Click photo to download. Caption: Smoke rises in Gaza after an Israeli airstrike on the second day of Operation Protective Edge, July 9, 2014. Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
By Sean Savage/JNS.org
With the launch of the Israeli army’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, much of the public’s attention has appropriately focused on Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group behind the June 12 abduction and murder of three Jewish teens and more recently the escalation of rocket fire on Israel. But the threats the Jewish state faces from Gaza may not be as clear-cut as they seem.
While Hamas is still extremely deadly, it has seen a weakening of its grip on the coastal enclave over the past few years, due to challenges from other Islamic terror groups and isolation from its former patrons in the Muslim world.
“Hamas has been on the brink of collapse,” Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JNS.org. “It has become very isolated politically and economically.”
“It is very difficult to figure out what Hamas’s calculus is [in its current escalation with Israel],” Schanzer added. “Hamas may have nothing to lose, but on the other hand, they could have really overplayed their hand, which could lead to complete devastation of their assets.”
Since taking control of Gaza in 2007, Hamas has seen a steady decline in its support from the Palestinian people and the rise of other Islamic terrorist groups there–including its main Palestinian rival, Islamic Jihad, as well as al-Qaeda-inspired Salafi global jihadist groups.
In February, leaders of the Salafist factions known as the Al-Quds Mujaedeen Shura Council in Gaza issued a statement pledging allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), which has made global headlines for its brutality and swift victories in the Syrian civil war and Iraq.
These Gaza-based Salafi jihadist groups have often been at odds with Hamas and have been targeted by Hamas’s internal security forces. At the same time, these groups have also been responsible for rocket fire on Israel, both from Gaza and Salafi groups operating in the Sinai Peninsula. This includes rockets fired on the southern Israeli city of Eilat in January 2014.
Meanwhile, recent reports indicate that jihadists from ISIS–now also known simply as “Islamic State”–have attempted to infiltrate Gaza from Egypt, the Gatestone Institute reported.
According to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, 15 ISIS terrorists were arrested by Egyptian security forces trying to enter Gaza from the Sinai. Eyad al-Bazam, a spokesman for Hamas, has flatly denied the reports, calling them “blatant lies” and part of an Egyptian smear campaign against Hamas.
Nevertheless, at a recent funeral for two terrorists killed in late June by the Israel Defense Forces, ISIS flags were seen wrapped over the dead body of one of the terrorists. ISIS flags were also seen during their funeral procession through Gaza.