Why Hamas is not like ISIS
As James Foley is beheaded and rocket attacks resume on Israel:
For years, Israel has been trying to convince the West that it is the first line of defense against radical Islam, and that if Muslim extremists are not checked in their home territory, they might sooner or later export their brutality.
These arguments were usually dismissed, with the UK media taking a leading role in condemning Israel whenever it was forced to defend itself against the aggression of Hizbollah, Hamas or Islamic Jihad.
Suddenly, a video clip surfaces with American journalist James Foley on his knees, and the masked man who is soon going to behead him delivering a speech in a British accent.
Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond should realise that when this man and his friends come back from their tour of the Middle East, they are going to be slicing throats on UK streets as well.
Hamas is no different from ISIS, neither in its Islamist zeal, nor in its tactics. Last week, Israeli author Amos Oz told the German radio station Deutsche Welle: “This morning I read very carefully the charter of Hamas. It says that the prophet commands every Muslim to kill every Jew everywhere in the world.”
Some of us had read that charter and recognised the fanatical nature of Hamas long ago.
Hamas's tactics of intimidating its enemies are similar to those of ISIS. Forget about indiscriminately shelling innocent Israeli civilians; in line with poor James Foley, think only about one Fatah police officer named Muhammad Al-Swerki. When Hamas took over from Fatah in Gaza in June 2007, its militants tied him up and threw him from the roof of the 18th floor of Al Ghefari tower. They were more merciful to his comrades; they only shot them in the knees.
There is, however, a significant difference between ISIS and Hamas. ISIS is roaming around the Middle East, trying to destroy existing nation-states and to create a borderless Sunni caliphate instead. This is a formidable, perhaps unrealistic, goal. Even if these fanatics succeed in crushing Iraq and Syria, they will still have to face the formidable Shiite power, Iran.
Hamas, on the other hand, has already conquered a small and well defined stronghold, Gaza, and has been ruling it for seven years. Paradoxically, however, this victory only taught Hamas the limits of its power. Crushed between Egypt and Israel, losing outside support and having to feed 1.8 million people, it came to the conclusion that the task was probably beyond its capabilities.
Therefore, two years ago, Hamas leaders were willing partially to surrender their power and accept the hegemony of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, whose policemen they had killed seven years ago.
Speaking at the Jerusalem Press Club this week, Professor Menachem Klein of Bar Ilan University, a world expert on Hamas, observed that reality had forced its leaders to drift away from their original dogmatism and, without ever being willing to sign a peace with Israel, they have been compelled to accept Israel as an accomplished fact.
Prof Klein lamented the fact that by resisting the Palestinian move for Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, Israel had not been attentive enough to the pragmatism of the political wing of Hamas, and instead strengthened its military wing by being lured into fighting it.
This is all spilt milk now but it does not mean that we should not seize the opportunities Operation Protective Edge has created. The military wing of Hamas has been badly beaten. When the guns fall silent, the need to alleviate the living conditions of the Gazans will become even more pressing.
In a new power structure, however, in which Hamas's ability to harass Israel is crippled; a Fatah government is moving in; moderate Arab forces are playing a greater role; and money going to reconstruction instead of corruption, the Gaza problem might present more opportunities than risks.
Will Hamas leaders one day become lovers of Zion? Never. But will they reluctantly be coerced into a situation where they will have to leave Israel alone? I think that this is possible.
Uri Dromi is Director General of the Jerusalem Press Club.