Why Did Hamas Execute its Own Commander?

March 2, 2016

2 min read

Last week, Newsweek reported that the Hamas military wing al-Qassam Brigades is “reeling from the recent execution of Mahmoud Ishtiwi at the hands of his fellow fighters.” According to Newsweek, some members of the force resigned in protest, arguing that Ishtiwi was killed not because of his moral failings, but because of “internal arguments.” Those internal arguments have given birth to al-Qassamiyoun al-Ahrar, the Free Qassam Members, which openly criticizes the old Qassam Brigades.

On Tuesday, the NY Times revealed that Ishtiwi, 34, “a commander from a storied family of Hamas loyalists who, during the 2014 war with Israel, was responsible for 1,000 fighters and a network of attack tunnels,” was executed last month by his former comrades “with three bullets to the chest” over stealing and homosexual liaisons.

Ishtiwi, who is survived by two wives and three children, admitted that he had embezzled al-Qassam money, but his torturers became suspicious of how quickly he capitulated, and wondered if he was hiding something bigger. He was. He hid his homosexuality, which led Hamas to suspect the Israelis were blackmailing him for information over his deviance.

To complete the interrogation, relatives reported, Ishtiwi was suspended from a ceiling for hours every day, whipped, and sleep deprived with loud music. He confessed to everything of which they accused him.

The interrogations and execution of Mahmoud Ishtiwi came against the background of internal fighting in Hams, both on the military and the political ends. The group’s Politburo figures are scattered in Turkey, Qatar, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. The war in Syria has separated the Sunni Hamas from one of its major benefactors, the Shiite Iran, but Iran’s natural enemies, the Saudis, are not quick to fill the financial void. The Gaza economy is still in a shambles, with most of the buildings Israel bombed in 2014 still in a ruin, and the Gazan street is furious at its combative leaders who seem incapable of running even a small country.

Jonathan Schanzer, writing for Newsweek a week ago, believes Gaza could go up in civil war flames soon, ignited by one of the factions that’s out to grab the seemingly directionless leadership. The NY Times cites Ibrahim al-Madhoun, a writer close to Hamas, who points to Yehya Sinwar, Qassam’s representative in the Hamas political wing in Gaza, a kind of defense minister position, as the next contender.

Should the Palestinian Authority over in parts of Judea and Samaria, and Hamas in Gaza collapse at about the same time, Israel’s security forces would be facing a very serious challenge. On the other hand, this could mean the end of the Oslo preconception, and despite the heavy costs, it might be just what the doctor ordered for reaching a temporary end to Terrorism on both sides of the green line.

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