Hamas Militants Not Following Political Leaders

It is becoming increasingly clear that the Hamas government does not control the Hamas terrorists, let alone the other “militant” groups in Palestinian territory.

Despite its links to the Palestinian government, Palestinian and Israeli analysts say, the Qassam Brigades does not take orders from the governing leaders of Hamas. This is why, according to many accounts, the Hamas-led government itself was surprised by the Qassam Brigades’ attack against the Israeli military post in June.

“They lost their position as leaders of Hamas when they joined the government,” said Abu Muhammad, a Qassam Brigades field commander in Jabaliya. “New leaders were named in the movement, and they are more senior than the government leaders, even Haniya,” he said, referring to the Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniya.

Giora Eiland, a former director of Israel’s national security council and a retired major general who led an investigation into the June 25 raid, agreed. “Recently there was the illusion that Hamas, while not a perfect partner, was at least a group that could implement decisions,” he said. “But it has become apparent that the political leadership of Hamas is much less influential than Khaled Meshal and leaders of the military wing.” Mr. Meshal is the chairman of Hamas’s political bureau and lives in exile in Damascus, Syria.

The Qassam Brigades is the Palestinians’ largest and best organized militant group but it is not the only militia operating in the area under Palestinian control. At least six other armed groups field soldiers to fight Israel or, when there are no Israelis to fight — as was the case for nine months after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza last year — to fight among themselves.

The current crisis seems to have pushed the militias to join ranks. Several of the militia members said the groups organized a “joint operations room” when Israel began threatening to invade Gaza two or three weeks ago. By all accounts the operations room is more virtual than real, but spokesmen for three of the groups insisted that senior political and military leaders of the seven militias now communicated regularly to plan actions. “We are more united now than at any time before,” said Abu Mujahed, spokesman for the Salahadin Brigades, the armed wing of another anti-Israeli movement, the Popular Resistance Committees.

It goes without saying that this complicates efforts to achieve peace in the region. The Israelis, quite reasonably, expect the Palestinian Authority government to control the radicals in their territory–let alone those under the same Hamas banner. Yet, as with Arafat and his Fatah party before them, it’s not happening.

The very nature of governing, which demands compromise and a pursuit of the possible rather than the ideal, alienates the radicals. Indeed, this is true even in mature democracies such as ours, where even peaceful ideologues on both sides of the spectrum are angered at the accomodationist policies of their own leaders.

When militants, especially those who spent years or even decades in the cold fighting for their cause, achieve power, they seldom are able to wield it successfully. They either refuse to govern in a responsible manner, in which case they are unable to deliver on the basic duties of governance, or they transform into legitimate politicians and alienate their base–who are often well armed and accustomed to the use of violence to achieve their political goals.

Austin Bay has some related thoughts in a piece at TCS Daily.

. . .Israel suffers rocket attacks from a Lebanon that “is not quite Lebanon” in a truly sovereign sense. The rockets, of course, come from “somewhere,” but Hezbollah’s “somewhere” is a political limbo in terms of maps with definitive geo-political boundaries. Lebanon is a peculiar form of failed state. It’s not the madhouse of Somalia or the impoverished dreg of Zimbabwe, rather, Lebanon is a hijacked state. Lebanon’s status as a hijacked state will continue so long as the Lebanese government cannot control Hezbollah — and control means disarm and demobilize.


Thus terrorists and terror-empowering nations, like Iran and Syria, abuse the nation-state system — or exploit a “dangerous hole” in the system. Everybody’s got to be somewhere, but maps and UN seats and press bureaus don’t make an effective nation state; they are the trappings of state-dom.

His solution, however–“Holding Iran and Syria responsible may well mean taking the war to Tehran and Damascus”–is a prescription for WWIII. (Or is that IV? Or V?)

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    I’m not convinced.

    Given the proclivity of Islamic extremists to say one thing to the UN (all we want is peace) and doing another, over the last several decsdes, cold this simply be another instance of the governmental wing of Hamas showing a peaceful face to the world while the military wing does it’s thing, using the apparent disconnect to stall for time?

  2. LJD says:

    Those ‘governing’ could just get out of the way and let the Israelis handle this ‘problem’ for them. But they won’t because they’re sympathetic. They’ll stay in the way, suffer damage, and use it to smear Israel.

    Basically, you have terrorists who attack, and those that let the attacks happen. These enablers are willing to talk from time to time, but have shown no real desire to live in peace with Israel either.

  3. legion says:

    That’s entirely possible, but is it any different from not having a functioning government in the first place? Everyone hoped that Hamas getting a seat at the big boys’ table would force them to grow up and find better ways than terrorism to get what they want, but that illusion has been blown up like a Hezbollah bunker.