On Wednesday, terror attacks were carried out by Islamic State (IS) militants in Sinai, killing 17 Egyptian soldiers. Israel has since alleged that Hamas aided IS in these attacks, an accusation that Egypt has yet to comment on.
Despite the fact that Islamic State on Wednesday released a video effectively declaring war on Hamas, Israel has been extraordinarily eager to find a link between Hamas and IS.
Israel’s newly-appointed minister of intelligence affairs, Likud’s Yisrael Katz, first reported an operational link between Hamas and IS on Wednesday, which was then confirmed in an interview with Al Jazeera by Major General Yoav Mordechai, Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) senior commander. For the past 6 months, Mordechai has been the main Israeli character in the indirect negotiations and communication between Israel and Hamas.
In his interview with Al Jazeera, Mordechai directly accused Hamas of helping Islamic State in its operations in Sinai, northern Egypt.
This comes after anonymous Israeli defense officials were quoted by Haaretz as linking Hamas to Wilayat Sinai, an extremist group claiming allegiance to IS. According to Haaretz, the officials said that Hamas was providing medical treatment in Gaza hospitals for wounded insurgents, as well as cooperating with other regional jihadi groups in arms smuggling.
Mordechai is the first Israeli official to make these accusations in public:
“I am convinced of what I’m saying, and I have proof”.
Israel had been remarkably restrained in its dealings with Hamas in recent times, despite the fact that rockets have been fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip (although these were reportedly fired by Salafi rebels and not by Hamas). Israeli officials even commended Hamas for taking steps to ‘rein in’ the rocket fire, according to Haaretz.
So why is Israel making these accusations now?
Hamas has been keen to pursure a more lasting truce with Israel- of up to 5 years- however, some political analysts expect these recent allegations to have some effect in derailing these fragile attempts at peace.
Hamas’ relations with its Arab neighbours had also been easing, with dialogue beginning to open up with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which helps to maintain the blockade on Gaza’s borders. Evidence may be seen of this easing in the fact that Egypt agreed to reopen the Rafah crossing from Gaza into Egypt for the first time in two years, albeit only for a few days. Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas also stepped in to try and alleviate the suffering of the 1.8 million people still trapped in the Gaza Strip.
Egypt itself has avoided placing the blame for Wednesday’s bloody attack on Hamas.
According to Hebrew newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, Hamas spokesman Mousa Abu Marzouk on Friday condemned the attacks in Sinai, saying that they ‘undermine our security’.
He pointed to the recent improvement in Hamas-Egyptian relations, which he said ‘have indeed grown stronger’. This may be taken as an indirect response to Israel’s allegations of Hamas involvement, an allegation that Hamas had dismissed as ‘propaganda’ only hours before.
He added that Hamas had strengthened its guard stationed at the border with Egypt since the attack, saying that:
“We will not allow anyone to cross the border.”
Rockets were fired last night from inside Sinai into the Askul region of southern Israel.
According to Hebrew sources, a rocket landed in open land in Askul region of southern Israel, in the Western Negev close to the borders of Sinai, on Friday night. The Israeli army has been searching for the perpetrator of the launch, but they remain unidentified.
Israeli sources said that most rockets landing in Israel were now coming from inside the Sinai region.