Elite Hamas fighters defecting to Islamic State
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Elite Hamas fighters defecting to Islamic State

Despite losing a number of its top commandos, the Gaza-based terror organization continues to work with IS on smuggling, other fields

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas military wing, attend a memorial for Mohamed Zouari in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on January 31, 2017, (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)
Members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas military wing, attend a memorial for Mohamed Zouari in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on January 31, 2017, (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

A member of Hamas’s naval commando unit defected from the Gaza-based terror organization nearly a year ago to join the Sinai Province — the Islamic State group’s branch in the Sinai Peninsula, Palestinian sources told The Times of Israel.

Abed al-Wahad Abu Aadara, 20, from the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, was arrested approximately two months ago by Hamas while visiting Gaza due to his affiliation with IS. He has since been freed.

Although Abu Aadara is not the first Hamas operative to defect to IS, he is the first known member of the group’s naval commando unit to join its ranks.

The weeks following Abu Aadara’s arrest were marked by a dramatic increase in tensions between Hamas and IS, due in large part to the arrest of Gaza-based operatives identified with the group, as well as the reduction in the volume of goods being smuggled to the Gaza Strip from Sinai, which IS used as a means of pressuring Hamas in response to the arrests.

However, due to the recent rapprochement between the two groups, in particular relating to smuggling from the Sinai Peninsula to the Gaza Strip, Abu Aadara has now been released from one of Hamas’s prisons in Gaza.

Hamas naval commandos, seen in a still image from a propaganda video released by the terror group during Israel's Operation Protective Edge, in the summer of 2014. (Screen capture)
Hamas naval commandos, seen in a still image from a propaganda video released by the terror group during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, in the summer of 2014. (Screen capture)

Abu Aadara began his career with Hamas as a member of the group’s elite Nukhba unit and was later selected as a naval commando.

Abu Aadara’s brother, Mufleh, also joined IS after leaving the Gaza Strip for the Sinai Peninsula over a year and a half ago. He was later killed in Sinai, likely while fighting against the Egyptian army.

Following his brother’s death, Abu Aadara decided to follow in his footsteps by joining IS, crossing the border into Sinai last March.

In recent years Hamas has lost dozens of members of its military wing — the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades — to IS’s Sinai Province, including a number of its fighters from the elite Nukhba unit. Many of these operatives left for Sinai with their families and relatives and now serve as the Sinai Province’s main points of contact with Hamas. These defectors include a number of Hamas’s experts on operating anti-tank missiles and assembling roadside bombs, who have provided substantial assistance to IS in its war against the Egyptian army.

Islamic State's affiliate Sinai Province at weapons training, February 6, 2016. (Telegram.me/HaiAlaElJehad5 via MEMRI)
Islamic State’s affiliate Sinai Province at weapons training, February 6, 2016. (Telegram.me/HaiAlaElJehad5 via MEMRI)

Abed al-Hila al-Qishta, a former senior member of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades before joining IS, was killed in December in an airstrike carried out against IS targets in Sinai, while Abu Malek Abu Shwiesh, who was a top assistant to the commander of Hamas’s military wing in the Rafah area, also reportedly defected to the Sinai Province.

Despite the apparent trend of Hamas operatives leaving the group in favor of IS, the terror organization continues to cooperate with the Sinai Province, in particular in relation to smuggling from Sinai into Gaza. The leadership of Hamas’s military wing in the Rafah area is responsible for coordinating cooperation between Hamas and the Sinai Province in a number of areas, including on weapons smuggling and bringing injured IS operatives into Gaza for medical care.

Although the Egyptian regime is fervently opposed to the cooperation between the two groups, it has taken steps towards reconciliation with Hamas. Just last week, a delegation of Hamas security officials visited Cairo for a series of meetings. The Hamas contingent was led by the deputy commander of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades Marwan Issa, considered the de facto chief of staff of Hamas’s military wing in light of the health troubles of current military head Muhammed Deif.

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