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Hamas and the complementary roles of politicians and the military

May 15, 2015 at 11:50 am

With ever more visits by Arab and foreign envoys to Gaza to discuss the truce between Hamas and Israel in efforts to lift the siege, discussions within Hamas and what is said about the differences between politicians and the military have increased. Rumours about such differences of opinion abound following developments in the overall Palestinian situation. These include reconciliation with Fatah, the consequences of Israel’s offensive on Gaza last year, continued tension in the relationship with Egypt and the pull and tug in relations with Iran and the effect on financial and political support for Hamas. The Islamic movement says that it has an integrated and fully-understandable system of objectives and means to achieve them, and that it is operating on consultation (“Shura”) which is binding and adopted by all its leadership institutions, both within and outside of Palestine, politicians and the military alike. Such apparent harmony within Hamas’s leadership does not mean that there are no differences of opinion on fast-moving events locally, regionally and internationally. Any differences, however, tend to dissipate after discussions within the leadership framework, at which point everyone adopts one opinion that is binding on all levels within the movement, whether political or military, inside Palestine or beyond its historic borders.

In the same context, Hamas is a movement that has its Shura institutions and approved regulatory mechanisms for taking political and military decisions; there is no conflict or inconsistency between the two wings of the movement, as their relationship is practically and historically clear. A simple explanation for the nature of the relation between politicians and the military shows that political decisions and external relations are important for the political leadership, while the military wing, Al-Qassam Brigades, is responsible for field operations. The latter chooses the appropriate means to fight Israeli aggression, which means that there is no power struggle between the two wings of Hamas.

Of course, this does not negate the fact that there are some incidents which indicate internal discrepancies between politicians and the military within the organisation. These were noticed during last summer’s Israeli offensive against Gaza; discussions at the truce talks in Cairo; and the request by some for the resistance to put weapons aside for a period, to be decided by politicians. Other reports talked about consultations between the politicians and the military in Hamas regarding allies from the region, with the military wing preferring rapprochement with Iran to continue its funding, and the politicians wanting to get closer to Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

These differences do not mean that there are negative currents within Hamas, because its decision-making passes through official bodies, including the regulatory leadership of the movement. All decisions follow the consultation process, from the highest organisational levels to the lowest. While Hamas politicians are holding talks with regional and international envoys, its military people receive minutes of the meetings, and give their opinions about them. However, because Hamas is by necessity a movement which does not reveal its organisational structure (and all of the members therein) or the exact mechanisms for taking decisions, there is a shortage of detailed information about this sensitive issue.

The Hamas military wing, though, has noticed that it is getting more involved in taking serious decisions about the future of the movement, on both security and military levels. This may be attributed to the heroic performance of Al-Qassam fighters in the Israeli wars against Gaza in 2008, 2012 and 2014, and the resulting popularity for the brigades among Palestinians and Hamas members.

But this does not mean that Hamas is suffering from a division between politicians and the military, or the militarisation of its political decisions. The military realises that Hamas is an Islamic advocacy movement before being a political movement with a military wing, so the relationship of Al-Qassam Brigades with the political leadership of Hamas is complementary on the organisational level but separate in the field. On the latter the military is involved in the decision-making and guidance, but is separated from politicians in the practical aspects of military action.

Finally, Hamas, which has survived three fierce offensives by the Israelis, feels that its military wing is a protective wall against any threats. As such, it takes into account the final position of Al-Qassam Brigades, which is often the appropriate opinion likely to represent the general attitude of the movement.

Nevertheless, Hamas may find itself obliged to respond to some of the political invitations to conclude a truce with Israel, or to engage in a regional system, which requires it to mitigate the revolutionary rhetoric on occasion, and to calm its military performance at other times. It’s a matter that will succeed or fail according to the nature of the situation being experienced.

Translated from Felesteen newspaper, 11 May, 2015.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.