The Islamic State (IS) group may view the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas as an “apostate.” Their October 7 attack is forcing the jihadist center to regain leading legitimacy in its war against Israel and its supporters.
• Also read: Explosion on a bus in Kabul: Two dead, according to the Islamic State
• Also read: The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attack that killed 84 people in Iran
This attack, the bloodiest in Israel's history (1,140 dead, 250 hostages), permanently placed the Gaza Strip and Hamas at the center of the priorities of law firms around the world, relegating ISIS to second place despite the intense activity of its affiliates.
“This puts considerable pressure on IS to remain relevant,” said Hans-Jakob Schindler, director of the NGO Counter-Extremism Project (CEP). “Without the war in Gaza, ISIS would be making headlines,” he added to AFP. However, “If no one talks about you, you don’t exist.”
A clear connection with Hamas's actions was not an option: IS, Sunni and Salafist, detests the pro-Iranian Hamas and is close to the Muslim Brotherhood. Especially since the latter's struggle is focused on the search of the Palestinian people if ISIS wants to re-establish a global caliphate to better conquer the world.
Therefore, unlike al-Qaeda, which immediately welcomed Hamas's operation, IS took the time to carefully consider its comments.
“In the Middle East, the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend,” notes Laurence Bindner, co-founder of JOS Project, a platform for analyzing extremist online propaganda.
At the beginning of January, the jihadist center claimed responsibility for the double attack in Kerman, Iran, in which 89 people were killed. Yet Tehran has vowed to destroy Israel.
But instead of choosing between its enemies, ISIS is “taking a different path, positioning itself on multiple fronts simultaneously: one against Jews and supporters of Israel, another against Iran and its allies.”
In late October, the group published a text entitled “Practical Ways to Support Muslims in Palestine” in its official organ al-Naba, calling on its followers to attack Israel, its Western supporters and Jews around the world.
In early January, its spokesman Abu Houdhayfah Al-Ansari released a recording entitled “And Kill Them Where You Find Them” on the Internet.
“Israel is not just a state, but a global Jewish project, and IS sympathizers want to throw themselves into this fight,” assures Laurence Bindner. “This justifies attacks on Israel, Jews and anyone who supports the project, including Arab states that normalize relations with Israel.”
In response to October 7, Israel launched a major military operation in Gaza that has so far left nearly 23,500 dead, most of them women and children, according to the Hamas Health Ministry.
ISIS can draw strong momentum from the war, believes Lucas Webber, co-founder of the specialist website Militant Wire. “It’s an opportunity for more relevance and success,” he assures.
Their hostility toward Hamas “does not mean that jihadists will stop exploiting the fighting for their own ends – urging their sympathizers to attack the West, inciting the undecided to act, and radicalizing a growing potential of angry individuals.”
The fact is that IS needs visibility to defend its claimed position as the world leader in jihadism. In recent weeks, several attacks or projects of limited scale have been registered in Europe.
In November, an Algerian man suspected of having ties to ISIS was arrested in Italy. The following month, an Arabic teacher and imam at a Madrid mosque was arrested on suspicion of recruiting young people to the group. And a French-Iranian killed a young German-Filipino tourist in Paris and injured two other people, thereby pledging loyalty to the power plant.
“An operation in Europe would be necessary” for IS, fears Hans-Jakob Schindler, who reiterates that the group has “already been building networks there for a long time.” They must do something now to put themselves back at the center of the agenda.”
And on a planetary level. “IS leaders believe that the priority at this stage is to establish and increase their influence in the Middle East or Central Africa,” Eva Koulouriotis, an independent expert on the region, told AFP.
“The competition is based on who can gain the most popularity in Islamic societies and thereby attract more members.”