Al-Qaeda Courts Hamas, Urges Support
In a newly released video message from al-Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri, the al-Qaeda leader urged Hamas to "Unite with mujahedeen in Palestine ... and with all mujahedeen in the world in the face of the upcoming attack where Egyptians and Saudis are expected to play part of it." Al-Qaeda is known to have at least a small presence in Gaza and may be looking to leverage Hamas' recent territorial gains there. Zawahiri also said to Hamas, "Taking over power is not a goal but a means to implement God's word on earth." A Hamas spokesperson distanced the group from al-Qaeda, but stopped well short of criticizing either Zawahiri or his terrorist group.
Zawahiri's praise and calls for support for Hamas today is in sharp contrast to criticism levied against Hamas as recently as March 2007, when the al-Qaeda leader said of the recent Mecca agreement, "Hamas has made a mockery of Muslims' minds and feelings by saying that the accord reached in Mecca respects international agreements. What is happening in Palestine is another form of humiliation." He said then that Hamas had "sold out Palestine" and "gave up on ruling by Sharia [Islamic law]."
Today's message may therefor be seen as, among other things, a gentle goading for Hamas to institute strict enforcement of Sharia Law. It is also a bit of amicable opportunism, hoping to derive operational benefit from Hamas' new dominance of the Gaza territory.
While there are distinct differences between Hamas and al-Qaeda on many levels - reflected in Zawahiri's earlier criticism and Hamas' gentle distancing - similarities, ties and links exist. In the wake of Hamas' electoral victory last year in the Palestinian Territories, former Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Dore Gold, highlighted some known key ties between al-Qaeda and Hamas in a March 2006 column.
Hamas and al Qaeda, as Muslim Brotherhood offshoots, have had a number of notable links.
Bin Laden sent emissaries to Hamas in September 2000 and January 2001; Israel arrested three Hamas militants in 2003 after they had returned from an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda operations chief Abu Zubaydah entered the world of terrorism through Hamas. And according to a 2004 FBI affidavit, al Qaeda recruited Hamas members to conduct surveillance against potential targets in the United States.
The two can be expected to each exploit what benefits them going forward in Gaza, stopping well short of public repudiation or embrace.
Sound familiar? Sounds a lot like Iran, doesn't it? And considering that Hamas does not call its own shots since accepting Iran's economic life-preserver after Western aid was cut, it should not be a surprise. this is not to say that today's positioning reflects any change in Hamas' previous views on al-Qaeda. It is simply to say that the considerable Iranian debt ensures that public statements and relationships will not deviate from serving Iran's aims.
Update: Two other things to look at from last year that are worth the reader's time on the subject of Hamas and al-Qaeda: