TEL AVIV ø Hamas has been deeply affected by the Israeli
assassination of its latest leader, Abdul Aziz Rantisi.
A report by the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, entitled "Hamas
After Rantisi," said the organization in the Gaza Strip has now come under
the direct control of political bureau chief Khaled Masha'al. Authored by
Israeli researcher Meir Litvak, the report cited Masha'al's orders to keep
the name of Rantisi's successor secret as reflecting Hamas's operation
"That threat, alone, will not cause Hamas to disappear as a serious
political actor," the report said. "But it has already produced the
unprecedented decision to act henceforth under anonymous leader, and that
raises serious questions about how the movement can function in the public
domain when its leaders' identities remain secret."
The report said the assassination of both Rantisi and Hamas founder
Ahmed Yassin will not necessarily lead to an increase in Hamas attacks.
Litvak said Hamas had the capability to stage a series of suicide bombings
as early as 1994.
"Coming just three weeks after the liquidation of the former leader of
Hamas in Gaza, Sheik Ahmad Yassin, the killing this weekend of his
successor, Abdul Aziz Rantisi, is likely to have far-reaching implications
for the balance of power within Hamas and for its relations with the
Palestinian Authority," the report said.
The killing of Rantisi, the report said, could facilitate a Hamas-PA
dialogue in advance of Israel's anticipated withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
The PA had long regarded Rantisi as a rival and his death could enable
others to join the Palestinian government.
The death of Rantisi and Yassin was also expected to change the balance
of power between the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip and that in
Damascus. The report said Masha'al and his colleagues in Damascus had
blocked Rantisi's attempt to inherit Yassin's authority.
The report compared Yassin to Rantisi, saying the former enjoyed a
reputation of a Sunni leader in the Middle East. In contrast, Rantisi was an
operative and his appointment to succeed Yassin was challenged within the
Hamas organization in the Gaza Strip.
Unlike Yassin, Rantisi consistently rejected any arrangement with
Israel. The report said Rantisi expanded Hamas ties with Hizbullah and Iran.
"It may even be the case that what really determines the level of Hamas
operations are its operational capabilities at any given time and the
anticipated degree of public support, and that reactions to targeted
killings by Israel are a minor consideration," the report said. "For
example, there has been an appreciable decline in Hamas operations in the
West Bank in the last three months, during which large numbers of leaders
and operatives have been arrested or killed."