Gaza’s Hamas terrorist organization is reorganizing its international structure, this time because Gulf neighbors Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing Doha of supporting terror.
A large number of the group’s international officials were based in Qatar, after having left Damascus as Syria’s raging civil war was getting under way. A number of its officials based in Turkey were also forced to leave several years ago, and at that time made their way to Qatar, where they were welcomed by the Doha government.
But the pressure leveraged against Qatar has forced the government to expel Hamas – or at least most of its members – saying its generous hand was clenched due to “external pressure.”
This time, Hamas has decided to scatter its officials among several countries, according to a number international media. The targeted host countries were expected to include Lebanon and Algeria — both of whom have already accepted Hamas operatives — and also Malaysia, which has played host to both Hamas and Hezbollah in the past, but which does not yet appear to be hosting any official office of the Gaza-based group thus far.
Among the terrorist officials who were redirected to Lebanon, is Saleh al-Arouri, a founder of the Hamas military wing, Izz a-Din al-Qassam and a pivotal player who continues to plan terror attacks against Israel. Arouri masterminded the abduction and murder of three Israeli yeshiva teens in Gush Etzion three years ago – an attack that ignited Israel’s 2014 summer war with Hamas, known as Operation Protective Edge.
Arouri is now involved in trying to boost ties between Hamas and Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist organization based in Lebanon, according to a Hebrew-language statement issued by Israel’s Defense Ministry last month.
The senior Hamas operative is hoping to promote a relationship between the two terrorist organizations “under an Iranian umbrella, with the assistance of the Revolutionary Guards and [their leader] Qassem Soleimani,” Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman warned during a meeting with visiting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley.
An official Hamas representative office opened in Algeria last August (2016), according to a report written in September 2016 by Adnan Abu Amer in the Palestine Pulse edition of Al-Monitor. Hamas political bureau deputy chairman Mousa Abu Marzouk made the announcement on August 29 during an interview on Algerian TV channel El Bilad, according to the report which added that Mohammed Othman was appointed supervisor of the office affairs. At the time, Hamas also had representative offices in Turkey, Qatar and Iran, according to Al-Monitor.
Relations between Hamas and Algeria have been warm for years: The Algerian Hospital was built in 2010 in Gaza by the Algerian Muslim Scholars NGO, and three years later, Hamas named a high school for Algeria’s Islamist Movement of Society for Peace, formed by the same Muslim Brotherhood that spawned Hamas.
So why the game by the Algerian government now, pretending to “think over” a request by the Hamas echelon to establish an official base there, as reported by the London-based A-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper?
The paper reported this week that Hamas asked to place an official base in the country, but “has yet to receive a response” to its request, and is hoping to station spokesperson Sami Abu Zukhri there. But as is obvious from the Al-Monitor, that report is a red herring either by the Algerian government, or by the paper’s publisher.
Former Gaza de facto Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, now the Hamas politburo chief, is to remain in the enclave according to the report. In fact, Haniyeh has in the past had family members who have received advanced medical treatment in Israel; there may be deeper reasons for him remaining in Gaza than those discussed on the political stage. Former politburo chief Khaled Mesha’al is still in Doha, but his future is unclear, especially since he no longer holds an official position. Mesha’al still wields an enormous amount of power, both within Hamas and abroad.
What is clear, however, is that just as Al Qaeda and Islamic State became more powerful when they were forced to disperse, so too that may be the case with Hamas, which already has begun to emulate its Lebanese Shi’ite brother, Hezbollah, which has long operated a lucrative — and deadly — international network.