On Wednesday the exiled commander for Hamas’s West Bank operations confirmed his organisation’s responsibility for the June murder of three Israeli teens.
Speaking with a group of clerics in Turkey organised by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Al Jazeera Arabic’s popular Doha-based mega-preacher, Turkey-based Saleh Arouri said Hamas’ Al Qassam Brigades were responsible for the murders, which set off a cycle of arrests, reprisals, and escalations that continues over two months later.
In a way, Arouri’s admission doesn’t reveal anything that wasn’t already publicly known. In early August, Israeli court documents revealed a man named Hussam Qawasme had been arrested in early July for the kidnappings, and that training and coordination for the kidnappings came from Hamas’ military wing in Gaza.
It was significant enough that the kidnapper and his apparent accomplices came from the Qawasme family, which is synonymous with the Hamas establishment in the West Bank. Hamas’ West Bank commander in Hebron during the second Intifada in the mid-2000s was Abdulla al Qawasme, an uncle of one of the alleged kidnappers. Hussein Qawasme was the chief explosives engineer of a major Hamas network in the West Bank; Ayub al-Qawasme, a Hamas official long sought by the Israelis authorities, was arrested this past March.
Even before Wednesday, it was known that a top-level West Bank Hamas network had pulled off the kidnappings with help they had recieved from other branches of the organisation.
But this is circumstantial evidence, at least compared to the admission of Hamas’ top West Bank military commander, who was sitting next to the Qatari-based Qaradawi at a meeting in Turkey when he made his statement:
Arouri’s admission comes just a few days after Israel’s Shin Bet revealed Hamas had been planning a violent coup against the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. The plan reportedly involved the stockpiling of weaponry and over $US600,000 in funding which was seized by Israeli investigators. The plan was apparently hatched while Arouri was being driven to the Allenby Bridge — the border between Jordan and the West Bank — en route to exile aboard after being released from an Israeli prison.
The kidnapping plot appears to buttress or even advance this end goal. It now seems to be part of an attempt to trigger the sort of West Bank-wide chaos that could eventually lead to the internal collapse of the Palestinian Authority, or create a security and political environment where Hamas could seize power by force. The kidnappings were consistent with a strategy that Hamas was apparently pursuing anyway — and that Arouri was coordinating from Turkey.
Hamas is a badly fractured organisation, with cross-cutting sources of power and a leadership spread out over several countries, territories, and time zones. The actions of its Gaza, Qatar, Turkey, and West Bank branches aren’t always perfectly coordinated or even related to one another.
But Wednesday’s statement on the kidnappings sheds at least some indirect light on Hamas’ decision to continue its bombardment of Israeli cities during ceasefire negotiations, and to try to restart a war in which it has lost hundreds of fighters, thousands of rockets, and perhaps its entire cross-border tunnel network.
Hamas has asymmetrical goals, like destabilizing the Palestinian authority, damaging Israel’s international reputation, and reducing its opponents’ range of strategic options — regardless of the costs it incurs upon itself.
This calculus manifested itself when Hamas operatives kidnapped the Israeli teens just a few weeks after the organisation entered into the first Palestinian unity government in seven years. And it’s apparent now, as Hamas lobs scores of rockets at Israel in the midst of ceasefire negotiations, and after a war in which it suffered a battlefield defeat by most conventional standards.
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