Hamas leadership sought to move HQ to Egypt or Jordan
International pressure on Syria spurs organization's search for new home.
Senior Hamas officials recently asked Egypt and Jordan whether either country would be willing to allow the organization's headquarters to relocate to its territory.
The queries were made due to Hamas' assessment that Syria, where both Hamas and Islamic Jihad headquarters are located, may force both organizations to leave in an effort to divert growing international pressure sparked by a UN investigation into the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
Both Egypt and Jordan apparently refused.
Hamas' political leadership has been headquartered in Damascus for years; the offices also house operations officers who deliver instructions and money to Hamas operatives in the territories. The same is true of Islamic Jihad's Damascus offices. Officially, however, Syria describes both headquarters as "public relations offices."
Under heavy American pressure stemming from Hamas and Jihad terror attacks in Israel, Syria claimed two years ago that it had shut down both offices. In reality, however, both organizations still operate out of Damascus.
Hamas' inquiries to Egypt and Jordan are additional proof of the pressure that Syria has been under since UN investigators concluded that senior officials apparently were involved in Hariri's murder. This pressure is being spearheaded by the United States and France; the former is also angry over Syria's role in allowing terrorists to enter Iraq from its territory. Damascus evidently hopes that expelling Hamas and Islamic Jihad would appease the UN, United States and France.
In the past, Hamas preferred to operate out of Jordan, but in 1999, King Abdullah expelled several senior organization officials from the country who were relocated to Syria and Qatar.
Egypt maintains close ties with Hamas, partly to maintain its role as chief mediator between the Palestinian Authority and Islamic organizations. However, it apparently draws the line at hosting the headquarters of an organization that Israel, the United States and the European Union all label a terrorist group.
Meanwhile, Syria's crisis is already affecting the relationship between the Islamic organizations' headquarters and their operatives in the territories. Israeli security sources said that in recent months, the Damascus offices have made major efforts to lower the profile of their relationship with operatives in the West Bank and Gaza.
In February, when Islamic Jihad carried out a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that killed five people, Israel was able to give Western governments intelligence information showing that the West Bank cell that sent the bomber had been in contact with Jihad headquarters in Damascus about the bombing. Recently, however, the modus operandi has changed, and the sources said it now more closely resembles that of Al-Qaida and other "global Jihad" organizations: The headquarters in Damascus set guidelines, such as a general time frame for an attack or the general area where it should take place, but the local operatives decide on the details.
This system distances the Syrian government, which hosts the headquarters, from accusations of direct involvement in terrorism. It also makes it harder for Israeli intelligence to obtain advance warning of an attack. Moreover, at a time when the PA and Islamic organizations are both officially committed to a period of security calm, it serves both sides if the organizations refrain from officially claiming responsibility for attacks.
The Israel Defense Forces believe that Hamas' relative restraint over the past week, even after Israel killed its operative Fawzi al-Qara, is related to Syria's desire to avoid escalation right now. Therefore, instead of a direct clash with Israel, the organization is trying to operate indirectly, such as sending operatives from Gaza to the West Bank to heat up the atmosphere there.
Earlier this week, for instance, the Shin Bet security service revealed that it caught three members of the Popular Resistance Committees, a Hamas "subcontractor," who had infiltrated Israel from Gaza via Egypt with the goal of reaching Jenin and setting up a manufactory for Qassam rockets there.