Manish Rai

Islamic Jihad a headache for Hamas

Fresh round of escalation between Israelis and Palestinian Islamic Jihad has just completed as hundreds of rockets is being fired towards Israeli cities and Israeli defence Forces (IDF) responding with overwhelming air strikes. This recent flare up started when IDF air strike targeted a senior Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu Al-Ata which Israel claimed was planning terror attacks against them. Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) responded with heavy rocket barrage towards Israeli cities. In all this episode the most dominant group and ruler of Gaza i.e. Hamas didn’t come to the aid of its Islamic Jihad allies and it refrained from firing its own rockets into southern Israel. This behaviour of Hamas is not because they suddenly develop love for Israel but because of sporadic and irresponsible behaviour of PIJ. Hamas, which gained full control of Gaza strip in 2007 from Fatah which is the most dominant party in Palestinian Authority, is often limited in its ability to act against Israel because it bears responsibility for running the day-to-day affairs of Gaza, the coastal enclave often in news because of its Humanitarian hardships. Islamic Jihad has no such limitations and has emerged as the more militant faction, occasionally even undermining Hamas authority.

 Over the past year, Hamas has made start-stop efforts at indirect negotiations via Egyptians with Israel – offering to maintain quiet on the border in return for Israel easing the decade-long blockade that has devastated Gaza’s economy. But Islamic Jihad is turning out to be spoiler. PIJ is the smaller of the two main Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip, and is vastly outnumbered by the ruling Hamas, but it enjoys direct Iranian backing, both financially and militarily, and has become the driving force in rocket fire and confrontations with Israel. PIJ in recent months has tried to outflank Hamas by presenting itself as a more radical opponent of Israel but this strategy of PIJ is creating problem for Gaza controller Hamas. It’s the increased support of Iran for PIJ which is making them more flamboyant as it’s a known fact that Tehran’s favourite child in Gaza is Islamic Jihad. If Hamas tries to teach manners to PIJ it risks to put an end to some little relationship with Iran which Hamas still trying hard to develop after it was almost over after Syrian civil war. But if Hamas doesn’t contain PIJ then it might push Gaza into major conflict with Israel which by all means will be catastrophic for Gaza.

The Gaza Strip is currently suffering from an acute economic crisis. The cost of living is high and unemployment is spiralling. Another war in the Gaza Strip will be severe blow to Gaza already fragile economy and is likely to push Hamas out of power. Hamas also wants peace at this point in time because it wants to strengthen its regime by improving the living conditions of the Gaza public and then slowly increased its influence to West bank by showcasing themselves as efficient administrators. This time Israelis did not targeted Hamas positions but message has been conveyed to Hamas leadership that if the regular rocket fire from Gaza doesn’t stop then they may launch large scale military attack which will target every group. This leaves the leaders of Hamas caught between a rock and a hard place. If Hamas tries to stop and curtain Islamic Jihad at this stage, before the region gets hotter still, it will be accused of collaborating with Israel. But if it let Islamic Jihad to carry on wild with massive rocket fire, that is likely to lead to a harsh Israeli response.

Shortly after Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in July 2007 the al-Qassam Brigades military wing of Hamas 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. Hamas leadership must be regretting this generous favour it did to PIJ. Because in return PIJ has most of the times has undertaken stand contrary to Hamas position. PIJ believes that it has nothing to lose and everything to gain by escalating tensions with Israel as it will be seen as leading resistance against Zionist state. While Hamas rightly believes at least for now that things needs to be calm down with Israel. So, that Gazans can have some breathing space. But Hamas soon has to make tough choices otherwise it will be ousted from driving seat in Gaza. Hence Hamas has to take effective measures to prevent Islamic Jihad’s independent and sole benefitting activities. Because when Gaza will bleed from Israeli onslaught then common people will held Hamas responsible only.

About the Author
Manish Rai is a columnist for the Middle East and Af-Pak region; Editor of a geo-political news agency Views Around (VA)
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