On Wednesday, Hamas leader in Gaza Mahmoud Zahar called on Hamas terrorists in Lebanon and Syria to attack Israel “to help us liberate Palestine.”
At the same time, Zahar denied that Hamas has been involved in the terrorist insurgency in Egypt. As he put it, “Our guns are always trained on the enemy,” that is, Israel.
The Egyptian regime was not impressed by Zahar’s protestations.
Last Saturday, an Egyptian court upheld an October 2014 decision by the Egyptian government to outlaw Hamas’s terrorist shock forces Izzadin Kassam, and designate it a terrorist organization.
Both the government’s initial designation and the court’s decision were in some sense, watershed events. They represent the first time an Arab regime ever defined any Palestinian terrorist organization as a terrorist group.
But in truth, Egypt had no choice. Despite its insistent protestations that the Jews are its only enemies, Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been a major player, indeed, arguably the key player in the jihadist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula that threatens to destroy the political, economic and military viability of the Egyptian state. The declared purpose of the insurgency is to overthrow the regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and integrate Egypt into Islamic State’s “caliphate.”
Last week saw yet another devastating terror assault against Egyptian security forces and civilians in Sinai and in cities around Egypt. Thirty- two people, mainly soldiers, were killed in a coordinated, multifaceted attack that included Hamas’s three signature modes of operation – mortars, rockets and suicide bombings.
Last week’s assault, like almost all previous ones, was credited to Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, a jihadist group that has pledged allegiance to Islamic State and declared Sinai a province of its “caliphate.”
According to a report by Yoram Schweitzer from the Institute for National Security Studies, Hamas members were among the original founders of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis. The Egyptian government views Hamas-controlled Gaza as the rear headquarters of the group. In founding the group, Hamas cooperated with local Salafist Beduin and with al-Qaida terrorists who escaped Egyptian prisons during the January 2011 uprising against then-president Hosni Mubarak.
From the outset, Egyptian security forces alleged that Hamas terrorists conducted the prison breaches. Among the other Islamists released during the jail breaks was Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi.
Morsi reportedly used Hamas terrorists as his regime’s Praetorian guard. They were charged with protecting the Muslim Brotherhood regime from protesters who opposed his moves to rapidly transform Egypt into an Islamist state and the spearhead of the Brotherhood’s sought-for global caliphate.
From an ideological perspective, there is no distinction between the Brotherhood and Hamas. From an organizational perspective, the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood branch has no difficulty integrating its forces seamlessly into the wider Muslim Brotherhood operational structure to serve what it views as their common ends.
And this brings us back to the insurgency in Sinai. In addition to claiming that Hamas enables Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, Cairo accuses Hamas of having directly carried out several mass casualty terror attacks against its security forces. The most recent one, carried out in late October 2014, killed 31 soldiers. It precipitated Cairo’s decision to expand its security zone between Gaza and Sinai from 1 to 2 kilometers and begin emptying the Egyptian side of the border-straddling city of Rafah. It was also the catalyst for the government’s decision to label Izzadin Kassam a terrorist group.
The timing of last week’s attack indicates the close coordination between Hamas-Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and the Muslim Brotherhood. As The Washington Free Beacon reported, two days before the attacks the Muslim Brotherhood issued a call for “a long, uncompromising jihad” in Egypt.
Hamas’s intimate relationship with what has now become the Islamic State affiliate in Sinai may well have facilitated the seeding of Islamic State cells in Gaza and Judea and Samaria, where Hamas terrorists are increasingly declaring their allegiance to Islamic State. Following last month’s massacre of the French journalists at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, several hundred protesters in Gaza waved Islamic State flags while burning the French flag in support of the massacre.
In recent weeks, Israeli security forces have arrested several cells of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians from Judea and Samaria that sought to establish Islamic State cells.
Beyond its role in both leading and enabling the insurgency in Sinai in concert with the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas serves as a bridge between Iran and Sunni jihadists. In the aftermath of Operation Protective Edge last summer, Hamas began rebuilding its ties to Iran. Until the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, when Hamas felt obliged to support the Muslim Brotherhood that was fighting the Iranian-backed regime of President Bashar Assad, Iran had served as Hamas’s primary state sponsor since 2005. Iran never entirely cut off its support for Hamas. But after last summer’s war, it reinstated its formal alliance with Hamas.
On Saturday, in an interview with Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television, Hamas’s Zahar called on Iran to increase its aid to the terror group.
He also called on Hezbollah to increase its cooperation with Hamas and send terrorist reinforcements to Gaza, Judea and Samaria.
Two days later, Iranian Brig.-Gen. Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards aerospace division, answered Zahar’s call. In an interview with Iran’s Fars news agency on Monday, Hajizadeh said that Iran is “exporting the technology of manufacturing missiles and other equipment,” to “Syria, Iran and Palestine as well as Lebanon’s Hezbollah to stand up to and ground the Zionist regime, ISIL and other Takfiri [i.e. fake Islamic] groups.
Hamas’s bridging role between the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic State on the one hand, and between Iran and Hezbollah on the other, shows two things. First, that the Palestinian jihadist group, which the European Union is now trying to decide whether or not to label a terrorist organization, after the previous designation was struck down by an EU court, is about much more than destroying Israel. It poses a threat to people far beyond Israel. And its role in the terror nexus is not that of a bit player, but of a linchpin and a unifying force.
It also shows the unity of the threat of Sunni and Shi’ite Islamic totalitarianism. Egypt recognizes this unity.
According to the Arabic Al-Ahram daily, on Wednesday the head of Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority, Lt.-Gen. Mohab Mamish, said that Egypt will defend the freedom of maritime traffic along the Bab el-Mandab that links the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden. Last month, Iranian- backed Houthi militia overthrew the US-backed Yemeni government. They now exert effective control over the country, and with it, the Bab el-Mandab.
Mamish said that Egypt “will not accept” closure of the waterway which “directly affects the Suez canal and national security.”
In other words, Egypt sees a unity of the terror forces along the Sunni-Shi’ite continuum and believes its national survival is dependent on defeating both.
Israel has been doing everything it can to assist Egypt’s efforts in Sinai. Egyptian commanders have taken the extraordinary step of publicly thanking Israel for its help.
Yet, Israel is in a bind.
Even as it seeks to assist Egypt in fighting Hamas and its allies in Sinai, due to US and European pressure, Israel is coerced into enabling Hamas to rebuild its terror infrastructure in Gaza. As the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Research Center revealed in a recent report, even as civilians in Gaza suffer through mass shortages and lack of shelter, Hamas has invested huge sums of money to rebuild its rocket arsenal through domestic production. It has restored much of its tunnel network. And it has used vast resources to train and indoctrinate some 17,000 teenagers in Gaza, and to train thousands of new forces. A new people’s militia has 2,500 recruits. Two Hamas officer courses with 1,060 cadets graduated in December 2014.
As the center’s director Dr. Reuven Erlich told The Jerusalem Post, “Israel will encounter these [forces and installations] in the next round of fighting.”
In other words, Israel’s ability to take effective action against Hamas in concert with Egypt is hampered by the Obama administration that is insisting that Israel facilitate the Hamas’s rearmament – a development that threatens Israel and Egypt alike.
And Israel isn’t alone in its plight. Egypt is also being pressured by President Barack Obama and his administration.
In its war against Sunni and Shi’ite jihadist forces that threaten to destroy Egypt, and among other things, cause mass harm to the global economy by imperiling maritime traffic, Egypt finds itself betrayed by the Obama administration.
Last month, just a few days before the Muslim Brotherhood called for “a long and uncompromising jihad” against Egypt, leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood met with senior US officials at the State Department. In response to a reporter’s question about the meeting, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki insisted that despite the Brotherhood’s call for holy war against the US’s closest Arab ally, the administration has no regrets about meeting, and so conferring legitimacy and implying US support for the Brotherhood in its war against the Sisi government.
Opposition leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni have based their electoral campaign against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on blaming him for the crisis in Israel’s relations with the White House. It is hard to think of a more cynical, destructive allegation.
As the administration’s continued embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood despite its full membership in the terrorist nexus that threatens the US and all of its closest allies, along with its desperate courtship of the Iranian mullahs, makes clear, the Obama administration has chosen to appease rather than combat America’s worst enemies.
Perhaps the most sympathetic interpretation of Livni’s and Herzog’s unwarranted and harmful assaults against Netanyahu is that they simply cannot accept that the world has changed.
But the trends are clear. The only responsible thing that Israel can do is to act accordingly.
Today Israel’s closest ally is Egypt. Under Obama, the US is a force to be worked around, not worked with.