And yet, it must be said that Hamas is not ISIS. There are many more differences between the two groups than similarities. Recognizing this reality is essential: only when we understand how Hamas really works – and what it aims to do – will it be possible to confront the group in a way that will help Israel regain its security and , ultimately, to end the war.
As a former leader of a Salafist militant group sympathetic to ISIS recently told us: “There is a world of difference between ISIS and Hamas.”
Here’s what policymakers and the public need to know:
A state against a caliphate
Hamas is a nationalist organization that seeks to destroy Israel and replace it with a Palestinian state. It is also, of course, a militant religious group, inspired by the Islamist mold of the Muslim Brotherhood, from which it comes. But he is looking for a state that would ultimately be like any other in the international community, with a seat in the United Nations and in regional organizations like the Arab League. Its objectives are local.
The Islamic State, on the other hand, pursues transnational objectives and is a fundamentalist religious organization. ISIS seeks to build a global caliphate based on its literal interpretation of Scripture. Rather than aspiring to become a member of the global community of nations, ISIS has sought to conquer states and subjugate their citizens under threats of intimidation and death. If ISIS had succeeded in consolidating its territorial base in Iraq and Syria, it would have sought to undermine and destroy the United Nations, instead of joining it.
“IS is a purely Islamic group” that follows Islamic ideas and concepts, culminating in the “divine and obligatory way of life called the caliphate,” says the IS sympathizer. Hamas “carries the flag of Palestine,” he adds, while ISIS “carries the flag of Islam.”
“The sovereignty of man”
Gaza, ruled by Hamas, is certainly not a democratic beacon, but ISIS members and supporters castigate Hamas for engaging in the electoral process, as it did in 2006, when Hamas won elections in Gaza with 44 percent of the vote.
Hamas “accepts the sovereignty of man” and denies “the sovereignty and supremacy of God,” says the IS sympathizer. “There is nothing called democracy and man-made legislation,” he adds, “because everything is legislated by God Almighty in Sharia law. » In other words, supporters of the Islamic State criticize Hamas for not having applied Sharia law according to the interpretations of the Islamic State.
Divisions over Iran
ISIS also regularly denigrates Hamas for recognizing and receiving support from the (Shia) Islamic Republic of Iran. The unofficial English translation of a recent ISIS statement accuses the Palestinian group of “drawing closer” to the Iranian regime “within the framework of friendship and brotherhood.”
ISIS views Iran as a more insidious enemy than the United States and Israel because ISIS considers Shiites to be Rafidha, or rejectionists, and prioritized their death above any other adversary. Promoting sectarianism is at the heart of ISIS’s recruitment methods, so a Sunni group like Hamas enjoying the support of a Shiite country like Iran is considered beyond the Islamic framework.
For these and other differences, the Islamic State “considers Hamas contemptuous and an apostate,” according to a second ISIS sympathizer.
In fact, another The reason ISIS views Hamas with disdain is because Hamas has tolerated other religious groups in Gaza, something ISIS would never do.
“It is not right to call Hamas ISIS,” concludes the first ISIS sympathizer, “it is an insult to ISIS.”
Given these deep theological and ideological differences, it is not surprising that ISIS and its supporters refrained from congratulating Hamas for its October 7 attack, even though it was applauded by al-Qaeda and a large many of its affiliates, notably al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda. -Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent.
An end game
The distinctions between Hamas and ISIS will also impact how the current conflict ends.
With ISIS, there has never been any room for negotiation. ISIS had no state sponsor, as Hamas does with Iran (and once did with Syria). ISIS also lacked the level of popular support that Hamas enjoys, either in its area of operations or internationally. Indeed, the Islamic State was so threatening that it generated a truly global response with the 86-nation Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh. Countries with large Muslim populations had an extremely negative view of the terrorist group.
Unlike ISIS, some of Hamas’s goals are actually political and so there will be no effective solution to the crisis without a political resolution.
Yet if Hamas is equated with ISIS, as specious analogies suggest, the only options available to confront it will be military. Such analogies also risk creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more Israeli and American officials equate Hamas with ISIS, the more they close the door to any possible political settlement.
Ongoing efforts to demolish Hamas may well prove counterproductive as civilian death tolls rise and global public opinion turns against Israel and, by extension, the United States. Pursuing a solely kinetic response to Hamas may ultimately weaken the group, but it is unlikely to be completely destroyed. Hamas’ operational commanders were likely moved from Gaza before the attack, perhaps to Lebanon, Iran or Syria, to ensure the organization’s continuity, particularly among its hard-liners.
The fallout could lead to an even more extreme iteration of the group – Hamas 2.0 – which could rise from the ashes in Gaza and continue to carry out acts of violence and terrorism against Israel. If this were to happen, Hamas would prove similar to ISIS in at least one undesirable aspect: its resilience.