Hamas: Uncontested in Gaza?
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Hamas: Uncontested in Gaza?

Nathan Thrall, Crisis Group’s Middle East Analyst, talks about radical Islam in Gaza, and the relation between Hamas, the Islamic movement in control of the strip, and radical Islamist groups, and the challenges they pose.

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In this podcast, Nathan Thrall talks about radical Islam in Gaza, and the relation between Hamas, the Islamic movement in control of the strip, and radical Islamist groups, and the challenges they pose. CRISIS GROUP

You can find below a transcript of this podcast.

Welcome to this podcast form the International Crisis Group. I am Samer Ibrahim Abu Rass. With me in the studio is Nathan Thrall, Crisis Group’s Middle East analyst, to speak about radical Islam in Gaza and the relation between Hamas, the Islamist movement in control of Gaza, and other more militant Islamic groups in the Strip. 

Nathan, is Hamas's reign in Gaza uncontested? 

No, Hamas’s rule is not uncontested. There are challengers to it: small groups of militant Islamists known as Salafi Jihadists who believe neither Hamas nor the Palestinian Authority are legitimate rulers. But these challengers pose a threat that is primarily ideological, not military. 

Why do they not pose a military challenge? 

First of all, because there are very few of them. They have had almost no real military achievements against Israel, and although they have launched attacks against civilians and symbols of western culture within Gaza, they could be crushed by Hamas fairly rapidly. Hamas is willing to crack down harshly on these groups when it feels it must, but it will pay and has paid a significant price for doing so. After Hamas violently confronted what was then the largest Salafi Jihadist group in Gaza, Jund Ansar Allah, in August 2009, it was criticized quite severely at home and abroad. 

Why do they pose an ideological threat? 

They are the only groups that can seriously question Hamas’s Islamic credentials, arguing that it has failed to uphold Islamic law, that it has participated in elections that the Salafists believe are a form of heresy, and that it has compromised its principals by engaging in ceasefires with Israel. Now that Hamas has agreed to form a unity government with Fatah, the argument made by Salafi Jihadists that Hamas is following in Fatah’s softening footsteps will likely gain more traction.  

What is fueling these groups? 

Many of them are former members of the military wings of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other established factions. They say they defected from these groups for three primary reasons: Hamas’s participation in elections, its failure to implement Islamic Law, and its intermittent upholding of ceasefires with Israel. 

How could such groups effect a possible future agreement or a truce with Israel? 

Though these groups are very small, they have the power, with a single rocket, to initiate a war. Hamas controls Gaza’s borders, frequently arresting rocket launching crews, many of which contain Salafi Jihadists. But as with all borders, this control is far from perfect, leaving a danger that a small group of rocket launchers could hit a major target such as an Israeli school, thereby precipitating a major escalation. I think this is the real danger posed by these groups.

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