Hamas’ military wing to political leaders: we have the final say

Abu Ubeida (R), the official spokesperson of the Palestinian militant group Ezzedine al-Qassam brigade, the armed wing of Hamas, give a press conference on July 3, 2014 in Gaza City.
Published Thursday, July 24, 2014
It is clear that what sets the bar for the efforts of the political leaders of the Palestinian factions are the achievements of the Resistance in the field. But while the military cadres have their own political views that are sometimes ahead of the politicians’, in the end, the two converge to shape the final outcome.
Gaza – Israel initiated the current war, assigning a name for its assault on the Gaza Strip under the banner of eliminating the Resistance, taking advantage of favorable regional developments and the end of the Muslim Brotherhood-led administration in Egypt, as the military took over power there. This has put the Palestinian factions, led by Hamas, in a corner, and subjected Gaza to a crippling economic and political crisis in parallel with a hostile campaign in the media, all circumstances that almost brought total catastrophe to Gaza. But the war has reset the compass, so to speak.
The Resistance is now affirming that the party that initiated the war will not be the one to decide when it would end, in reference to the occupation. Furthermore, even though the military wings take their orders from the political leaderships of the respective factions in accordance with their chains of command. It seems that the military wings and the Resistance fighters on the fields will this time have the final say.
In this regard, an informed source in al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, told Al-Akhbar that the Brigades had been vigilant and had taken stock of many important indications and political climates prior to the war. Accordingly, plans and strategies were drawn up to cope with and prepare for a broad assault on Gaza that they saw was coming.
Perhaps this battle is different from previous ones in that the military commanders seem to be the ones in control, as they plan, implement, and dictate the terms. According to the source, politicians must therefore convey the voice of the military leaders and negotiate on their behalf, “unlike before, when al-Qassam would wait for political decisions to escalate what is now an open-ended confrontation.”
This should not be surprising. Shortly before the war, in an interview with Al-Akhbar, the al-Qassam official spokesperson Abu Ubaida had confirmed more or less the same thing. He had said, “The occupation is an enemy and it will always remain so. So what need is there for political decisions in responding to a war waged by Israel? Is it reasonable to wait for a decision to defend oneself when it is a natural right that is also stipulated in the reconciliation agreements?”
Meanwhile, since, as observers have indicated, communications are being monitored, the political leadership, especially for those leaders based abroad, does not specify exact targets the Resistance must strike or give it instructions regarding the nature of its work. Instead, it gives general orders while giving freedom for the field commanders to operate within its general guidelines.
Regarding this specific point, political sources inside Hamas say that the traditional rules that govern the organization’s work have been turned upside down. The sources explained, in the context of affirming the division of labor between the government and the military wing within the movement, “Efforts are underway to emulate Hezbollah in Lebanon […] in leaving negotiations and the management of people’s affairs to governments and other national forces.”
What confirms the above is the fact that the developments on the field have been the most important factor influencing the course of political negotiations. Even as Israel sought a ceasefire at any cost, Hamas, and specifically al-Qassam Brigades, rejected a ceasefire for not factoring in its demands, as it sought to prove its strength and its ability to dictate the terms that the other side must implement.
The military source from al-Qassam Brigades also told Al-Akhbar that the group has the ability and capacity to continue the battle for many more months. For this reason, he said, “We have told the leadership not to compromise on any of the demands for a ceasefire, including reopening the crossings, lifting the siege, and facilitating the movement of citizens.” The source stressed that this is well known to the political leadership, as evident from the remarks made by the head of Hamas’ political bureau Khaled Meshaal on Wednesday evening.
The source continued, “No matter how long the negotiations regarding a ceasefire will last, neither Hamas nor the [Palestinian Islamic] Jihad will change their position. The leaderships of both organizations are aware of the capabilities of the military leaderships on the ground.”
In effect, this has given the military wings of the Palestinian Resistance factions greater freedom to move in the north, south and east of Gaza, as evident from the impressive operations carried out by the Resistance. Israel itself has been forced to admit to its casualties, and has described the current conflict in Gaza as one of the most difficult battles it has ever fought there.
However, the political source said that the current information war between Israel and the Resistance makes it more difficult to assess the situation, especially for some analysts who see what is happening as a high-stakes gamble. However, he explained that the current phase of the war, now in its third week, is the most difficult phase, “because the Resistance is fighting an existential battle, especially in light of changing political equations.”
Writer and political analyst Hussam al-Dajani has a different assessment. He said that al-Qassam does not have a monopoly over decision-making, and that its primary reference is the political leadership, something that applies to all other Resistance factions in his view.
Yet Dajani admitted that the main determinant of the decision-making would be the course of the events on the ground. He told Al-Akhbar, “As long as the Resistance has the upper hand, it is the right of the politicians to cling to their terms that are consistent with the demands of the people, which explains why they have doubled down on their demands.”
Dajani believes it likely, based on what is going on in the field, that Israel would want to bring about a quick ceasefire through mediations and that it would show some flexibility in considering the conditions of the Resistance, though he said Israel would also be looking to save face. Dajani reckons that the coming two days will be crucial in this respect.
For his part, Akram Atallah, a commentator, stressed that Hamas is an integrated, interdependent organization, “where no one can distinguish between what is military and what is political, because the two arms in the end are wedded to the same approach.”
Concerning the current developments, Atallah believes there is a shared view within Hamas to reject the Egyptian ceasefire initiative, saying, “It is possible to infer that the rejection was based on the military arm’s input, but it is certain that the Resistance cadres would not be able to fight the negotiations’ battle, which the politicians will handle.”
Back to the military source from al-Qassam, he said that Hamas’ military wing had been able to keep the former captive Israeli soldier in custody for five years, during which the slain Ahmed Jabari was directly responsible for the negotiations until the deal in 2011, adding that “success would not have been possible were it not for the shrewdness of the military [wing], which is characterized by firmness and confidence, and does not cave in to any changes on the field or in politics because it knows its own capabilities.”
Commenting on this, Atallah said, “No doubt, the battlefield affects the politicians’ efforts, but the decision in the end will be in their hands because they, the politicians, are aware of how regional and international events play out, although their discourse will clearly reflect what the Resistance fighters and the people want.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
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