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Israel Contends with Gaza's 2 Main Terror Groups Having Similar Goals, Differing Agendas

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JERUSALEM, Israel – Israel recently concluded a cease-fire agreement with Palestinian Islamic Jihad after 5 days of rocket fire against Israeli civilians and devastating surgical strikes by Israel against the group's leadership. Islamic Jihad is one of two major terror entities operating within Gaza, along with Hamas.

The two share a common hatred of Israel, although Hamas and Islamic Jihad also have very different agendas. 

Hamas formed in 1987 and has held political control over the Gaza Strip since it seized power in a violent coup from Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah Party in 2007.

Islamic Jihad has had a presence there for decades. Both groups fire rockets at Israel and want the Jewish state replaced by an Islamic Palestinian state, yet a major difference exists between the two. 

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Professor Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies of Tel Aviv University, said in a briefing with journalists, “Each one of them is having a totally different view about how to run the sacred fight against Israel and how to bring in salvation for the Palestinians."

Rabi sees Hamas as having a more political, long-term priority, which is why Hamas stayed out of the most recent round of fighting.

"(Hamas) would like to have a foothold in Judea, in Samaria, and in due time, actually, to replace Abu Mazen (aka Mahmoud Abbas), the old leader of Fatah movement, and they would like to turn Hamas into the unquestionable leader of Palestine,” Rabi said, and added, “They are also having kind of an influence in East Jerusalem."

Hamas also wants to be seen as the protector of the al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount. It’s already warned Israel about Thursday’s upcoming Jerusalem Day parade, marking Israel’s reunification of the city in 1967, which Israelis celebrate by carrying flags and marching through Jerusalem’s Old City.

In 2021, Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem during the parade, sparking a conflict.  

While both Hamas and Islamic Jihad get support from Iran, the latter is much more connected to the regime and is focused more on violence than politics. 

Rabi cautioned, “This is, by the way, a very, very extremist organization. They don't have whatsoever agenda, in the sense of running people, in the sense of conducting the daily life of society."

He continued, “They are a very, very strict extremist group, which was founded in 1981, which means actually more than 40 years ago; they are ultimate proxies of Iran.”

Rabi says the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought the Ayatollah and the other religious leaders to power in Iran has had a lasting influence on Islamic Jihad.

“And for Iran,” he explained, “this is actually kind of a win-win because they're going to have a proxy next to Israel, sitting side by side to Israel. And, in a way, I would say, act in accordance with what Iran's diktats are.”

According to Rabi, Israel and Arab states in the region are concerned about Iran activating its proxies. 

“They are trying, actually, to just build up sort of a thick belt around Israel, including Judea and Samaria, Gaza, Jerusalem, Lebanon – with the hope of fanning the flame between Israelis and Arabs in Israel proper,” he said. 

Rabi sees Israel trying to drive a wedge between Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and Hamas realizes it could have lost money had it entered the recent battle against Israel.

“Many, many working permits for more than 17,000 Palestinians,” he noted. “This is kind of a game changer when it comes to the Gaza economy. Actually, new rights when it comes to the fishery. Hamas gets money from Qatar.”

Rabi added that this economic situation is – for the time being – very comfortable for Hamas.

He said that while this strategy works for now on a tactical level, in the long-run Israel will have to deal with Hamas, which is building forces to the north, inside Lebanon.  

“So, one way or the other,” Rabi cautioned, “we have, actually, to prepare (ourselves) for something bigger when it comes to Iran and its proxies.”

That means the Middle East, as a whole, has big decisions to make as it heads further into the 21st century. 

“There is an ongoing cooperation between so many Arab states and Israel. This is almost a miracle after the Abraham Accords,” Rabi explained. “On the other hand, there are some challenges coming from these guys in the Middle East, and Iran and its allies are trying actually to just install instability in order to make Iran much more hegemonic than it is.”

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About The Author

Julie Stahl

Julie Stahl is a correspondent for CBN News in the Middle East. A Hebrew speaker, she has been covering news in Israel fulltime for more than 20 years. Julie’s life as a journalist has been intertwined with CBN – first as a graduate student in Journalism; then as a journalist with Middle East Television (METV) when it was owned by CBN from 1989-91; and now with the Middle East Bureau of CBN News in Jerusalem since 2009. As a correspondent for CBN News, Julie has covered Israel’s wars with Gaza, rocket attacks on Israeli communities, stories on the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and