A terrorist with close ties to Iran has been installed as the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, The Times of Israel reported Monday.
Imad al-Alami will take over from current Gaza chief Ismail Haniyeh, who is moving to Qatar, likely in order to replace Khaled Meshaal as leader of the terror group’s political bureau.
Not much is known about al-Alami. He was born in Gaza and lived for many years in Iran. He moved to Syria in 2008 before returning to Gaza after the Syrian Civil War began in 2011. He was the last Hamas leader to leave Damascus after Hamas split with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
He was reportedly injured two years ago during that last Hamas war with Israel. According to one report, he was injured when an elevator in a tunnel where several Hamas leaders were hiding collapsed. But according to another account, he was hurt in a shootout between two groups of Hamas terrorists.
Unlike other Hamas leaders such as Haniyeh and Meshaal, al-Alami doesn’t give press conferences, maintain a social media presence, or even meet with families who are mourning. He has attended only one public event in recent months.
Al-Alami’s promotion came after Haniyeh left for Qatar to replace Meshaal, who announced that he would not run a leadership role later this year. Al-Alami has been appointed to fill in for Haniyeh in Gaza until Hamas leadership elections, which are scheduled to take place before the end of the year.
Haniyeh’s relocation to Qatar, as well as his participation earlier this month in a meeting between Meshaal and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, indicates that Haniyeh is likely going to become Hamas’ top boss.
In recent years, Times reporter Avi Issacharoff wrote, Hamas has “walked a tightrope in attempting to maintain support from both Gulf states like Qatar and their Shiite rivals in Iran, Syria and elsewhere.”
Although there has sometimes been dissent among the terror group’s leaders over its ties with Iran, in recent months signs have emerged that it is moving closer into the Islamic Republic’s orbit. A number of Hamas officials met with Iranian diplomats in Beirut in September, pledging to face the “Zionist threat” together. The following month, Gaza-based Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar said that the terror group sought to “enhance and develop” its ties with Iran in order to prepare for a new war with Israel.
Iran reportedly restored ties in May with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another Gaza-based terrorist group, promising it $70 million in military aid. Tehran also reportedly backs Gaza’s new Shiite terrorist group al-Sabirin, which Israel’s Channel 2 described as being modeled after Hezbollah. Al-Sabirin is led by a former Islamic Jihad commander and is said to receive $10 million annually from Iran.
Hamas spends an estimated $40 million of its $100 million military budget on building tunnels into Israel that can be used in future terrorist attacks. In July, an Israeli official estimated that Hamas digs some six miles of tunnels every month. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, formerly the head of the research division of Israeli military intelligence and later the director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, told reporters earlier this year that the tunnels were a sign that Hamas is preparing for another war against Israel. “They definitely invest a lot in making the necessary preparations so that in the next round, when they decide to start it, they will be able to inflict the heaviest damage on Israel, including through those tunnels,” he said.
In September, Israel began constructing a $530 million underground barrier along its border with the Gaza Strip to prevent further tunnels from being built into Israeli territory. Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Gadi Eisenkot described the barrier as “the largest project” ever undertaken in Israel’s military history.
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