«The Islamic Resistance Movement» — HAMAS — was created in December 1987 in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel shortly after the start of the first Palestinian intifada (uprising), mainly based on the offices of the Egyptian «Muslim Brotherhood». Sheikh Ahmed Yasin became the founder and spiritual leader of HAMAS (killed in 2004 as a result of a pinpoint strike by the Israeli Air Force). Currently, HAMAS is the largest and most powerful of the radical Islamist Palestinian organizations.
HAMAS is recognized as a terrorist organization by Israel, Egypt, Canada, the United States and Japan, banned in Jordan and Egypt. In Australia and the United Kingdom, only the military wing of the movement is recognized as terrorist. Russia does not rank HAMAS among terrorist organizations, considers it a legitimate partner for negotiations, the leaders of the movement have repeatedly visited Moscow. At the same time, Russia does not support the radical methods of the activities of HAMAS and its non-recognition of Israel.
HAMAS does not have a rigid structure or official sole leader and is built as a network of political, social and military organizations. The movement enjoys influence primarily in the Gaza Strip, as well as on the West bank of the Jordan River (WBJR). The core of HAMAS activists is estimated at about 3 thousand people, and the number of members can reach 100 thousand people. In addition to the Palestinian territories, there are branches of the movement in a number of Arab and European countries.
HAMAS’s governing body is the Consultative Council («Majlis Al-Shura») of 60 people, but the leadership in the movement is attributed to the leaders of its political bureau, which develops the overall strategy of HAMAS, determine the scope of activities and functions of each of the organization’s divisions. Since 2012, the political bureau and the headquarters of HAMAS have been located in Qatar. Since May 2017, the political bureau is headed by Ismail Haniya, “who is considered a pragmatist in HAMAS”. After his election to this post, he remained in Gaza, unlike his predecessor, H. Mashal, who lived outside Palestine. In March 2017, Yahya Sinvar was elected head of the HAMAS political bureau in the Gaza Strip. He is described as one of the most radical anti-Israeli group leaders. In general, HAMAS is better organized and motivated in its activities than its main Palestinian rival, the FATAH movement.
The initial goal of the movement was the creation of an independent Islamic theocratic Palestinian state on the territory of the formerly mandated Palestine. The basis of the ideological and practical activities of the organization was the Islamic Charter of 1988, which outlines the main principles of the fight against Israel. The movement refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist and set as its main goal “the liberation of all Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River”, “to throw Israel into the sea”. The Charter emphasized that the only way to solve the Palestinian problem is “jihad”, in which not only Palestinians, but the entire Arab world should participate. Herewith, “the path of armed struggle is the only way to return the occupied territories”, and “guerrilla resistance methods are the most acceptable method of opposing Israel”. At the same time, political methods of struggle were not excluded. HAMAS challenged the PLO’s right to «be the sole representative of the will of the Palestinian people».
In May 2017, HAMAS adopts a new political declaration, where it formally opposes any manifestation of “extremism, religious and ethnic intolerance”. The document says that HAMAS is an Islamic national liberation movement. «Its goal is the liberation of Palestine», the creation of a Palestinian state on all Palestinian lands «with Jerusalem as the capital». It is noted that the opposition to Israel is political, not religious. It is said that HAMAS is not an alternative to the FATAH movement, and «no faction can be exceptional». The creation of a Palestinian state within the borders of 1967 is recognized, but there is no clause on the recognition of Israel as a state, although there is no direct call for its destruction. At the same time, HAMAS still does not recognize the agreements signed by the PLO and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) with Israel, opposes negotiations with the Jewish state in order to achieve a political settlement of the Palestinian problem. The document indicated the distancing from the movement of «The Muslim Brotherhood», marked the separation from anti-Semitism. The new program for the first time stated that «the PLO is the national foundation of the Palestinian people inside and outside Palestine». The program emphasizes the right of Palestinian refugees, «expelled from their homeland, whether in 1948 or in 1967».
Experts note that “one of the main reasons for adopting a new HAMAS program is an attempt to break out of international isolation and legitimize the movement”. In Israel, they said that it does not cancel the aggressive attitude of the Islamists towards the Jewish state.
In 1990, the military wing of HAMAS, «the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades» (up to 12,000 men), was created, which carry out military and terrorist actions against Israel. Their weapons are small arms, mortars, RPGs, anti-tank guided missiles. But the main striking force is several thousand missiles with a range of launch from 3-4 to 200 km. Supplies of weapons to militants were mainly smuggled through tunnels on the border with Egypt. The power structures of HAMAS also include the “Executive Forces” (10 thousand people) performing police functions.
HAMAS has launched active terrorist and military activities against Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories. Repeatedly the terrorist attacks were committed on Israeli territory. Militants are also firing rockets and mortars at Israeli territory. Recently, the launch of balloons with explosives and incendiary mixtures towards Israel has been widely used.
In response to the actions of the militants, the IDF regularly launches air and artillery strikes against enemy targets in the Gaza Strip, and raids are made on the enclave territory. Periodically a large-scale operations are carried out against militants to destroy their military infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. In addition, Israel periodically establishes a blockade of the Palestinian enclave. Since March 2018, Islamists have been holding a “Return March” on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on a weekly basis, which further aggravates the situation in the conflict zone, leading to casualties, mainly among Palestinians.
Periodically, HAMAS and Israel, as a rule, with the mediation of Egypt, agree on a mutual cease-fire. In September 2018, HAMAS announced «the cessation of indirect negotiations with Israel on the establishment of a long-term truce in the Gaza Strip». Experts say: “HAMAS has very serious reasons to fear a direct military clash with Israel. In principle, Israel itself is not interested in starting a new operation in the Gaza Strip. The matter is not only in the inevitable damages and losses, but also in the fact that it is not clear to anyone what to do with the Gaza Strip after the overthrow of the HAMAS government there”.
In February 2006, in the elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council (Parliament), HAMAS won the majority of seats and formed the PNA government, and in June 2007 the Islamists seized power in the Gaza Strip by force of arms. In response, the head of the PNA, M. Abbas, dissolved the government and took full authority in his hands. As a result, HAMAS retained its positions only in the Gaza Strip, while Abbas’s supporters remained in power on the WBJR. HAMAS and FATAH repeatedly tried to negotiate reconciliation, but serious contradictions and the struggle for power disrupted their implementation. Disagreements between FATAH and HAMAS are far from overcoming, which does not exclude new tensions in relations between them in the future.
For 12 years of being in power in the Gaza Strip, Islamists have not been able to solve acute social and economic problems, nor to identify ways to solve them. HAMAS is not able to provide water purification, electricity supply and the payment of salaries. Youth unemployment reaches 60%, and 40% of the enclave’s population lives below the poverty line. All this often leads to its radicalization. A major factor of concern for HAMAS leaders was the appearance of «Islamic State» (prohibited in the Russian Federation) cells in Gaza.
In recent years, relations between Iran and HAMAS did not differ in stability, and this was mainly due to the organization’s refusal to side with Syrian President B. Assad. However, in 2017, after the election of I. Haniya as head of the HAMAS political bureau, the parties reached agreement on the restoration of relations in full. The movement is partly funded by Qatar and private sponsors from the Gulf countries, as well as Palestinians living in Europe and the United States.
Institute of the Middle East.
March 4, 2019. On changes in the military-political situation in the Middle East and North Africa (February 25 — March 3, 2019). Annex.