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Friday, October 22, 2010     FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

Report finds profound geopolitical split in Hamas

WASHINGTON — Hamas is divided over whether to continue missile attacks on Israel, a report said.


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  • The Foreign Policy Research Institute said Hamas' political and military wings have been divided over whether to sustain missile and rocket strikes on Israel. The institute, in a report by research fellow Tally Helfont, said the issue also pitted the Iranian-backed wing against Hamas politicians in the Gaza Strip.

    "Hamas's use of violence and more specifically, when and why it chooses to use it, is an issue of contention among Hamas's leadership," the report, titled "Hamas Divided: Time For A New Policy?" said. "It is clear that Hamas is no longer a single, unified organization with clear objectives and therefore should not be treated as such."

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    The pro-missile faction was identified as including Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Masha'al, based in Syria. Masha'al was said to have been opposed by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who has not ruled out an eventual settlement with Israel.

    "As such, Hamas is now torn between some of the political echelon's preference for restraint and other political and military leaders' preference for pre-Gaza War levels of bombarding Israel," the report said.

    Masha'al's pro-missile policy has been engineered by Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari. Jabari was said to be closely linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

    Ms. Helfont, who has served as an instructor for the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq, said the division explains Hamas's inconsistency. She cited arguments between the network in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as well as between Hamas and the Iranian-sponsored Islamic Jihad.

    "In effect, Hamas's vaunted ideological, organizational, and strategic unity seems a thing of the past," the report said. "It is this inconsistency that has, to a large extent, led to its weakened position."

    The report raised the prospect that Hamas's division could be exploited to focus on the faction prepared to negotiate a peace settlement. Ms. Helfont cited Palestinian opposition to the Fatah peace process with Israel in 1993.

    "It has been possible to engage one faction of the Palestinian people to conduct peace talks," the report said. "Therefore, it may also be possible to engage only one faction within Hamas so as to advance the peace process."

    Ms. Helfont said, however, that Hamas has also been restraining other Palestinian militias from attacking Israel from the Gaza Strip. At the same time, Hamas elements have sought to provoke Egypt into a conflict with Israel. Hamas has also failed to reconcile with Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority because of the Islamic movement's alliance with Iran.

    "Having given these groups the go-ahead to operate on a small scale, Hamas's military wing is also restraining them to a degree so as not to force the Israeli Defense Force back into Gaza," the report said. "One is therefore left to decide whether these attacks are business as usual or an attempt by Hamas to be heard while the negotiations marched on without it."

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