Rantisi’s Putsch

Just 30 hours after the Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was killed by an Israeli missile in Gaza City, the radical Abdel Aziz Rantisi, 57-year old pediatrician, declared himself successor. Several members of the Hamas leadership were quick to put in that the appointment was provisional and necessary to close the gap left by the departed leader. Rantisi’s claim that he was the deputy head of the Shura Council and therefore automatically next in line for the leadership is deceptive, especially considering that Yassin never accepted his pretensions to the succession.
In any case, Yassin was never head of the Shura Council. Indeed his leadership of the Hamas movement was never formalized under any public title at all, contrary to the impression Rantisi is trying to convey. Finally, the Shura Council is not the movement’s supreme authority; nor does it select Hamas leaders. That is the prerogative of the Council of Guardians, an entity similar to the unelected body of the same name that rules the Islamic Republic of Iran which is so secretive that most Hamas rank and file members do not know its members’ identities.
Before choosing the next leader, this council would be bound to consult at length with Muslim Brotherhood branches in Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Any decision would require several months to reach.
Rantisi’s reference to the Hamas Damascus-based politburo head Khaled Mashaal as the future controller of the West Bank left a great deal unsaid. It sounded very much as though Mashaal, whose standing in the movement has taken a dive of late, struck a deal with Rantisi for mutual recognition and reciprocal support for their self-appointed roles.
The most likely conclusion from these maneuvers is that the pair staged an internal putsch to take over the movement’s leadership before Yassin was cold in his grave. It is doubtful whether the partnership between the fire-eating Rantisi and the more temperate Mashaal, who spends most of his time in Doha, Qatar and Egypt, will hold up for long. The politburo head has many enemies in the Damascus leadership and they will be keen to clip his wings.
Certainly the Cairo-based World Muslim Brotherhood leadership will hardly accept a fait accompli by any field functionary.
However shaky his claim to rule Hamas, two things are in no doubt about Rantisi: first, he will do his best to bring off revenge attacks against Israel by means of his own diminished resources or with outside help; second, he is already in the sights of Israeli forces, who made a failed attempt on his life last June. Monday, March 23, defense minister Shaul Mofaz and army chief Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, made it clear that terrorist leaders of any stripe will be targeted henceforth with no exceptions.
debkafile‘s Islamic sources reported the shock experienced by the main body of Hamas when they discovered overnight that their movement had always been a mere offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. This emerged from the Yassin obituary published in Cairo by the Brotherhood’s head, Muhammed Aqf, in which he honored the late leader as “Supreme Teacher of the Muslim Brotherhood-Palestine.” Hamas members had always believed they were fighting in the name of Palestinian nationhood – not Islamic fundamentalism. Because of its position in the world movement, Yassin was careful never to allow the Hamas to carry out overseas operations, which he accepted were the province of other parts of the Brotherhood, such as the Egyptian Jihad Islami which has amalgamated with al Qaeda.
One key decision facing the new Hamas leader is whether to start launching operations overseas or stick to Yasin’s restrictiveness. A pointer that the new men plan to spread their wings came from the stream of hate-filled invective against the United States issuing in the last 24 hours from the movement’s post-Yassin spokesmen.

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