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Geopolitical Diary: Hamas' Political Struggle

Stratfor Morning Intelligence Brief. 25 Apr 07


The armed wing of Palestinian Hamas movement, Izz al-Deen al-Qassam

Brigades, on Tuesday claimed responsibility for launching 40

rockets and 70 mortar shells on parts of Israel bordering the Gaza

Strip. The move brings to an end the five-month truce with the

Jewish state. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has reportedly opted for

a "limited military response" to the rocket attacks, which occurred

after a daylong IDF offensive this past weekend that killed nine

Palestinians, including five militants. The rocket fire, according

to IDF officials, was a diversionary tactic to provide cover for a

militant infiltration to nab IDF soldiers to up the stakes in the

pending prisoner swap between the Israelis and Palestinians.


The cease-fire between the Hamas-led government and Israel is not

exactly foolproof. Hamas is notorious for using various militant

front organizations to periodically carry out attacks and remind

Israel of its militant campaign's strength. But since Hamas swept

parliamentary elections more than a year ago, the Hamas leadership

has had to balance between proving itself as a legitimate political

entity worthy of foreign aid and interaction, and as the leading

Palestinian militant organization whose skilled use of explosive

devices makes it capable of pressuring Israel into making



After five months of Hamas silence, however, the group made a point

to take direct responsibility for the rocket attack that marked

Israel's 59th Independence Day. This shift in stance comes more

than two months after Hamas and Fatah leaders signed an agreement

in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to reshuffle the government in an attempt

to halt endless street clashes between the rival groups and ease

the economic blockade on the Palestinian territories. Though Hamas

and Fatah made some progress in creating a national unity

government, security issues persist, the economic embargo is still

largely intact and the government itself has yet to function. It is

no surprise that Hamas' organizational strength has slowly begun to

wither away, with increasingly more of the party's members growing

disillusioned with a political agenda that has left them paralyzed

and doubting whether a political future is really what is good for

the Hamas movement.


This difference of opinion is becoming increasingly visible in the

top rung of the Hamas command, where the group's external

leadership led by exiled politburo chief Khaled Meshaal and

internal leadership led by Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail

Haniyeh are battling for dominance over the movement. While exiled

in Damascus, Syria, Meshaal and his colleagues do not wish to see

Haniyeh compromise on Hamas' principles by making the appropriate

concessions that would give the movement a moderate make-over and

end up further sidelining the group's exiled leaders. Meshaal

exerts a great degree of control over Hamas' militant wing, and he

uses that control to prevent Hamas from making any significant

political headway, as illustrated with Tuesdays's rocket barrage

and subsequent claim of responsibility by the group's armed wing.

Haniyeh, on the other hand, understands the need for Hamas to

empower itself politically and avoid a major confrontation with

Israel that would signal the (physical and political) end of Hamas'

Gaza leadership.


These internal divisions are only exacerbated by the impasse on the

pending prisoner exchange between the Israeli and Palestinian

governments and an intense rivalry between Hamas and Fatah over

control of the security forces. Five weeks into his job,

Palestinian Interior Minister Hani al-Qawasmi tried to resign.

Al-Qawasmi was chosen as an independent candidate to help quell the

controversy over having a Hamas-ruled government in control of a

security apparatus dominated by Fatah loyalists. However,

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attempted to appease his Fatah

followers by appointing Muhammad Dahlan, a senior Fatah figure and

former interior minister, as national security adviser to

restructure the security forces and thus undermine al-Qawasmi's

authority. Dahlan's experience in cracking down on Hamas militants

in the 1990s has made him a mortal enemy in the eyes of Hamas

leaders, providing yet another point of contention between the two



As we anticipated , the lawlessness in the territories has

provided jihadist elements with fertile ground to take root in the

Palestinian theater. The growing jihadist presence in the area has

come to light with recent attacks against Western targets,

including the American International School in Gaza, Western-style

boutiques, music and cosmetics stores, as well as the recent

kidnapping and killing of British Broadcasting Corp. journalist

Alan Johnston, whose death was claimed by a previously unknown

jihadist-oriented group called the Brigades of Tawhid and Jihad.

Though Israel benefits from keeping the Palestinians in disarray,

the attrition of Hamas' organizational control and the worsening

security conditions in the Gaza Strip are creating the conditions

for Israel to face a future in which it will be battling the

jihadist menace along its own border.

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