by Ryan Mauro
We assess the significance of this week's deadly attacks against Egyptian security forces by ISIS and ask how this could impact on Hamas in Gaza.
ISIS has killed at least 17 Egyptian security personnel (13 soldiers and 4 police officers) and injured 30 in coordinated attacks that reflect increasing sophistication. The Egyptian military said 70 Islamist terrorists participated and five checkpoints were assaulted. ISIS claims it struck 15 sites all at once.
The Egyptian government immediately accused the Muslim Brotherhood of involvement as it has in the past. Egypt also claims Hamas, the Brotherhood's Palestinian wing, is secretly supporting ISIS operations in the Sinai Peninsula. It has even threatened to attack Hamas in Gaza in response.
The Egyptian claims are questionable because of the open animosity between the two groups and ISIS' new video pledging to conquer the Gaza Strip, but the Israeli military confirmed the links after Wednesday's attacks. It identified two senior Hamas officials who advise ISIS and covertly arrange for hospital visits in Gaza for its injured operatives.
The Brotherhood denies involvement and its website has a statement urging Egyptians to reject violence, but the group's double-talk is well-documented. It is simply false that the Brotherhood is completely non-violent and Brotherhood media outlets explicitly call for violence like that perpetrated by ISIS this week.
However, there does appear to be a division within the Brotherhood. Youth leaders and elements outside the country are advocating violent jihad, while the older generation repeatedly reaffirms the group's non-violent stance in Egypt. It's possible this is all a calculated deception. It's also possible the rift is real and a faction would be willing to support ISIS against a common enemy.
One Brotherhood official, Mohamed Gaber, said it "seeks to use all expertise inside and outside the Brotherhood to achieve its goals at this stage," referring to toppling the Egyptian government.
The Egyptian government's crackdown on the Brotherhood makes it tempting for Hamas to support ISIS operations in the Sinai. Hamas may prefer a situation where its southern border is a battlefield between ISIS and Egyptian forces instead of a base for either. Plus, the Brotherhood uses every death as proof that Egypt's crackdown is counter-productive and should end.
There are three possibilities: Claims of Hamas/Brotherhood links to ISIS in Sinai are simply wrong; the two groups simultaneously collaborate and fight with each other depending on circumstances; or there are elements within Hamas/Brotherhood that work independently with ISIS against the wishes of the leadership.
Whatever the truth is, the attacks in the Sinai show the threat to Hamas should be taken seriously.
A November 2014 poll found that the Palestinians are the most sympathetic population to ISIS in the Arab world. Only 4% view ISIS positively but if you include those who view it somewhat positively, it grows to nearly one-quarter of the population. However, another poll found that only 3% of Palestinians view ISIS' gains positively and 88% view it negatively.
ISIS could capitalize on widespread dissatisfaction with Hamas and the situation in Gaza. ISIS' message that Gaza is in bad shape because Hamas is not sufficiently implementing Sharia could resonate with Islamists who are struggling to understand why Hamas' rule has not been blessed by Allah. The video also slams Hamas for being too soft on Israel.
Should a full-blown war between Hamas and ISIS break out that makes Gaza look like Syria, the West mustn't embrace Hamas as the better alternative. The minute differences between them should not be exaggerated out of a desire for a side to pick. They are two manifestations of the same enemy.
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