The statement from the Al-Qassam brigades launching the 7 October attack provides insight into the objectives and nature of the Palestinian Islamist movement

Last update: 2023-12-13 12:14:35

How has Hamas justified the vicious attack on 7 October and what are its objectives? After the “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation, the political leaders of the Palestinian Islamist movement appeared all over various Arab TV channels to explain their reasons and their words have been under closed scrutiny. There has been less focus, however, on the audio recording in which Muhammad Deif, leader of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s armed wing, announced the attack. Yet, it is useful, for several reasons, to analyse his address, which Oasis has translated in full from the original Arabic.


First of all, because it was scripted by the actual perpetrators of the attack. Indeed, there are doubts as to the extent to which Hamas’s political leadership was involved in the planning of the 7 October operation. Some even speculate that they might not have even been informed of the plan. Speaking in a widely viewed interview with Saudi broadcaster Al-Arabiya, Hamas leader abroad Khaled Mashal stated, among other things, that Hamas’s strategic decisions are discussed by the political office, but the Al-Qassam brigades make decisions on the ground.


Secondly, the reasons and aims behind the attack that are expressed in the statement provide a more accurate picture of the expectations of Hamas and its military wing, regardless of the objectives of other actors in the region—first among them Iran—who likely worked in concert with the Palestinian movement. The address sets out the themes that have been often repeated by the Islamist movement’s leadership. The alleged triggers for the operation were the ongoing occupation of Palestine by the “Zionist entity,” the expulsion and killing of Palestinians, the destruction of their homes and seizure of their property, the inertia and silence of the international community, the violation and desecration of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the detention of thousands of prisoners in inhumane conditions. But the statement also announces that this state of affairs is now over and invites Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and those living in Israel to rise up (the audio message mentions Negev, Galilee, the Triangle and Haifa, Jaffa, Acre, Lod and Ramla, all Israeli cities with a sizeable Arab population). There is also a specific appeal to the brothers in the “Islamic resistance” in Lebanon, Iran, Yemen, Iraq and Syria, the so-called “Axis of Resistance” led by Tehran, which precedes the appeal to all other Arab and Islamic countries.


These references suggest that Hamas’s military wing probably intended to unleash a widespread upheaval, which so far has not occurred. In their TV appearances, the movement’s political leaders have hardly disguised their disappointment in the inaction of their regional allies. As observed by Nelly Lahoud, an American expert on jihadism, this points to a possible parallel between Hamas and Al-Qaeda, despite the differences between the two organisations. Behind the 9/11 attacks was Osama Bin Laden’s goal of dispelling the myth of American power and setting a global Islamic uprising in motion. However, the US strikes in Afghanistan and the absence of a Muslim mobilisation frustrated his plans. Albeit on a smaller scale, Hamas likewise aimed to herald the end of Israeli invincibility, while galvanising the Palestinian population and the Arab and Islamic street. But the lack of a sustained uprising, the wait-and-see attitude of their allies and Israel’s brutal retaliation have probably confounded the movement’s calculations. The contradictory statements made by several Hamas leaders—on 24 October Ghazi Hamad repeated that their goal remains the annihilation of the State of Israel; on 1 November, Ismail Haniyeh, one of the movement’s leaders, spoke more cautiously (and opportunistically) about being open to negotiations leading to a two-state solution—are indicative of the organisation’s difficulties and the lack of a clear, shared political line. The speeches made by Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah confirmed that the strategic goals of Hamas and other members of the Axis of Resistance may converge, but do not coincide.


One last consideration concerns the style of the address. Although it is true that the indiscriminate violence enacted by the attackers on 7 October has dissipated some of the differences between Hamas and ISIS, the language used in the announcement of the “Al-Aqsa Flood” does highlight substantial divergences between the two groups. The Islamic State is a typical Salafist movement, eager to display the doctrinal compliance of its ideas and actions. These are invariably justified by quotations—to be sure selective and decontextualized—from the Qur’an, the Sunna and authoritative classical authors. Religious vocabulary is likewise clearly present in the statement by the Al-Qassam Brigades, which contains several references to the Qur’an, repeatedly mentions the help that God will provide through his angels and emphasises the importance of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. But the Islamic references are treated differently by the two organisations, beginning with the very image of the flood, which gave the Hamas attack its name and is a typically millenarian theme much used by ISIS. The second issue of Dabiq, the Islamic State’s English-language magazine, was entitled precisely “The Flood”. Inside was a long, detailed parallel drawn between the story of Noah, which is told in the Qur’an too, and the current state of humanity. Hamas’s proclamation is certainly not lacking in apocalyptic overtones—Palestinians are invited to “set the earth on fire beneath the feet of the usurping occupiers”—but the allusion to the flood is not configured within a rigorous doctrinal framework and the enemy is not identified using the classic theological binary employed by the Salafi movements (believer/unbeliever), but rather in more markedly political terms (the criminal occupiers). Above all, its remarks about Israeli violations of international law and human rights, two institutions categorically rejected by ISIS as mere products of the idolatrous West, is starkly at odds with the idiom of the Salafist jihadist organisations. This does not mean that Hamas has a genuine fondness for international law, but this mixture of religious rhetoric and secular language is an indication of its affiliation to the constellation of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organisation from which the Palestinian movement first emerged, rather than the Salafi movement.


In fact, the address bears worrying similarities to documents of other radical Islamist organisations. It invites all those who own a rifle to get it out and encourages those who do not have one to use a cleaver, instead, or an axe, a hatchet, Molotov cocktails, or trucks or cars, an arsenal that closely resembles the resources suggested by many jihadist manuals.


Although it has not produced the results perhaps sought by the Al-Qassam Brigades, the “flood” unleashed on 7 October is, alas, anything but metaphorical. The cycle of violence has begun, and its consequences are already catastrophic.



The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Oasis International Foundation