Egyptian President al-Sisi vs. Hamas
By Yoni Ben Menachem
At the end of last month, Egypt's Prosecutor General filed a lawsuit against Hamas' military arm Ezzedin Al Qassam for a quick trial. The proceedings were intended to declare Hamas a terrorist organization and outlaw its activity altogether.
The Hamas movement claims that the directive to the Prosecutor General originated high up, from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi himself. Fawzi Barhum, one of Hamas' spokespersons in the Gaza Strip, accused Egypt of a deliberate attack on Hamas and stated, "Filing a lawsuit against the Ezzedin Al Qassam brigades, as well as the slanderous campaign in Egypt's media, are clearly an extension of a series of actions directed against the Palestinian resistance, and in particular against Hamas' military arm."
Hamas' Involvement in Terrorist Attacks in Egypt
The background to the Egyptian move against Hamas' military arm is the grave terror attack carried out in the north of the Sinai Peninsula about six weeks ago, in which 33 Egyptian soldiers were killed. The extremist Ansar Beit al Maqdes organization, that recently joined ISIS, claimed responsibility, but according to Egyptian intelligence, Hamas was actively involved in this terror attack by smuggling explosives and its fighters via Gaza's tunnels.
The Egyptians claim the terror attack was masterminded by Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, that the logistics were provided by the Turkish intelligence services and that Qatar financed the operation to the tune of six million dollars. Hamas, for its part, denied all connection to the attack and on October 25, 2014, issued a statement "that it had nothing to do with the situation in Sinai" and moreover "the Gaza-Egypt border was secure and supervised by our security measures."
It is not the first time that Hamas is accused by Egypt of involvement in terror attacks against the Egyptian army:
1. On August 5, 2012, while Mohammed Mursi, a Muslim Brotherhood member, was president of Egypt, 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed in Rafah by terrorist fire from extremist Jihadi organizations, which attacked their post in the course of their end of Ramadan meal.
Two days after the attack, a statement issued by the military council of the Egyptian armed forces pointed to direct Hamas involvement in the attack, aided and abetted by extremists from within the Gaza strip.
Egypt further demanded that Hamas surrender three members of the Ezzedin Al Qassam Brigades in Gaza, who had smuggled weapons and provided logistic aid to extremist factions in Sinai. Hamas capitulated, on condition that the three suspects undergo interrogation in Gaza rather than Egypt, to prevent their torture.
2. On December 24, 2013 a fatal attack was launched in Mansura, at the Nile Delta, killing 16 people and wounding more than 130 people. The Ansar Beit al Maqdes organization, previously associated with Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility. Egyptian Minister of the Interior Mahmad Ibrahim accused Hamas of providing the terrorists with logistical assistance. In a press conference convened in Cairo, Ibrahim claimed that Amar Masoud, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, admitted to having committed several crimes in Mansura and to his ties with Hamas, including the military training he underwent in Gaza. For its part, Hamas denied any connection to the attacks in Egypt and declared the Minister of the Interior's accusations as "false and groundless."
Hamas asserts that the Egyptian campaign against it is part of President al-Sisi's warfare against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, recently proclaimed a terrorist organization. The official website of Hamas' military arm asserts that al-Sisi's goal is to "eradicate armed resistance in the Gaza Strip," that this policy serves Israel and is part of an Egyptian-Arab strategy to create a lull with the Zionist enemy and form an Arab axis to challenge the Iranian-Syrian-Yemenite one.
Undoubtedly, al-Sisi's regime views the Hamas movement as subversive, acting against Egypt's national security and in line with its mother-movement the Muslim Brotherhood, recently outlawed in Egypt. Following the latest attack against Egyptian soldiers in the northern Sinai Peninsula the Egyptian president has directed a series of steps to be taken in reaction to Hamas' involvement in the attack:
The full magnitude of the political friction between Hamas and Egypt was revealed during operation "Protective Edge," with Hamas refusing to accept the Egyptian cease-fire proposal and coordinating directly with Turkey and Qatar. Only after immense pressure brought to bear by Gaza's residents was Hamas forced to accept the ceasefire. Suspicions run high in Hamas that the Egyptian measures are coordinated with Israel and that their purpose is to tighten the blockade on Gaza, demolish the trafficking tunnels and bring about the de facto demilitarization of the Gaza Strip.
Yoni Ben Menachem is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center and former Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.