Brutality between Israel and Hamas only continues to worsen 10 days into the conflict, with hundreds killed, new weapons being introduced, and a propaganda war raising the stakes for both sides. The situation is poised to only get more serious now, though, with reports that the Islamic State group (formerly known as ISIS) is working to involve itself in the conflict.
A Vocativ report based on ISIS forums buried in the hidden Deep Web seems to indicate that the radical Sunni group that’s been embroiled in the Syrian civil war against President Bashar Assad and has now taken control of large swaths of Iraq, either already has connections with extremist groups fighting in Gaza or is working to establish connections. A least two Salafist Islamist groups, a movement that advocates violent jihad, have pledged their support for ISIS.
One group has changed its named to al Dawa al-Islamia, which translates to “The Islamic State,” and another is known as Ansar al Dawa al Islama, or “Supporters of the Islamic State,” according to Vocativ. Reported members of each group have claimed responsibility for recent rocket attacks last week, although the level of truth behind those claims is unknown.
These reports are contrary to a statement made by a spokesman for Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi indicating that the militant group does not intend to join the Israeli conflict because it has other wars to concentrate on before asserting itself alongside the Gazans.
Observers have long speculated that Hamas, which is known to receive support from Iran and Syria and has been classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, is not the only insurgent group operating within the small confines of the Gaza Strip. A Hamas spokesman said any reports of Islamic State involvement in the current conflict are “lies and fabrications” meant only to “distort the image of the Gaza Strip,” as quoted by Vocativ.
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Yet, if the Gazans posting on the ISIS forums are to be believed, there is a hope among a fraction of civilians that the Islamic State finds a toehold in the dispute and helps bring the brutality to a close.
“We ask the caliphate to support the Salafis jihadis groups in Gaza with money and weapons,” one user wrote on the forum, according to Vocativ. “We don’t have enough strong men. We want your help. … Those with the wrong way [Hamas] have the support of Iran and the Shiite, we sit in our houses as women, without weapons. Our situation is bad.”
The situation for the nearly 2 million Gazans is indeed very bad. Ongoing Israeli rocket strikes have killed more than 200 people, including women and four children who were killed on a beach from what Palestinian officials said was an Israeli gunboat shell.
Only one Israeli fatality has been reported thus far, with the Iron Dome defense shield intercepting rockets from Gaza before they strike heavily populated cities. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also threatened launching a ground war into the streets of the already crippled Gaza Strip to eliminate Hamas entirely. Brigadier-General Michael Herzog, a former chief of staff at Israel’s ministry of defense, wondered in an interview with the National Post, though, if the time has come to reassess the situation.
“One way in which in an Israeli military operation could backfire is by shaking Hamas’ control on the ground to the point that it allowed other factions, including jihadists, to come to the fore,” he said. “At least Hamas provides an address – you don’t have that with the jihadist factions. They aren’t dominant right now, but Hamas no longer controls Gaza as firmly as it used to, and it if was seriously weakened they could take advantage.”