority of Hamas, the Iranian agenda was kept at bay.


The change came in 2017 with the rise to power of Yahya Sinwar, who came up through the ranks of the group's military wing and assumed the role of the leader in Gaza.


Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar (Photo: AP)
Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar (Photo: AP)


Sinwar opened the door to Iran primarily for financial reasons. His beloved military wing was suffering economic hardships and the Iranians were offering cash, weapons and new technologies.


It quickly became evident though, that the Iranian generosity did not stem from a sense of philanthropy. Assistance to Hamas both inside and outside the Gaza Strip came at a price.


In a speech given this fall, Sinwar thanked Iran for its generous support, but neglected to tell his listeners what Hamas was required to give in return – namely, greater freedom for Islamic Jihad, enabling the smaller organization to grow in strength and allowing them to independently instigate military conflict with Israel.


Baha Abu al-Ata, who commanded Islamic Jihad's military operations, grew under Sinwar's rule over Hamas to become a disproportionately strong leader.


Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata was killed by Israel last week, triggering days of rocket strikes
Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata was killed by Israel last week, triggering days of rocket strikes


Israel was late to understand that Hamas was restrained by the Iranian influence, and that any political or military decision it makes - regardless of whether it is dealing with other elements in Gaza or Israel, Qatar and Egypt – must take the Iranian position into account.


They must consider whether Iran will suspend its aid.


Hamas's problems with Egypt, the true lifeline for the Gaza Strip, are much greater than the difficulties the terror group has with Israel.


The Egyptian government is not pleased with the budding relationship between Hamas and Iran, and it too will exert pressure on the Gaza rulers.


For the time being, Hamas is maneuvering a proverbial mindfield, trying to dodge Israeli, Egyptian and Iranian bombs.


The recent outbreak of cross-border fighting highlighted the dilemma facing Yahya Sinwar, who must decide whether to rein in Islamic Jihad and work towards improving the life of his civilian population or succumb to the Iranian agenda, despite the military and economic price he will be required to pay.


Israel for the moment, is allowing Hamas time to decide its next move but the Middle East will soon know what direction Sinwar has decided to take.


Commitments and investments have been made by both Israel and Egypt for major international projects to benefit Gaza.


Should Hamas decide to throw their lot with Iran, allow Islamic Jihad to grow further in strength and instigate violence along or across the border, all the investments and all the projects will disappear.


פרסום ראשון: 11.23.19, 23:56
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