Hamas is on the hunt for professed followers of ISIS on the Gaza strip, who claim to be behind a series of bombings, including a mortar barrage on a Hamas training camp in Khan Younis. Though the total number of ISIS adherents in the strip is still small, its ideological appeal as the hardest of hard-core jihadi groups—and the most successful to date—should not be underestimated. Dozens of people have been arrested. The Financial Times reports on some possible implications:
The violence involving self-proclaimed Isis adherents is being watched warily not only by Hamas, but by officials in neighbouring Israel and Egypt. Israel waged a war against Hamas last summer that killed more than 2,000 but it left its leadership in place for fear of destabilising Gaza and allowing more radical groups to rise in its place.
Some regional analysts now speculate that, were Isis’s influence to expand further in Gaza or Egypt’s adjoining Sinai peninsula, Hamas could end up forging a common cause — openly or otherwise — with either Israel or Egypt, whose military government it also despises. “There might be indirect and undeclared co-operation between Hamas and Egypt, and between Hamas and Israel,” Yoram Schweitzer of Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies wrote in a paper about Isis in Gaza published last week.
Hamas-Israeli, or even Hamas-Egyptian, cooperation, even quietly, would be both totally unexpected—the group regards both states as mortal enemies—and yet not at all so: ISIS has made for strange bedfellows all over the Middle East. As we’ve pointed out since Operation Protective Edge was still going on, the Israelis and Egyptians are both concerned that a collapse by Hamas might lead to (impossible though it could be for some to imagine) something even worse.
Meanwhile, Hamas is under pressure at home for refraining from significant attacks on Israel since last summer’s war. In addition, the rebuilding projects promised by foreign donors have largely failed to materialize. Hamas recently imposed new import fees in order to pay the salaries of about 40,000 employees. One might almost think there are lessons to be learned here for Hamas in the dangers of establishing one-party rule, pursuing fruitless and destructive wars, and playing with jihadi fire—but we’re not holding our breath that Hamas will learn them.