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Nov 15, 2012 | 21:20 GMT

A Test of Hamas' Authority in Gaza

MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/GettyImages

Determining responsibility in the Palestinian militant scene can be an exercise in futility. Hamas often relies on a number of front groups to provide it plausible deniability and complicate the target set for Israel. At the same time, Hamas needs to ensure that fringe groups do not act without Hamas' consent, especially in a scenario in which Hamas would need to demonstrate an ability to stem rocket fire in order to uphold a truce with Israel.

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On Nov. 14, according to a Stratfor source linked to the group, Hamas formed a joint command shortly after the assassination of top Hamas commander Ahmed Jabari. In addition to Hamas, the command includes Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian Resistance Committees, two smaller militant groups in Gaza. The three groups allegedly have agreed to cooperate and launch rockets only with the approval of the joint command. So far, both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have claimed responsibility for the Nov. 15 rocket attacks aimed at Tel Aviv, and Hamas appears to have made a deliberate decision to cross that Israeli redline.  

Moving forward, it remains to be seen whether Hamas will be able to successfully manage rocket fire through this joint command or whether it will see its authority questioned when Israeli military pressure increases. Groups that are not as tightly linked to Hamas — or that rival it — will become involved in the fighting should Israel decide to launch a ground operation in Gaza. Hamas may have some degree of control over the two smaller groups. But the growing number of Salafist-jihadists in Gaza — along with ideological rivals from Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — that can be expected to take part in such a conflict would likely do so in pursuit of their own agendas.

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