(Communicated by The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center)

The HAMAS Terror Organization –  update for 2006

On January 25, 2006, Hamas won a landslide victory in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections, winning 74 of the 132 seats. Fatah, the rival faction, which had led the Palestinian national movement since its inception, was roundly defeated, winning only 45 seats.

The Hamas victory sent shock waves through both the Palestinian community, and the international community as well. For the first time in Middle Eastern history, an overtly terrorist organization with a radical Islamic ideology took over a government by means of a democratic election. The results of the election reflected the will of many Palestinians who were fed up with the rampant corruption and lack of effectiveness of the Palestinian Authority and Fatah under Yasser Arafat, and who sought a change they hoped to find with Hamas and the worldview it represented.

During 2006, Hamas built up its military might in the Gaza Strip, rapidly establishing itself as both the central military and political power. At the same time, it had a relatively restrained policy of terrorist attacks. This was a continuation of its policy of 2005, the year of “the lull in the fighting.”

Israel Intelligence assessments assert that the lull was a result of both the Hamas’ governmental commitments and its operational weakness in Judea and Samaria. This weakness was, in turn, a result of Israeli security forces success in preventing terrorist attacks. The violent clashes with Fatah and the security forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas also restrained Hamas by channeling the focus of its attention, military might and other resources to the violent inter-Palestinian struggles.

Its policy of restraint regarding terrorist attacks was apparent in two main areas: the organization and implementation of suicide bombing attacks, and rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.

While until the second half of 2004 Hamas was the dominant organization in the organization and implementation of suicide bombing attacks, Hamas avoided focusing its efforts on such attacks in 2006. While Hamas’ role in rocket attacks was in general secondary, in the months it was active, Hamas was the dominant factor and in those months the attacks increased significantly. Hamas was the dominant force in the firing hundreds of rockets at Israeli towns and communities in the western Negev during the summer of 2006.

Since the November 25, 2006 cease-fire agreement, Hamas has not fired any rockets into Israel.

At the same time, Hamas’ terrorist-operative wing, the Iz a-Din al-
Qassam Brigades continued planning attacks, which could be put into operation on short notice. They also worked ceaselessly to upgrade their operational capabilities in Judea and Samaria.

The Gaza Strip
While Hamas has refrained from firing rockets into Israel since the November 25 cease-fire agreement,  not only has it done nothing to prevent the other terrorist organizations from carrying out attacks against Israel, it actually encourages them. A good example of this is the January 2007 suicide bombing attack in Eilat.

The most glaring attack carried out by Hamas during 2006 was against the IDF force at Kerem Shalom and the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit on June 25. Hamas has obstinately led negotiations with Israel for his release, demanding in return the release of Palestinian prisoners.

As far as Hamas is concerned, abducting Israelis to use as hostages is a perfectly legitimate tactic and plays no part in the organization’s policy of restraint (Hamas abducted and murdered Nuriel Sasson in September 2005).

Although with respect to terrorist attacks Hamas has kept a low profile, behind the scenes, it has continued its involvement by supporting other terrorist organizations. In 2006, it strengthened its collaboration with the Popular Resistance Committees terrorist organization, which on occasion has functioned as a Hamas subcontractor, this enabling Hamas to carry out terrorist attacks without claiming responsibility. The collaboration between the two organizations was evident in the attack and abduction on June 25, which signaled Hamas’ return to terrorist attacks for several months.

During IDF operations Summer Rains and Autumn Clouds, Hamas operatives were the most belligerent and attacked the IDF with small arms, antitank missiles, mortar fire and explosive devices.

After the cease-fire, Hamas focused once more on building up its military capabilities, exploiting the relative calm in the confrontation.

Judea and Samaria
During 2006, Hamas did not carry out, or indeed attempt to carry out, terrorist attacks inside Israel from Judea and Samaria. In certain instances, however, Hamas directed shooting attacks and abductions in Judea and Samaria from within the Gaza Strip.

Hamas’ attempts in Judea and Samaria to set up branches of the Executive Force, and to join the security forces operating in those areas failed. Most of Hamas’ power remained in the municipal government in some of the cities and in the continued functioning and influence of its civilian infrastructure, despite the Israeli security forces concentrated counterterrorist activities.

The HAMAS-led Palestinian terrorist organization buildup project in the Gaza Strip
During 2006, the terrorist organizations increased their efforts to improve their operational capabilities in the Gaza Strip by attempting to copy the Lebanese Hizbullah operational model. The project, led by Hamas, also includes organizations such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The buildup project is supported by Iran, Syria and Hizbullah.

Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005, which created a new situation and hastened the establishment of Hamas’ control of the Gaza Strip, also accelerated the buildup project. As a result of the disengagement, both the Philadelphi route and the Rafah crossing were left wide open, and were subject to extensive smuggling operations that neither the Palestinian Authority nor Egypt have taken effective measures to prevent.

After the disengagement, it became easy for the Palestinian terrorist organizations, especially Hamas, to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip, primarily through a network of tunnels. Terrorist operatives have easy access to the border, and are able to enter and leave the Gaza Strip for training in Lebanon, Syria and Iran. In addition, the terrorist organizations are able to smuggle large sums of money into the Gaza Strip with little effort, funds earmarked for civilian and governmental uses as well as their own needs.

In 2006, progress was made on the buildup project, although it was delayed by the violent internal clashes in the Gaza Strip. On the other hand, attempts to export operational capabilities from the Gaza Strip to Judea and Samaria by sending operatives, know-how, money and direction failed. This was mainly due to the different geography and demography of Judea and Samaria, and to the presence and effective counterterrorist measures taken by the Israeli security forces.

The Hamas-led buildup project was evident mainly in organizational changes and changes in its military methods, and in the smuggling of massive amounts of weapons into the Gaza Strip through tunnels, the Rafah crossing and by sea. In addition to smuggling, Hamas has upgraded its ability to manufacture weapons.

Other aspects of the buildup were apparent in the construction of defensive systems on the outskirts of densely populated Palestinian cities and villages and the acceleration of training courses in the Gaza Strip as well as in Lebanon, Syria and Iran.

The Executive Force established by Hamas currently has about 5,500 men those roots are in the similar force established three years previously by Muhammad Dahlan, at that time interior minister. The Executive Force is subordinate to the Hamas government’s interior minister, and its role is primarily to fight Hamas’ internal Palestinian enemies.