Islamic Jihad A Growing Power in Gaza


Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyyah popularly known as Hamas, the longtime frontrunner in the internal jockeying of organizations fighting Israel is in its struggling days, while the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) is gaining strength day by day. In recent years Hamas had a calming effect on the populace, but as the Gaza economy fails and Hamas struggles to find funding more radical elements are gaining support. The PIJ is receiving financial support from Iran and has adopted a militant stance towards peace and disarmament. The United Nation is facing a $65 million dollar deficit in its food relief mission in Palestine, making cuts to food relief imminent. With UN food shipments drying up, the PIJ can offer food for loved ones in exchange for military service and bolster its number of active combatants. The poor and the hungry are ripe for recruitment in Palestine, and the economic situation is expected to worsen. People who are relying on international assistance for food items will easily convert their desperation for food into hatred of Israel with a slight push from PIJ recruiters who will be more than happy to discuss politics with their starving neighbours over a hearty meal.

Islamic Jihad is behaving more militantly with each passing day which is of course creating problem for Gaza controller Hamas. One day after the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) attacked a squad of Islamic Jihad militants, killing three Palestinian militants while they were firing a mortar right next to the border fence. Islamic Jihad fired some 60 rockets at Israel, which responded by attacking dozens of targets in the Gaza Strip.  The PIJ has “succeeded” in dragging Hamas into an adventure that it hardly wants, and at the worst possible time it is interesting that Hamas has been unable to prevent Islamic Jihad militants from operating along the border with Israel in an area that is supposed to be off limits to them. This, despite having recently stationed its Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades in the area to ensure that no rockets are fired from it. But what is actually stopping Hamas, a group that even Israel recognizes as the sovereign authority in the Gaza Strip, from disarming the Al-Quds Brigades military wing of PIJ? Who or what is preventing fighters from the al-Qassam Brigades, whose military strength is several orders of magnitude greater than Islamic Jihad’s military wing, the Al-Quds Brigades, to enforce their authority? And what made the Hamas slogan of “concentrating military power in one hand” so hollow and meaningless?

Its increased support of Iran for PIJ which is making them more flamboyant. Shortly after Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in July 2007 and expelled the Fatah leadership, the al-Qassam Brigades launched an extensive military operation to disarm the other organizations operating there. Only two groups were entitled to extensive “relief” from this campaign the Popular Resistance Committees and Islamic Jihad. Both of them benefited and continue to benefit from generous aid from Iran, both financial and military. But of these two groups, Tehran’s favourite child is Islamic Jihad. Iran commended the PIJ on the rocket attacks that struck deep into Israel in recent days which is unsurprising because the rockets were most likely from a shipment supplied by Iran. Israel intercepted an Iranian shipment of rockets earlier this month bound for Gaza. According to Israel, the weapons seized from shipment were intended for Islamic Jihad and not for Hamas. It’s not that Hamas has not ever enjoyed Iranian patronage even once with Iranian aid it was able to defeat Fatah, exile it from Gaza and take over all the centres of power and authority. But that generous aid and strong backing, which provided Hamas’s leaders with a considerable (and sometimes exaggerated) sense of security, was suddenly cut off when Hamas decided to side with the rebels in the Syrian civil war. The deterioration of the relationship between Iran and Hamas happened very quickly and the romance ended with a bitter feud.

In just a short time, Hamas lost all of its supporters, including Iran and Syria, and became an enemy of the new Egyptian regime. Now Hamas would rather not exacerbate the rift with Iran. On the other hand, attacking Islamic Jihad could put an end to the some little relationship between Hamas and Iran which they still have and ensure that the movement continues its drawn-out demise without any future prospects and without hope. The relationship between Hamas and Islamic Jihad changes a lot depending on the developments on the ground and their relations with outside entities, which might affect their decisions. From time to time armed clashes erupts between members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, and the Al-Quds Brigades, Islamic Jihad’s military wing, in various areas of the Gaza Strip. This leaves the leaders of Hamas caught between a rock and a hard place. On one side they have Israel, which threatens them with a large scale military attack if the rocket fire doesn’t stop. On the other side is Iran, which will not stand silently by if Hamas causes any harm to the members of Islamic Jihad or to Iranian interests in Gaza. Right now, the leaders of Hamas are looking at Islamic Jihad and coming to the conclusion that the Al-Quds Brigades are capable of doing to them exactly what Hamas did to Fatah seven years earlier. They can achieve military superiority obviously with Iranian support thereby posing a threat to them and especially to its position of seniority in the Gaza Strip. So keeping all this in mind Hamas gamble to allow Islamic Jihad to fire rockets on Israel instead Hamas opted to absorb a single Israeli military assault in Gaza, which will be over in a few days rather than confronting PIJ or its sponsor Iran.

Author is Editor, Viewsaround and he can be reached at: [email protected]


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