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Free Fire | | Counterterrorism, Middle East

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Breitbart Jerusalem reports that the Israeli Treasury Department is applying sanctions on three IS leaders tied to financing operations. One of these leaders was Husayn Juaythini, who facilitated the communications and movement of foreign fighters as well as conducted financial activities in support of IS. Juaythini was responsible for creating a base of operations within Gaza, and it appears he has been successful.

A base in Gaza allows IS to launch attacks against Israel, as they have done on several occasions. IS already has a branch in Egypt, the Islamic State in the Sinai (ISS), which despite initially being created as a jihadist group to attack Israel predominantly focuses on fighting the Egyptian government. If IS is able to establish a strong enough branch in Gaza, it will be able to launch attacks on Israel without taking away from their fight against El-Sisi.

IS has been able to gain a foothold into Gaza in part through cooperation with Hamas, the dominant terrorist organization in the area. ISS has been trading missile material in return for money, and it now appears Hamas may be allowing the group to operate inside its territory. Hamas has also allowed ISS to send wounded troops to Gaza for medical treatment away from the Egyptian government.

Hamas is a Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Founded in 1987, the organization’s primary goal is to bring about the destruction of Israel. To better increase its ability to combat the Israelis, Hamas established itself as one of the major political parties in the Palestinian territories, and since 2007 it has been dominated politics in the region.

The Free Fire Blog discussed the cooperation between the Islamic State (IS) and Hamas in the past, and this cooperation may be expanding as IS has been reportedly establishing a base in the Gaza region.

Hamas was originally hostile to IS’s presence in Gaza, but IS has reportedly gained support in Gaza, following a series of attacks on Israel. Hamas, which has not wanted to provoke another conflict with Israel, began to crack down on IS supporters. One IS sympathizer was killed during the crackdown, but relations between the two terror organizations simmered since then.

IS may be growing at a time when Hamas is growing weaker. Hamas specialist Johnathan Schanzer  notes a potential rift within Hamas’s ranks following the execution of former Hamas official Mahmoud Eshtiwi. Hamas leadership claimed Eshtiwi was killed for ‘‘moral and behavioral violations,’’ but never violations were never named. The new Free Qassam Members believe the execution was carried out due to Eshtiwi challenging al-Qassam Brigades leadership, and will be launching investigations into the matter.

This schism could be dangerous for Hamas if the breakaway faction joins the ranks of IS. Both groups have been able to work together, but IS may see an opportunity to gain further control of Gaza while Hamas is reorganizing.

Hamas has yet to recover from the last war with Israel, and their leadership has reportedly been locked in competition for some time. IS could be able to use this disorder to its advantage and take some control away from Hamas, or back a Hamas leader they believe to be sympathetic towards the Islamic State.

Even with Hamas still in power over Gaza, the current IS presence is a great danger to Israel. While the Gaza camp has been primarily used for training fighters and caring for wounded, it gives the group a strong strategic position against Israel. Although the Israeli Treasury Department issued sanctions against IS leaders, its unlikely to slow down the group’s growth in the region.

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