What if ISIS emerges in Gaza?

Raed Omari
Raed Omari

Raed Omari

By : Raed Omari

There have been recent reports of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) insurgents in the Gaza Strip, though not to the extent of its presence elsewhere in the region such as in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. ISIS seems to have supporters in Gaza but not an official base. However, it would not surprising if it one day declared Gaza the newest administrative region of its self-styled caliphate.

This could be done by ISIS’s traditional method of first garnering support in underprivileged areas with a fragile ruling system, then expanding its presence by recruiting fighters, defeating weaker enemies, and finally declaring a branch.

ISIS has an active presence in Egypt’s Sinai near Gaza, where there are smuggling tunnels between the Egyptian border town of Rafah and the Palestinian territory. This could accelerate the establishment of an ISIS branch in Gaza, as could the humanitarian crisis there, which is making its people desperate and vulnerable to exploitation.

There is talk of Salafist groups in Gaza eager to become part of ISIS’s Sinai branch. As such, ISIS does not need to recruit overseas fighters – in the case of Gaza, it cannot due to the Israeli and Egyptian blockades.


Libya proved the group’s ability to reach out to desperate locals either weary of the existing governing system, or eager to join a group they see as gaining ground or suiting their non-politicized Islamist ideology. ISIS has “opportunistic” supporters – Iraq is the best example of this.

If one day ISIS has a branch in Gaza, Hamas and the Brotherhood will certainly be its ideological enemies

Raed Omari

Hamas, which is rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood, is the governing party in Gaza, but not the only faction there. Hamas and Salafists in Gaza have never seen eye to eye, with their relationship sometimes turning confrontational. ISIS is aware of this antagonism and has been trying to exploit it.

If one day ISIS has a branch in Gaza, Hamas and the Brotherhood will certainly be its ideological enemies. Meanwhile, Hamas has been cracking down on Salafists and ISIS supporters.

In reports and analyses on the Middle East, the West Bank and Gaza have often been portrayed as immune to regional influences, but developments have proved otherwise. Tension between Hamas and Salafists in Gaza has its roots in Egypt. The failure of uprisings in other Arab states has made Palestinians cautious about carrying out their own Arab Spring.

Palestine does not only consist of Fatah and Hamas, as widely believed. In the occupied territories, there are also Salafists, jihadists, and members of Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami (Islamic Party of Liberation). For them, establishing an Islamic caliphate is the first step toward liberating Palestine. ISIS is offering itself as the party that can achieve that goal.

Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via [email protected], or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2


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