Growing Hamas Rift Could Endanger Gaza Truce

Split between political and military wings of Hamas on two key issues could lead to renewal of violence in southern front, Israeli defense experts believe.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Masked militants with Hamas' military wing march in Gaza, March 23, 2015.
Masked militants with Hamas' military wing march in Gaza, March 23, 2015.Credit: AP
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

A rift between the political and military wings of Hamas is widening over two related issue: the organization’s position on the turmoil in the Arab world, and its policy in Gaza concerning the confrontation with Israel and the animosity with Egypt.

Israeli defense experts think the split could make it difficult for Hamas to maintain long-term ceasefire agreements with Israel. It could also lead to the military wing initiating attacks on the border without coordinating them with Hamas political leaders.

Some three years ago Hamas began to cut itself off from Iran and Syria, due to the civil war in Syria and Basher Assad’s clash with the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, which is ideologically associated with Hamas. The slaughter of Sunni civilians by the Syrian regime forced Hamas to publicly denounce Assad. This caused an open rupture between Hamas and Iran, which supports Assad.

But Hamas’ military wing in Gaza kept in touch with Iran and continued to use the Revolutionary Guards’ assistance in smuggling arms to the Gaza Strip, although most of the Iranian assistance went to the Islamic Jihad in Gaza.

After the war between Israel and Hamas in the summer of 2014, Gaza and Tehran made efforts to mend the rift. Iran commended Hamas’ military effort against Israel and hosted delegations of senior Hamas officials.

But recently, due to the confrontation between the moderate Sunni states and the Iran-supported Houthi rebels in Yemen, the tension between Iran and Hamas flared up again.

Now it appears that Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal wants to get closer to Saudi Arabia, while the military wing in the Gaza Strip wants to maintain close ties with Iran.

The arms smuggling from Iran to the Gaza Strip is not going well, due to Israel and Egypt’s efforts to thwart the activity. Egypt is systematically razing houses near the border in Rafah and is building a two-kilometer buffer zone there. Meanwhile the Israeli and Egyptian navies are foiling marine smuggling from Sinai. As a result, Hamas’ military wing is forced to make to with domestic production of rockets and explosives, while the Iranian assistance consists of transfers of tens of millions of dollars to Gaza banks.

To establish its independent weapons production, Hamas has been systematically smuggling to the Gaza Strip materials bought from Israelis and from Palestinians in the West Bank, via the Kerem Shalom border pass. These are materials, which may be used for agriculture and industry as well as for weapons, and are hidden in civilian merchandise and brought in trucks to the Gaza Strip.

At some point Israel detected these goings on and for the past two months has been preventing the smuggling.

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