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

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