Through the Research Division of the Intelligence Directorate, various bodies in the Operations Branch, and the Israel Security Agency (ISA, or Shin Bet security service), Israel's security forces gather extensive information day and night on the Hamas terror organization. In addition to preventing terror attacks, these bodies conduct deep and comprehensive research in order to get to know the organization from every angle and to better understand the enemy.
But for Maj. Guy Aviad, Head of the Training Desk in the IDF History Department, Hamas is far more than a matter of professional interest. "Since the age of 15, with the establishment of Hamas, I've collected information on Hamas as a personal interest," Maj. Aviad said. For years he's investigated the organization, teaching its history every day – and even after returning home the investigation doesn’t end as he plunges into another book about Hamas before going to sleep. As a part of his ongoing investigation into the terror group he wrote The Hamas Lexicon, which was published by the Ministry of Defense.
Marking 25 years since the establishment of Hamas this month, Maj. Aviad spoke with the IDF Website, sharing his broad perspective on the central points in the history of the IDF's struggle against Hamas and how the organization became Israel's number one enemy.
"Hamas was outlawed by Israel two years after its establishment in '87, but its history is much deeper," said Maj. Aviad. "The signs of violence that would form Hamas appeared long before its official proclamation."
In 1983 the Palestinian Mujahedeen was established under the leadership of Ahmed Yassin, a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood who after a few years became the spiritual father of Hamas and its terrorist constituency. The Mujahedeen began to recruit activists and stockpile weapons, and were the first example of the militant cells that would come to characterize Izz ad-Din al-Qassam – the military arm of Hamas. Three years later, the armed group Al-Majd was established, charged with "enforcing the Islamic way of life" in the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood leaders decided to embrace Jihad and to establish Hamas (an acronym in Arabic for The Islamic Resistance Movement). The organization grew quickly and it began to escalate its violent activity with the outbreak of the First Intifada. "Hamas grew in great intensity during the Intifada, carrying out audacious and sophisticated terror attacks, becoming a more violent and armed movement, and likewise transforming the Intifada."
Until this point, said Maj. Aviad, the IDF and the security forces hadn't devoted the same resources to religious organizations that they'd invested in the war against the violent PLO. "They realized that Hamas is no better than the PLO, and that its religious extremism can actually make it much worse," he said.
Iran: the official sponsor of Hamas
In the following years, the IDF fought Hamas with waves of extensive arrests, to match Hamas' increasing terrorist activity.
"One of the most formative events for Hamas happens in 1992," Maj. Aviad explained. "Israel decides to expel 415 Hamas terrorists to Southern Lebanon all at once. In effect, this was the first opportunity for Hamas operatives from the Gaza Strip to make connections with operatives from Judea and Samaria, who until then had been cut off from one another. It was a real team-building seminar." However the most influential outcome of the time that the organization's leaders were based in Lebanon was the establishment of the connection with Hezbollah, which would later lead to Iran's sponsorship of Hamas.
"The relationship between Hamas and Iran has grown enormously in recent years. The first connection was created after Hezbollah began to provide training to Hamas operatives exiled in Lebanon, but at that time relations were weak because Hamas is a definitively Sunni organization and the government in Iran is definitively Shiite."
Maj. Aviad explained that after the assassination of Ahmed Yassin, the picture was turned on its head and the pact between the Islamists tightened. "The dam breaks and a serious breakthrough is made. Since 2004, there has been close cooperation between Hamas and Iran, which can be seen in joint training between Hamas and Hezbollah, the smuggling of weapons into Gaza and extensive financial support."
Maj. Aviad noted that following the civil war in Syria and the removal of Hamas from Damascus, a rift was opened between Hamas and Iran, which now prefers other terror organizations for the struggle against Israel. "Hamas largely left the axis of evil and became a separate terror organization, and in return Iran aims its financial support and smuggling routes more at Islamic Jihad and less at Hamas."
Hamas tries to activate sleeper cells in Judea and Samaria
In the second Intifada, Hamas enlisted sophisticated engineers and encouraged the cult of death that led to routinely vicious suicide attacks that struck at the heart of Israeli cities. The ISA tightened its grip on Gaza and the IDF carried out intensive actions on an almost daily basis, which reached a peak in Operation Defensive Shield, crushing Hamas in Judea and Samaria. Since then Hamas has tried to activate and operate its sleeper cells in various areas of Judea and Samaria, but the tight grip of the IDF and the ISA continue to prevent Hamas activity there.
In Gaza, the situation is completely different. "Hamas wanted to exploit the situation that was created prior to [Israel's] disengagement from Gaza to organize its terrorist cells into its institutionalized military arm and build, for instance, regional brigades. They exploit the time after the disengagement for their violent coup [against the PA in 2007], and become the unquestioned rulers of the territory."
Hamas and the global jihad
One of the growing challenges emerging from the Gaza Strip in recent years is the terror activities of extremist Salafist streams that are connected to the global jihad movement. "The global jihad, for instance in the form of the Salafists in the Sinai, is a problematic challenge for Hamas. Today a Salafist organization carries out an attack from Egypt and the response will be in Gaza, because we see Hamas as the controlling authority responsible for all terror activities in the territory. It was, for instance, the situation of the attack in Ein Netafim in August 2011. The subversive acts of the Salafists draw Hamas into a military response, but Hamas showed that in events that undermine their stability, [they] can roll up their sleeves and fight [those groups] intensely." Maj. Aviad mentioned the global Jihad movement Jundalla as an example."Hamas instructed its military wing to raid a mosque in Rafah where [Jundalla's] Sheikh preached, and they penetrated the mosque, destroyed it completely, without any rel
igious qualms, and erased the organization from the map." After the deterrence established by Operation Pillar of Defense, GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Tal Russo noted that it is clear that Hamas is preventing more extreme factions from firing at Israel.
The most recent step in the IDF's war with Hamas was Operation Pillar of Defense whose aim was the destruction of the terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. "After Pillar of Defense, Hamas will try to rebuild its military forces as fast as possible and repair the damages," Maj. Aviad explained. "It will try to better conceal its weapons systems, overcome Iron Dome etc." They eyes of the security forces remain open above the Gaza Strip.
An updated version of "The Hamas Lexicon" by Guy Aviad, will be published by the Ministry of Defense in 2013.