December 15, 2015 Hamas has long sought to stymie Egyptian control over the peninsula and keep its weapons smuggling routes open, but its latest opportunistic gamble on local jihadists carries wider dangers that should be nipped in the bud by sponsors Turkey and Qatar.
In recent months, Hamas has been increasing its clandestine military cooperation with the Islamic State’s so-called ‘Sinai Province.’ This cooperation culminated in a prolonged secret visit to Gaza this month by IS Sinai’s military chief Shadi al-Menai, who held talks with his counterparts in Hamas’s military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades (IDQB). Menai has been at the top of Egypt’s most wanted list since an attempt to kill him failed in May 2014.
No information has been provided about the discussions, and some Hamas officials denied the initial report (made by this author) that a visit was taking place. Yet one can safely assume that Menai’s trip, via one of the few remaining underground tunnels along the Egyptian border, was dedicated to increasing arms deliveries through these tunnels and expanding Hamas military assistance to IS Sinai operatives.
CROSS-BORDER SMUGGLING AND TRAINING Over the past two years, IS Sinai helped Hamas move weapons from Iran and Libya through the peninsula, taking a generous cut from each shipment. Hamas relies on Bedouin guides to avoid detection by the Egyptian army and reach the few tunnels that have survived Cairo’s aggressive flooding and closure campaign. In this manner, IS Sinai acquired the advanced Kornet antitank missiles it has used to sink an Egyptian patrol boat off the coast of al-Arish and destroy several tanks and armored carriers stationed in the peninsula’s northeastern sector. Hamas has also provided training to some IS Sinai fighters and assisted with the group’s media campaign and online postings.
One of the main Hamas officials involved in this activity is Ayman Nofal, former commander of the IDQB’s Central District Brigade. Prior to his 2008 arrest by Egyptian authorities, he was in charge of developing Hamas’s system of safe houses and collaborators among the Bedouins. He managed to escape from a Cairo prison in 2011 during the riots accompanying the Arab Spring and soon resumed his work in Sinai.
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The Hamas charter says that it is “one of the wings of the Muslim Brothers in Palestine” and soon after Hamas took over the Gaza strip, Muslim Brotherhood representatives traveled to Gaza from Egypt through the newly-opened border to review Hamas military formations. A Hamas journalist has acknowledged the role that the “international Muslim Brotherhood” has played in providing funds for the purchase of weapons and Hamas is known to be supported financially and politically by the global Muslim Brotherhood. A Muslim Brotherhood spokesman revealed that a coalition of London-based Muslim groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, were behind the mass demonstrations staged to protest Israeli actions in the 2008 Gaza war and the Global Muslim Brotherhood and its Turkish affiliates were also intimately involved, along with the Turkish government, in the June 2010 Gaza flotilla that was involved in a violent altercation with Israeli naval forces. Following a period of seeming ascension related to the period of Egyptian rule by the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization was forced to scramble to try and find other state sponsors after Mohamed Morsi was deposed as President. In September 2013, it appeared that Hamas had succeeded in re-establishing close ties with Iran. In January 2013, Israeli intelligence sources claimed that Turkey has replaced Iran as the chief source of Hamas financing.