The Islamic State Declares War on Hamas: The Latest Episode in a Complex Relationship

Gilad Shiloach analyzes the Islamic State's declaration of war against Hamas.

The Islamic State recently declared war on Hamas, saying the Palestinian armed group is an "apostate," and calling upon its followers to attack it, in a step that marks the peak of a long-running tension between the Salafi-Jihadi organization and the Gaza-based Islamist group.

The IS's "Sinai Province," the official branch of the IS in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, has recently released a 22-minute long video named "The Religion of Ibrahim." In the video, which capitalizes on US President Donald Trump's recent recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the IS is portraying Hamas as a "nationalist" movement that abandoned the principles of Islam and adopted the principles of "democracy" (which is seen by Salafi-Jihadis as a polytheistic practice). It blames Hamas for sitting idly in front of Israel and failing to liberate Palestine while receiving support from the Iranian regime that "killed Muslims in Iraq, Yemen, and Syria." The Jihadi organization also accuses Hamas of persecuting the IS's "believers" inside the Gaza Strip and cooperating with the Egyptian military.

Later on, an IS member calls on the group's supporters in Gaza to use explosives, silenced pistols, and sticky bombs against Hamas members, as well as against the Shiʿa and "infidel Christians" who live inside the Gaza Strip. The final part of the video features a gruesome scene where IS members execute an alleged collaborator with Hamas' military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

A few days later, the IS posted an article in its weekly al-Naba bulletin that was critical of Hamas, presenting the Palestinian group as "nullifiers of Islam" and allegedly proving why its policy contradicts Islam. In that article, the IS repeats the same accusations against Hamas, saying that "Hamas' religion is democracy" and shaming Hamas for cooperating with the region’s "tyrants" such as Iran and Egypt. 

The current campaign by the IS against Hamas comes following the recent efforts by Hamas to prevent from Salafi, pro-IS, and other Jihadi elements in the Gaza Strip from firing rockets at Israel in the weeks following Trump's announcement. Also, Hamas has recently been arresting individuals suspected of cooperating with the IS's "Sinai Province" and engaging in efforts to minimize smuggling and cross-border infiltration into Sinai, in an attempt to repair its ties with Cairo. The IS’s recent declaration of war IS against Hamas should therefore be seen in this context and as part of the long and complex relations between the two rival Islamist groups that had previously enjoyed better relations and even cooperated along the two sides of the Egyptian border in the past.