Baptism of chaos for new terror chief
Hamas’s new leader in Gaza is even more extreme than his predecessors
HAMAS HAS elected a new, hardline leader, just as the security situation around Gaza has threatened to spiral out of control.
On Monday, Yahya Sanwar, a senior figure in the terror organisation’s military wing, took over from Hamas’s prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh.
His election is an indication of the growing power of Hamas’s military wing in the Strip — and the corresponding weakening of its political branch.
Palestinians who have met Sanwar describe him as an extremist even in the context of his organisation, and he has spoken approvingly about perpetual war with Israel.
Internal rivalries aside, Hamas is engaging in another, external juggling act. Its leaders are simultaneously trying to rebuild ties with the Egyptian regime that controls the main Rafah crossing; co-operate with Daesh, which holds the arms-smuggling routes through Sinai; and re-establish the close relationship it once had with Iran.
Meanwhile, a series of attacks last week on Israel’s southern borders have contributed to a sharp deterioration in the security situation around Gaza.
After a rocket landed in a field in southern Israel and shots were fired at an IDF patrol, Israel retaliated with attacks on Hamas targets. On Wednesday night, there was a mysterious explosion in a tunnel beneath the Gaza-Egypt border and three missiles were fired towards Eilat, which were intercepted by the Iron Dome defence system. While the only casualties in these events were Hamas members, it is believed that the rockets fired towards Israel were launched from Gaza by Salafists and from Sinai by the local branch of Daesh.
Israel officially holds Hamas responsible for any attacks launched from Gaza, but IDF chiefs believe the terror organisation is still interested in maintaining the ceasefire.
The Salafists in Gaza fired at Israel to challenge Hamas dominance and the Daesh missile attack was probably an attempt to disturb the co-operation between Cairo and Jerusalem in crushing the terrorist group in Sinai.
Despite a concerted military buildup and renewed tunnel-digging, Israel does not currently detect a Hamas interest in resuming hostilities.
There have even been tentative moves towards a deal under which Hamas would return two Israeli citizens and the bodies of two IDF soldiers in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners. But the conflicting interests of the various Hamas factions, as well as the increasing involvement of Iran and Daesh in Gaza, are endangering the fragile attempts at talks.
Israeli intelligence officials believe that despite the latest attack, Daesh in Sinai is still primarily focused on its local objectives: establishing a Caliphate in the peninsula and overthrowing the secular Egyptian regime. To that end, it has reinforced its ranks and is carrying out weekly attacks on Egyptian forces in Sinai and the occasional terror attack within Egypt proper.
Throughout much of 2016, Israeli and Egyptian analysts believed the local branch of Daesh was on the back foot, having lost two thirds of its men in Egyptian counter-terror operations.
Now, however, they believe Willayat (“district”, as Daesh calls its Sinai branch) has made a comeback, recruiting new fighters from local Bedouin tribes, as well as receiving new Salafist operatives from within Egypt.
It is also believed that a small number of Hamas members who oppose their movement’s ceasefire have recently defected to Daesh. The rivalry between these two Islamist movements could result in a wider conflagration.
Yahya Sanwar at a rally in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip