Jihadists affiliated with the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) are carrying on the rocket war against Israeli civilians from where Hamas left off. Following several rocket attacks in the last several weeks for which the Islamic State has taken credit, rockets launched from Gaza Thursday night exploded in the Ashkelon area.
Israel is still holding Hamas responsible for the attacks as the governing authority in Gaza.
“The IDF understands that Hamas wants quiet and is making an effort to prevent the shooting, but the State of Israel still sees Hamas as responsible for what happens in Gaza,” said Sami Turgeman, head of IDF’s Southern Command.
The Israeli military responded with measured attacks on Hamas facilities, while at the same time trying to avoid setting off a wider war at this time. But Israel’s hand is being forced by the Islamic State, which is evidently working assiduously to supplant Hamas as the authoritative Islamic power in Gaza. The Gaza branch calls itself the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade. It is cooperating with another ISIS-affiliated group operating in the Sinai Peninsula, which calls itself Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis.
According to a June 8th report by Debkafile, “Islamic State operatives in the Gaza Strip have been helping themselves to Hamas rockets in recent weeks after furtively penetrating the factory teams operating the group’s production and assembly lines… The jihadis then secretly passed the stolen rockets to their squads for launching against Israel.”
On June 7thDebkafile noted in more general terms Hamas’s loss of control in Gaza in the face of Islamic State infiltration: “The terror infrastructure Hamas built over many years in Sinai has been taken over by ISIS, and its control of the Gaza Strip is slipping, as yet more radical and violent organizations eat away at its authority and seize control of the rocket offensive against Israel.”
Thus, even as Hamas remains committed to the destruction of Israel and is trying to re-build its arms stockpiles with Iran’s help, it is engaged simultaneously in its own battles with the Islamic State. Hamas has arrested some ISIS supporters and bulldozed a Sunni mosque believed to have been used by ISIS affiliated jihadists, while Hamas’s own facilities have come under attack by ISIS affiliated jihadists. Hamas also claimed in a message to Israeli authorities, routed through an Egyptian intermediary, that jihadists affiliated with the Islamic State were deliberately trying to spark a renewed war between Israel and Hamas.
The Islamic State is also trying to position itself to challenge Israel from the north. Israeli TV Channel 2 reported last week that the Islamic State is moving forces in the direction of the Golan Heights and the Israeli border.
Moreover, ISIS is developing an increasing presence within Israel itself. Recruits, influenced by ISIS’s slick social media promotions, are attracted to ISIS’s self-declared purer Islamic ideology. Hamas is apparently too “moderate” for these jihadists’ tastes.
"Dozens of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join insurgent groups." Israel's Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency said in a statement released last January 4th. Israel had announced that it managed to crack one Islamic State cell on its soil and arrested its alleged members. An Israeli security official described the cell as “just the tip of the iceberg.”
Last July, the Islamic State previewed its intentions in a statement that it issued regarding jihad against Israel:
As for the massacres taking place in Gaza against the Muslim men, women and children, then the Islamic State will do everything within its means to continue striking down every apostate who stands as an obstacle on its paths towards Palestine. It is only [a] matter of time and patience before it (Islamic State) reaches Palestine to fight the barbaric Jews and kill those of them hiding behind the gharqad trees – the trees of the Jews.
Arutz Sheva reported that a spokesperson for the Islamic State, Nidal Nuseiri, urged patience as the Islamic State wanted first to consolidate its control over Arab Muslim lands, but “reaffirmed that conquering ‘Bayt el-Maqdis’ (Jerusalem) and destroying the State of Israel is central to the group's jihad." Thanks to President Obama’s dithering, the Islamic State is well on its way to achieving such consolidation in Iraq and Syria, while spreading to Libya.
At least three questions arise from the emergence of ISIS as a direct threat to Israel. Will Israeli military and security forces, either on their own or in concert with Jordan and Egypt, take on ISIS directly, including going after ISIS’s command and control centers with far more firepower than the Obama administration has used thus far?
To what extent will Israel be willing to outsource military operations against ISIS affiliates in Gaza to Hamas, much as it has outsourced some security operations to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank? Major-General Turgeman tried to cast Hamas as the lesser of two evils, since, he claimed, "Israel and Hamas have shared interests, including in the current situation, which is quiet and calm and growth and prosperity." Hamas “does not want global jihad,” he added. This is a truly incredible assertion coming from an Israeli military leader about a group willing to put its own citizens and their homes in harm’s way in order to launch their own thousands of rockets against Israel. What happened to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s concise description of Hamas and the Islamic State as “branches of the same poisonous tree?” This just further demonstrates how completely insane the Middle East has become.
Finally, how successful will Iran be in exploiting the chaotic situation in Gaza, positioning itself as it has in Iraq as an enemy of ISIS, while further bolstering Hamas to Israel’s detriment?
All this is happening while the Obama administration, by the president’s own admission, has no clear strategy to defeat ISIS. At the same time, President Obama’s “strategy” to deal with Iran is to make concession after concession in order to secure any nuclear deal he can, including the possibility of providing Iran with relief from sanctions that were imposed for non-nuclear related reasons such as Iran’s support for terrorist activities.
In short, Israel is facing Iran-backed Hamas from the south, Iran-backed Hezbollah from the north, and an expanding Islamic State presence north and south of Israel and within Israel itself. And that is before Iran gets its hands on a nuclear bomb and the Islamic State has enough radioactive material to build its own weapons of mass destruction.
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