How far will terrorists go to cloak themselves in legitimacy? Last week’s action in the Gaza Strip, now governed by the terrorist network Hamas, is a good example.
Hamas’ attack against the Jund Ansar Allah (JAA, “The Soldiers or the Partisans of Allah”), a jihadist group inside Gaza, was intended to provide the Palestinian Islamist organization a pass to become a “mainstream” movement, acceptable internationally as a partner in peace negotiations with Israel.
This is another murky development in the world of jihadism, where the biggest brothers in holy war devoured the little ones in a race between who can achieve final victory against the kuffar (infidels). In Gaza, these intrajihadist slaughterfests are more important because the “Palestine cause” is so central to the global Islamist political narrative.
JAA seemed a perfect candidate for eradication in the name of legitimacy. It was self-declared in November 2008 as the ultimate Salafi jihadist force of Palestine. After many previous attempts by al-Qaida-inspired factions, Jund Ansar Allah (JAA) led by Abel Latif Mussa (aka Abu al Nour al Maqdissi) seized the control of a local mosque and segments of a neighborhood and launched a couple attacks against Israel in early 2009. The JAA issued many declarations calling for “real jihad,” ending negotiations with Fatah, the international community, and opposing any type of elections and constitutional structure in Gaza other than pure Shariah.
Hundreds of already indoctrinated youth joined the JAA and formed the nucleus of a jihadi milita. Its ranks were growing at an alarming rate for Hamas, which had to squash them before it became a competitive organization. The JAA was on its way to devouring Hamas using the same doctrines upon which Hamas was founded, grew, and used to overthrow Fatah from Gaza.
After a few incidents, Hamas forces overwhelmed the headquarters of JAA, killing dozens of militants.
The fighting took its toll on both groups. Unverified reports said Abu Jibril Shemali, commander of Izzedine al Qassam Brigades (Hamas’ SS-like force) and Abu Abdallah al Suri, JAA’s military commander were both killed in the clashes. The founder of the Jund Ansar Allah Abdel Latif Moussa was killed during the explosion of one of his suicide bombers as he targeted advancing Hamas fighters.
By now, the Jund (JAA) has been crushed, its Mosque seized, and its survivors pursued.
But what are lessons we need to learn from this pool of piranhas, where big jihadi fish eat little jihadi fish? According to many commentators on al-Jazeera, Hamas chose to stop the Jund as a maneuver to lure the West in general — Great Britain and the United States in particular — into “engaging” the organization, lifting its name from terror lists and adding it to the peace process between the Palestinians and Israel. Hamas spokespersons rushed to say, “we too are fighting the extremists, the terrorists as you are fighting them and pursuing al-Qaida,” which resonates greatly in Western ears, especially with the Obama administration and the Brown government: Soon enough sympathizing journalists, apologist academics, and even diplomats and envoys will be citing the “glorious” deeds of Hamas as evidence of fight “against terrorism.”
The U.S. narrative lately has been underlining that there is no war against “global jihadsim” but a “war against al-Qaida” only. So those in the business of jihad, including Hamas, Hezbollah, and a plethora of other groups, can make their credentials known to the West by slapping some local, little al-Qaida boys, and claiming a green card to the world of “accepted jihadists.”
Two summers ago, the Syrian regime and, to an extent, Hezbollah tried to come up with a similar model: Damascus released a copycat group in northern Lebanon, Fatah al Islam, before it claimed it beheaded the organization few months later, suggesting to Washington that Bashar can also kill al-Qaida crowds. Was there a link between Hamas and the Jund it just sacrificed to enhance its public standing? It appears so. First, the constituents of the Jund were part of the larger indoctrinated pools of jihadi fighters created by Hamas. Secondly, Hamas tolerated the presence of these ultra-jihadists in their midst for a reason. They were fostered and grown so that they could be used tactically: either by blaming them for wild rocket launching or to crush them and cash in. Comparatively, Hamas couldn’t “tolerate” Fatah.
By June 2007 the followers of Mahmoud Abbas were massacred in the enclave, because they were credible partners in a potential peace process and real competitors. Ghazi Hamad, a Hamas spokesperson told al-Jazeera English that his organization was always dialoguing with the “jund.” Which means it had relationship with them even though Hamas was the only dominant force in Gaza. There had to be a reason for this “tolerance” before Hamad admitted that it stopped “tolerating.” The jihadist regime in Gaza fed the little jihadists and allowed them to grow until the time of the sacrifice came. This brings us back to review the current Western redefinition of the so-called war on terror and the decision by the Obama and Brown administrations to let go of the counter-jihadist narrative hoping, as they said, to drive a wedge between the so-called “good jihadists” and the “extremists.” Hamas quickly understood the message and delivered the goods promptly, hoping they will be reclassified as “good Js.” But Hamas needs also to cater to its own Gaza indoctrinated constituencies, which were made to believe for decades that “jihad fi Sabeel Allah” is the only way.
Tragicomically, Hamas was trapped by a smart question by an al-Jazeera English anchor who was pressing its spokesperson to show the difference between Hamas and the JAA. “Don’t you think that the people you just killed are more faithful to your constitution calling for the establishment of an Islamic emirate on all of Palestine than yourselves, who are in power now?
Ghazi Hamad rushed to answer by instincts, revealing too much perhaps: “These guys wants to establish the Caliphate immediately on any part of liberated land, they are irrational; they don’t understand how jihad works, we do.”
In my book “Future Jihad”, I have argued that the jihadists are of several strategic schools of thought: short term, medium term, and long term. The difference between Hamas and the JAA is not about good or bad jihad, as experts to Western governments are claiming. Not at all. It is a difference about when to trigger the missile, under whose orders, and within which framework of alliances.
The Jund wanted it all the time, and would launch anytime they could. Hamas wants a perfect kill, coordinated with its allies Hezbollah, Syria’s Baath, and Iran’s Pasdaran.
The jund doesn’t care what the infidels in Washington and London think. Hamas cares strategically how the allies of its immediate enemy, Israel, behave. It wants to be part of the widest regional alliance against the Jewish state, while the latter loses all its allies, before D-Day is unleashed.
Dr. Walid Phares is a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the author of “The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad”. Visit his Web site at www.walidphares.com.
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