Will ISIS have an impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
by Ramtanu Maitra on 20 Nov 2014 3 Comments

The Western powers’ years of thoughtless use of militant Islamists - funded by Sunni Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, among others, and with the tacit approval of Turkey - as foot-soldiers to unseat regimes the West considers “unacceptable” has given rise to a war-fit and well-equipped terrorist group, Islamic State of Iraq al-Sham (ISIS), or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in the deserts of the Levant, extending control over adjoining parts of Iraq and Syria.


Using much of the West-supplied weapons captured from weaker rebel groups engaged in unseating the Damascus regime, ISIS has now carved out a huge territory and is calling it the Islamic State Caliphate, headed by Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The territory that the group has gained control of is a nation-size tract stretching from the eastern edge of the Syrian city of  Aleppo to Fallujah in western Iraq - and now also includes the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. It is, in essence, larger than Great Britain and is stocked with more than 32,000 fighters whose numbers are growing by the day.


The spread and consolidation of ISIS has forced the regional Arab countries to send out SOS signals far and wide. Located not too far away is the self-proclaimed Jewish nation, Israel, whose unending conflict with the Palestinians has helped radicalize its enemies. Israel, however, has largely stayed on the sidelines of the war in Syria, where al-Assad’s forces were kept tied down in endless battles with various rebel groups trying to capture Damascus. However, Israel has occasionally responded to mortar fire that spilled over the border, usually unintentionally, and is believed to have carried out several airstrikes on weapons shipments thought to be bound for Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. The emergence of ISIS as an organized terrorist group with a large territory under its control raises the question of whether the group will be, or is already, planning to challenge the Israeli state militarily in the near future.


In fact, the rise of ISIS is no longer just a local menace in and around Arabia, where the group is now flexing its brutal muscles. It has, as well, sent a shiver of cold fear down the spines of countries located far from the region. A number of western countries, such as Britain, France, Germany and some other European nations that have a smattering of Muslims among their population, are gearing up to deal with the menace they expect to encounter sooner or later.


Europe’s reasons for such fear are seemingly quite real. Since 2011, when the West put its shoulders behind a campaign to unseat the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria by extending arms and funds to anyone who wanted to take on the Syrian military, more than a thousand Islamic zealots from Europe have made their way to Syria. They were subsequently armed, trained and allowed to commit savage brutalities, terrorizing the Syrian population to bring down the Assad regime. These western jihadis, now a fighting group imbued with the ISIS ideology, are nonetheless Europeans; and they may very well come home to wreak havoc, western leaders fear. In addition, the West is fearful that the ISIS terrorists will turn their guns toward the West’s wealthy Arab “friends,” who had earlier helped fund these terrorists to bring down the Assad regime.


ISIS Threats: Far and wide


With ISIS organizing militarily in the deserts of Syria and Iraq, one can hear the knees of the Arab monarchs shaking under their robes from a distance. The Caliphate set up by ISIS has made clear its intent to uproot the Arab monarchies and sheikhdoms ruling the roost in the Gulf and Arabia.


Citing well-informed Saudi Arabian sources close to the country’s intelligence services, Trend News Agency pointed out recently that despite what many pundits believe, ISIS’ primary objective is to capture Saudi Arabia’s vast oilfields and the many billions of dollars they generate annually. If the Islamic State is successful in overthrowing the Saudi Royal family and taking control of the country and its infrastructure - particularly the oil industry, the Trend agency report said, they would be financially set forever (“Islamic State Eyes Saudi Oil Fields, Claude Salhani, Trend News Agency, Sept. 11).


Following US President Barack Obama’s speech on nationwide TV on Sept. 10, where he laid out a broad strategy to combat Islamic State militants who have taken over parts of Syria and Iraq, reports circulated stating that Saudi Arabia has agreed to host training camps for moderate Syrian rebels to counter ISIS. This surely reflects the depth of Saudi concern about the challenge ISIS has thrown up to the kingdom (“Saudi Arabia to Host Training Camps for Moderate Syrian Rebels,” Pakistan Tribune, Sept. 11).


It is to be noted that the threat that ISIS poses to Arabia does not come entirely from its military postures. It waives a flag that says it is committed to the rule of Allah, and will not permit the continuance of fiefdoms represented by the House of Saud, or the House of al-Thanis, or the House of al-Sabah, or the Hashemite Kingdom in Jordan, or the democratic formats exercised in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. ISIS wants to spread its caliphate throughout Arabia, removing all the wealthy Arab Sunni sheikhs and leaders of the Shi’a-led countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. The flag is surely a potent organizing weapon to bring in thousands of Muslim volunteers who live in the area and strongly resent the rule of the West-backed, self-aggrandizing rulers of Arabia.


In Washington, having presided over the reckless missions in Iraq and Syria in alliance with its trans-Atlantic partners in Europe that gelled the Islamist zealots and jihadis together to form ISIS, the Obama administration has now begun to feel the heat, too. Although there is little to support the view that ISIS poses a direct threat to the United States, Washington cannot afford to ignore the group, given the 9/11 attack on the United States in 2001 and the threats that ISIS poses to its Arabian “friends.” At the same time, on the other side of the Atlantic, deep fears are expressed on a daily basis by European leaders who have suddenly come to realize that the “evil” they created may now visit them, causing a storm of bloodletting to rip through peaceful Europe.


Under pressure, US President Barack Obama, the leader of the coalition that helped spawn this menace, went on nationwide TV on Sept. 10 to urge Americans to support an open-ended war against the so-called Islamic State. Obama made certain to distinguish his approach from his predecessor’s large-scale invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. He promised that there will be no American ground troops taking the fight to ISIS. “This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground,” Obama stated. He cited the smaller-scale conflicts in Yemen and Somalia, where US drone strikes and special operators have targeted extremists “for years” as the model he will follow.


In the subsequent days, Obama has ratcheted up his policy to counter the ISIS. On Sep 22, the ISIS headquarters in Raqqa in northern Syria, and other locations where the terrorist group has built up a considerable infrastructure, came under US airstrikes. It was reported that the US carried out those strikes with the direct involvement by fighter jets from the leading Sunni Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. It is also likely that a few American boots are already on ground claimed as their Caliphate by the ISIS.


Two days after ordering airstrikes on dozens of militant targets in Syria, addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on Sep 24, US President said “we will not succumb to threats, and we will demonstrate that the future belongs to those who build, not those who destroy.” “The brutality of the militants, forces us to look into the heart of darkness,” he added.  He also urged the world to join the United States “in this effort” and   the ISIS members to “leave the battlefield while they can”.


The Origin of ISIS


One can be certain that it was no single incident, or event, that gave rise to ISIS. In the Middle East, as well in the western countries, most analysts are sectarian by nature. Some blame the rise of the Shi’a power in Iraq and Iran’s help to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon for the emergence of ISIS; many others point to the Saudi-Qatari-Kuwaiti Sunni Arab monarchies. Backed by the western powers, they funded and armed the Salafi-Wahhabi Sunnis to tear down the Syrian regime that now make up the core of ISIS. Others assert that the post-9/11 reckless military policies of the United States, Britain and France in the region gave birth to the ISIS phenomenon. While all these analyses are parts of the whole, they do not add up to the whole.


ISIS was not created in a vacuum. In an article in the Sept. 4 New Statesman, “From Bin Laden to ISIS: Why the Roots of Jihadi Ideology Run Deep in Britain,” Shiraz Maher, a senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London and at Johns Hopkins University, traces its roots. The group is, in fact, the evolved version of al-Qaeda, which emerged in the 1990s under the leadership of Osama bin Laden. What ISIS represents today is precisely what bin Laden always envisioned. Bin Laden’s thesis on the failure of the Islamist project was that western interference in the Middle East prevented the rise of Islamic governments. Weaken the West’s sphere of influence, he argued, and a caliphate would emerge.


Shortly after the Afghan mujahedin’s unlikely victory over the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and King Fahd turned to the United States to defend Saudi Arabia against his Ba’athist neighbour. Bin Laden was left embittered by the experience because the House of Saud dashed his hopes of using the mujahedin to expel Saddam from Kuwait.


Meanwhile, those Islamic fighters who fought in Afghanistan against the invading Red Army at the behest of the West and the Saudis, in particular, began to congregate in Sudan under the patronage of the chairman of the ruling party, Hassan al-Turabi, who had formed a Sunni Islamist movement.


The arrival of US troops in the Arabian Peninsula to defend Saudi Arabia from Saddam Hussein - home to Islam’s most holy sites and regarded as sacred soil by Islamists - assaulted bin Laden’s imagination. And this is when the gear shift occurred, redirecting the focus of jihadist anger from the metropolis to the periphery. Maher cites an interview with the London-based Arabic-language newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi in 1996 in which Bin Laden explains: “We believe that the US government committed the biggest mistake when it entered a peninsula which no non-Muslim nation has ever entered for 14 centuries … [America’s] entry was arbitrary and a reckless action. They have entered into a confrontation with a nation whose population is one billion Muslims.”


Subsequently, Osama bin Laden established the Committee for Advice and Reform. This organization had registered offices in Holborn, London, and was led by another veteran of the Afghan mujahedin campaign, Khaled al-Fawwaz, who acted as bin Laden’s representative in London. Between 1994 and 1995, bin Laden used his London address to send a total of 14 letters to the Saudi government, all of them urging an end to co-operation with the United States. What he wanted instead was a more isolationist and self-assured form of Islam - a purer interpretation of sharia law, an end to western economic influence and a more Muslim-centered foreign policy.


Another letter from bin Laden to King Fahd, quoted by Maher, explains: “It is not reasonable to keep silent about the transformation of our nation into an American protectorate which is violated by the soldiers of the Cross with their impure feet in order to protect your crumbling throne and preserve oilfields in the kingdom.” He continues: “Is it not right for the [Islamic] nation to wonder about whom is behind instability and turbulence in the country? Is it the system that delivered the country into a state of chronic military debilitation in order to justify bringing the Jewish and Christian forces to defile the holy lands? Or is it the people who call for the preparation of the nation, arming it to be strong enough to take matters into its hands, protecting its honor and religion, defending its holy sites, its land and dignity?”


The 9/11 attack on the United States under Osama bin Laden’s guidance was not simply an act of revenge, but an act that had its roots in bin Laden’s belief that confronting America directly would undermine and weaken Arab regimes back home, and pave the way for his version of Islam to gain control of the countries of Arabia.


Following the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, al-Qaeda, under the ground-level leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, launched a violent campaign against those who had supported “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” which had claimed 4,486 American lives and a further 318 from allied forces. The civilian death toll was much higher. Maher points out that nowhere was the policy of direct confrontation with the United States more apparent than in Iraq. Led by al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) launched a deliberately brutalizing campaign aimed at shocking the West into ever greater reticence about intervention. The objective was to scare the West by the level of brutality and make them draw back from Arabia. This was very much along the lines of action that bin Laden would endorse.


However, according to Maher, by 2005 Zarqawi’s brutal campaign across Iraq had begun to alienate much of the regional support al-Qaeda previously enjoyed. This worried the central leadership. With bin Laden in hiding, his number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, wrote to Zarqawi, chastising him for two things in particular: executing hostages and pursuing a bloody, sectarian conflict with the Shi’as. “Many of your Muslim admirers among the common folk are wondering about your attacks,” he wrote. “Don’t lose sight of the target.” Zarqawi rebuked Zawahiri, insisting that he was on the ground and therefore best placed to decide what strategy the group should pursue. This prompted a lasting shift in the internal dynamics of the jihad movement - proximity now confers legitimacy.


That precedent directly fuelled the rise of ISIS as we know it today. Following Zarqawi’s death in 2006, AQI drifted into greater autonomy, renaming itself the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) that year. Although still nominally tied to al-Qaeda, ISI was a largely independent group. Relations finally unraveled with the onset of the Syrian civil war. Syrian fighters from ISI, led by Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani, moved back into the country and established Jabhat al-Nusrah. They were supposed to serve as al-Qaeda’s official representatives on the ground, though ISI could not resist direct involvement.


Enters Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: With an opaque background, this Sunni Iraqi preacher, whose followers claim he is a direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad, was captured by American forces in 2005 and had spent the next four years a prisoner in the Bucca Camp in southern Iraq.


It is also there, reports Al-Monitor, that he possibly met and trained with key al-Qaeda fighters. While it not clear whether all that turned al-Baghdadi a true leader, or an individual willing to be a mere figurehead, it was under his watch that the fighters moved into Syria. The group was rebranded as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and al Baghdadi ordered Jabhat al-Nusrah to disband. Zawahiri was furious. He insisted that al-Baghdadi limit his ambitions to Iraq and leave the Syrian campaign to Jawlani. It was not only the al-Qaeda leader who suggested this. As Maher points out, notable jihadist ideologues from around the world echoed these sentiments, including Abu Qatada, the radical Muslim preacher, who was deported from London back to Jordan last year and  recently has been found “innocent” of the charges by the Jordanian judiciary and released.


In Maher’s view, it is al-Qaeda and its ideologues - not ISIS - that betrayed the true spirit of what Osama bin Laden always envisioned. ISIS is the rightful heir to bin Laden’s legacy, exploiting the power vacuum in the Levant to create an Islamic state. In many ways, the so-called Islamic State has now completely surpassed al-Qaeda. Whereas al-Qaeda is simply a terrorist organization committed to confronting the West violently, ISIS has grander ambitions. Once a terrorist group, it has now morphed into a sophisticated insurgency and self-declared state.


While Maher is on the mark in identifying the roots of ISIS, a few other ingredients also played a role in its formation and rise. The Iraq War toppled Saddam, destabilized the country and led to a wave of sectarian bloodshed. It also made Iraq a safe haven and recruiting ground for al Qaeda affiliates. AQI, ISIS’ forerunner, was founded in April 2004. The organization conducted brutal attacks on Shi’a civilians and mosques in hopes of sparking a broader sectarian conflict. Iran naturally supported Shi’a militias, who fought extremists like AQI, both to expand its influence in Iraq and protect its Shi’a comrades. Iran cultivated ties with Iraq’s al-Maliki government, as well. Over the long term, Iran tried to seize the opportunity to turn Iraq from a strategic counterweight into a strategic ally. The US didn’t do much to stop it (“Iran Didn’t Create ISIS; We Did,” Ben Reynolds, The Diplomat, Aug. 31).


In addition, the funding and arming of the Syrian rebels, including Islamist jihadists imbued with the Salafi-Wahhabi ideology that identifies Shi’as and practitioners of other religions as Kafirs who must be eliminated to purify Islam, by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, the flag-bearers of the Salafi-Wahhabi version of Islam, were very important ingredients in making ISIS what it is today. In the words of Ben Reynolds: “In 2011 the Assad regime violently suppressed peaceful pro-democracy protests. This civil society movement has rapidly transformed into an armed uprising against the Syrian government. Why? In the early stages of the war, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey began funneling arms to opposition forces, seeing an opportunity to destabilize a key ally of Iran and Hezbollah (in Lebanon), their geopolitical foes. As the civil war deepened, extremist groups joined the fight against what they saw as an odious secular regime. They also became the beneficiaries of large amounts of arms and funding from America’s regional allies.”


The ISIS Flag and Its Significance


According to observers, the ISIS flag speaks for itself. Unlike the green flag of the Hamas or the yellow flag of the Hezbollah, it is black with the words “La ‘ilaha ‘illa-llah” - “There is no God but God” - emblazoned across the top in white in a somewhat coarse, handwritten Arabic script. It’s a very different kind of typeface from the more elaborate calligraphy on the Saudi flag, for example, which also includes this same shahada, or Islamic statement of faith. Even more rough around the edges is the white circle in the middle of the ISIS flag. Inside it are three words: “God’s Messenger Mohammed.” The word order is noteworthy, given that the second part of the shahada is “and Mohammed is God’s messenger.”


The circle and those words are a copy of what is known as the Seal of Mohammed, which the prophet himself is believed to have used in his lifetime to seal letters he wrote to foreign leaders, asking them to join him. A version of the seal purported to belong to Othman (Othman Ibn Affan, the third Caliph), one of Mohammed’s companions, is now permanently on display at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. According to critics of ISIS, use of the seal is intended to add a veneer of historical authenticity to the group’s mission.


“The power of the flag comes from the fact that the word ‘Allah’ is on it. The word itself is seen as sacred by Muslims and, hence, it becomes sacrilegious to desecrate the flag,” Hayder al-hoei, an associate fellow of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House in London, explains to Time magazine. “The most important thing is the color. This raya, the solid blank flag, was the Prophet Mohammed’s war banner,” he adds. “It is a very weird and awkward situation for Muslims because ISIS is an evil terrorist organization with an actually holy flag” (“What the ISIS Flag Says About the Militant Group,” Ilene Prusher, Time, Sept. 9).


In other words, the black and white flag’s meaning is further complicated by the fact that ISIS did not create the image it bears. Rather, it appropriated the flag from other jihad-oriented groups, says Magnus Ranstorp, an expert on Islamic fundamentalist movements and the Research Director of the Centre for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defense College. AQI, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP, active in Yemen and Saudi Arabia) and the al-Shabab group in Somalia have all used the same flag, Ranstorp says.


Is Israel on ISIS’ Immediate Agenda?


Ensconced between the now-turbulent Levant and the Maghreb is Israel, a country that has been battling militants for decades to maintain control over the territory it seized from the Palestinians and occupied over the years. Israel has succeeded in maintaining this control with direct help from the western powers, and some indirect help from some of the West’s “friends” in the region. Now, however, all those western powers and their “friends” are in disarray. What does this situation entail for Israel? Will it mean more trouble for Israel in the coming days, dished out by ISIS terrorists who are larger in number and much better equipped than the militant Palestinians of Hamas or the Islamic Jihad? If so, will Israel join the West’s Arab and other friends to fend off the ISIS threat?


Citing an unnamed Western diplomat, The Jerusalem Post reported that Israel has provided satellite imagery and other intelligence in support of the US-led aerial campaign against ISIS  (“Israel Provides Satellite Imagery, Other Intelligence for US-led Campaign Against ISIS,” The Jerusalem Post, Sept. 9).


Notwithstanding the intelligence Israel may provide to ISIS’ enemies, it is evident that the immediate crisis the terrorist group faces does not emanate from Israel in any direct way. Besides ensuring its survival against a likely military attack by the western nations, ISIS will remain busy forging utilitarian alliances with tribal leaders in Syria and Iraq to increase its strength. In Syria, for instance, it has offered tribal leaders in Deir al-Zour a share of the income generated by the oil fields it conquered in that region. It is likely that ISIS’ next objective will be to capture and secure the most important country in the Muslim world: Saudi Arabia. If the battle for Syria and Iraq attracted thousands of young Muslims, the battle for control of Islam’s two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, is very likely to attract many more fighters into the ranks of the so-called Islamic State.


What that means is that Israel is not in ISIS’ cross-hairs as of now. In response to questions that appeared on several Internet sites as to why ISIS wasn’t fighting Israel instead of killing Muslims in Iraq and Syria, the organization responded on its Twitter account: “We haven’t given orders to kill the Israelis and the Jews. The war against the nearer enemy, those who rebel against the faith, is more important. Allah commands us in the Koran to fight the hypocrites, because they are much more dangerous than those who are fundamentally heretics.”


As proof, the organization cited the first caliph, Abu Bakr, who began by fighting those who rebelled against the faith, as well as Saladin, who fought the Shi’ites in Egypt before conquering Jerusalem. The Islamic State’s target bank contains a long list of Arab leaders - including the Saudi and Jordanian kings, the prime minister of Iraq, the president of Egypt and even the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood - before it gets to the Jews and Israel (“Why the Islamic State Isn’t in Any Rush to Attack Israel,” Zvi Bar’el, Haaretz, July 15).


ISIS is decidedly different from other entities at least in one important respect - it does not have a regional or great-power ally. The political vacuums that have opened up in the region are the battlefields of the new Middle East cold war. Iran and Saudi Arabia primarily, but other regional powers such as Turkey, Qatar, the UAE and Egypt, support local groups in these domestic political fights and civil wars to increase their own power, balance against their rivals and advance their ideological agendas. Iran backs Hezbollah and various Iraqi Shi’a militias, as well as the government of Bashar al-Assad and the Shi’a-led government in Baghdad. The Saudis support both more secular and Salafi groups in Syria fighting Assad, while Turkey and Qatar have supported Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups in Syria. Qatar was the major financial supporter of the overthrown Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt; Saudi Arabia and the UAE support the El-Sisi government in Egypt that pushed the Brothers out of power. In other words, ISIS does not fit it into the geopolitical map of the new Middle East cold war.


Hamas and ISIS


While it is likely that ISIS has neither the ability nor the will to attack Israel, it may have begun to influence Hamas. Speaking at a counterinsurgency conference on Sept. 8, Israeli Police Commander Inspector General Yohanan Danino said police and domestic security agencies have detected that young Muslim men, particularly in Bedouin tribes, were being wooed by ISIS to fight in Iraq and Syria. “The goal is to not allow the group and its representatives to penetrate Israel,” Danino said (“Israel Reports ISIL Wooing Its Arab Population,” WorldTribune.com, Sept. 9).


In a July 4 Web post, headlined “ISIS Already in Gaza Strip,” Khaled Abu Toameh of the Gatestone Institute (a think tank headed by former US ambassador to the United Nations and arch neo-con, John Bolton) reports that Hamas prevented local journalists from covering an ISIS rally in the Gaza Strip in June as part of its effort to deny the existence of ISIS in the Gaza Strip. He also states that the Palestinian Authority and Israeli security sources are convinced that followers of ISIS in the Gaza Strip are responsible for some of the recent rocket attacks on Israel.


Hamas seems to be losing control over the dozens of terror cells belonging to ISIS and other jihadi groups, Toameh notes. However, Eyad al-Bazam, spokesman for the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Interior, is quoted denying reports published in an Egyptian paper that ISIS terrorists had infiltrated into Egypt through tunnels along the border, describing such reports as “lies and fabrications” and adding that they are part of a campaign to “distort the image of the Gaza Strip” and that “there is no presence of ISIS in the Gaza Strip” (“ISIS Already in Gaza Strip,” Khaled Abu Toameh, The Gatestone Institute, July 4).


Eyad al-Bazam’s assertion that there is no presence of ISIS in the Gaza Strip was also echoed by The Jerusalem Post in an editorial on Sept. 4: “ISIS has no direct connections with Hamas. Indeed, ISIS is a globalized movement that lacks deep roots in any particular society and has no nationalist project” (“Hamas and ISIS,” Editorial, The Jerusalem Post, Sept. 4).


But Israeli analysts point out that there are plenty of reasons to worry about ISIS. Following the beheading of the journalist with Israeli citizenship, Steven Sotloff, Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon declared for the first time that there are “illegal associations” between Hamas and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades (widely acknowledged to have a strong affiliation to al-Qaeda). “Signing the declaration enables taking legal actions against the assemblies, resource fund-raising and additional activities of these organizations or of members of them,” the minister’s message read. “Signing the document was performed after the Shin Bet’s recommendation. Shin Bet is the Israeli Security Agency (“Israel Acts Against ISIS for the First Time,” Yael Klein, Jerusalem Online, Sept. 3).


In addition, some observers point to similarities between Hamas and ISIS that cause more worries in Israel. They point out that both groups want to eliminate an entire group of people. In addition to engaging in ongoing conflict with Shi’a Muslims, ISIS has seized several towns in Iraq, forcing thousands of religious minorities to flee their homes after the group announced it would eliminate the entire Yazidi religious minority in the northern Iraq town of Sinjar and seized the largest Christian town of Qaraqosh.


The Hamas charter states: “The Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas] aspires to the realization of Allah’s promise, no matter how long that should take. The Prophet, Allah blesses him and grants him salvation, has said: ‘The Day of Judgment will not come until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jews will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say ‘O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’” This is as much a call for genocide as ISIS’ systematic killing off of the Yazidi people (“What Is the Difference Between ISIS and Hamas?” Alessandria Masi, International Business Times, Aug. 8).


Still, there are differences, which often get papered over for political reasons. For instance, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has issued a new slogan: “Hamas is ISIS, ISIS is Hamas.” Larry Derfner, a columnist and feature writer for The Jerusalem Post, says Netanyahu gets away with that because people are afraid that if they challenge this idiotic slogan, they will be accused of defending Hamas. “Anybody who isn’t a shill for Israel can see through Netanyahu’s new slogan. It is such a crude attempt to brainwash people, to put the most horrifying image in their minds and associate it with Gaza, thereby cleansing Israel of those images of Gaza’s agony,” Derfner says. “Like he’s been doing his whole career, Netanyahu is insulting people’s intelligence, treating them like children, selling them the war with a short little singsong slogan they can all remember” (“No, Hamas Isn’t ISIS, ISIS Isn’t Hamas,” Larry Derfner, + 972 magazine, Aug. 24).


Alessandria Masi, in his article, also cites some of these differences. To begin with, he says, Hamas is actually an elected government. Hamas is one of the two major political parties of Gaza, its counterpart being Fatah, currently the leader of the Palestinian Authority. In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian legislative election, despite the United States having deemed it a terrorist organization in 1997. A year later, Fatah leaders led a coup against Hamas and effectively split Palestine between the West Bank and Gaza. By contrast, ISIS is a mixed bag of jihadist groups that made Syria their home during the civil war.


Hamas finds allies in other foreign governments; the so-called Islamic State has very few friends in political power. The governments in Qatar, Turkey and Iran have all shared a special relationship with Hamas, which had been responsible for a large sum of their funding. While in a much better spot financially than Hamas, ISIS has no government support. The bulk of its money comes from private backers, extortion, smuggling and other types of crime, according to the Council on Foreign Relations (“What Is the Difference Between ISIS and Hamas?” Alessandria Masi, International Business Times, Aug. 8).


Further, Masi notes, ISIS wants to create a caliphate; Hamas wants to end what it calls the siege of the Gaza Strip. Hamas’ main demand in cease-fire negotiations is to end the occupation of the Gaza Strip. Its charter seeks to eliminate the state of Israel and take back the land of Palestine, though Hamas has no stated plan to invade other places and impose its regime. The same cannot be said for ISIS, whose major plan is to unite the borders of Iraq and the Levant and create an Islamic caliphate that would operate under sharia law. Currently, the Levant refers to Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Cyprus and parts of Turkey.


This article appeared in October 2014,Volume 17, Number 65 issue of Aakrosh 

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