CMEP Bulletin: Hamas and ISIS: Friends or Foes?
One year after the war in Gaza, Hamas’ relationship with both Israel and Egypt continues to be strained. Following attacks by Islamist militants on Egyptian military checkpoints in the Sinai on July 1st, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said it had evidence that Hamas was supplying Wilayat Sinai (Sinai branch of the Islamic State) with weapons and other support. While Egypt has not directly accused Hamas of involvement in this latest Sinai attack, they have in recent months accused Hamas of supporting an Islamist insurgency in Egypt, listed both Hamas and Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade (Hamas’ military branch) as terrorist organizations, and then canceled Hamas’ classification as a terrorist organization.
With Israel’s approval, Egypt has brought military reinforcements into the Sinai to fight Wilayat Sinai. Under Egypt’s 1979 peace accord with Israel the Sinai was largely demilitarized. An Egyptian source said a threat by the Islamic State on June 30th to destroy Hamas may lead Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi to “invite” Israel to take military action against Islamic State elements in Gaza. According to the source Egypt is concerned that a military campaign in Gaza would result in an exodus of citizens from Gaza into Egypt.
Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Mousa Abu Marzouk along with the al-Qassam Brigade spokesman Abu Obeida have all denied any connection to Wilayat Sinai. As evidence, they pointed to Hamas’ recent arrests of Salafis who fired rockets at Israel.
On Tuesday a senior IDF officer used Hamas’ efforts to restrain Salafi groups in Gaza as an example of how Operation Protective Edge created “a potential quiet for years ahead.” Despite reports to the contrary, a senior Hamas official told Al-Monitor that Israel and Hamas have not been discussing a long term truce agreements. Although a long term peace agreement between Israel and Hamas does not appear to be imminent, a panel of senior IDF officers said they believed a partial lifting of the blockade on Gaza and measures to increase freedom of movement will lead to long term quiet in Gaza. Other senior IDF sources told Israeli Army Radio that Hamas is rearming and shares interests with ISIS. This supports comments made by Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen July 1st during a briefing of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Yoram informed the committee that Hamas had made great progress towards rebuilding its military capacity for the next round of conflict with Israel.