Foreign Policy Blogs

The Hamas-al Qaeda Non-Alliance

Beware of arguments like those offered in Jonathan Schanzer’s Weekly Standard article, “The Hamas-al Qaeda Alliance.”  The article was a response to the statement earlier this week from senior Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, who condemned the bin Laden killing.  Schanzer essentially attempts to conflate al Qaeda and Hamas, writing that “over the course of two decades, Hamas has maintained a relationship with the al Qaeda network” and that the “ties between Hamas and al Qaeda should serve as further warning to Washington about the terror group…”  But in actuality, Hamas and al Qaeda are not good friends.

After Hamas won the elections in January 2006, al Qaeda leaders reached out to Hamas, and Hamas repeatedly rejected their advice and entreaties.  In March 2006, al-Zawahiri urged Hamas to seek armed struggle rather than peace with Israel.  But, as the BBC reported:

Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal said the movement had “its own vision” and did not need al-Qaeda’s advice.

The following month, Osama bin Laden, for the first time, “publicly allied himself with Hamas,” as Arutz Sheva reported.  But the article continues:

Following the release of Sunday’s tape, however, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri rushed to distance the terror group from Bin Laden’s remarks. In a message to English media, he said, “Hamas is totally different from the ideology of Sheikh bin Laden,” adding that his cash-starved group is interested in having good relations with Western nations.

In December 2006, al-Zawahiri had stern words for Hamas, according to MSNBC:

He accused Hamas of making a number of concessions that would ultimately lead to “the recognition of Israel.”

He said these concessions began with Hamas’ signing “the truce” with Israel last year, then the group took part in the January elections “based on a secular constitution,” and recognized Abbas as the head of the Palestinian authority.

In 2007, Hamas played a “crucial” role (in the words of Gordon Brown) in freeing Alan Johnston, a BBC journalist kidnapped by Army of Islam, a group that one could much more convincingly tie to al Qaeda.  Furthermore:

A well-informed source in Hamas said that the movement’s action against the Army of Islam was not inspired by a desire to win international sympathy or prove the movement’s credentials. Hamas is simply opposed to Al-Qaeda’s ideas. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that some Al-Qaeda leaders regard the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as an atheist organisation. Hamas, by contrast, sees itself as part of the MB. “Should we allow Al-Qaeda to have a free rein; it would end up attacking us,” he remarked.

And in 2009, Hamas fought gunmen from Jihadi Salafi, an al Qaeda-inspired group that aims to create an Islamic state in Gaza.  Tensions between Hamas and Jihadi Salafi persist, as this Fox News clip from last month demonstrates:

All of this explains why Haniyeh, in his condemnation of the bin Laden killing, was careful to distance himself from al Qaeda.  He said:

Despite the difference in opinions and agenda between us and them, we condemn the assassination of a Muslim and Arab warrior and we pray to God that his soul rests in peace…

Schanzer and others (see the FPA Israel blog on the subject) incorporate Haniyeh’s condemnation and the Hamas-al Qaeda  conflation notion into arguments against the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation process.  There are many reasons to condemn Hamas.  The Goldstone Report outlines many of them; it calls on all Palestinian armed groups to “renounc[e] attacks on Israeli civilians and civilian objects” (p. 551) and holds Hamas accountable for violations of international humanitarian law committed by Palestinian armed groups in Gaza (p. 151).  But assertions about a Hamas-al Qaeda alliance are incorrect.