Jonathan Fine is a researcher at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism in Israel and an expert on the Middle East and Israeli studies. He is a member of the International Counter-Terrorism Academic Community and the International Center for Study of Radicalization and Political Violence in Kings College, London. He is also the author of the book, “Religious Violence in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: From Holy War to Terror.” The Jewish Week caught up with him for a conversation about ISIS and the radical Islamist group’s potential threat to Israel. This is an edited transcript.
Q: I understand ISIS – the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – is now calling itself simply IS, the Islamic State.
A: Yes, it has declared itself a caliphate (Islamic state) now, which covers everything — Lebanon, Syria, Iraq — the entire Arab world. And its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has nominated himself to be the caliph of Islam.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has compared Hamas to other terrorist groups, such as al-Qaida and ISIS. And yet others have said ISIS is even worse than Hamas. Is that true?
There have been misunderstandings about Hamas. It has very successfully marketed itself as the national liberation movement of the Palestinian people. It is true that it has a Palestinian agenda, but the major essence of the organization is its religious one — a very radical Islamic Sunni identity.
All the contemporary organizations that you see around the world, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia, al Qaeda and Hamas all stem from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Although the Muslim Brotherhood presents itself as a social-economic reform movement, it is the ideologic incubator of these horrific organizations you see now.
Is this widely known?
The West is finding it very hard to understand the full meaning of the transition from the secular political violent agenda to the religious political violent agenda.
These groups have not only declared war on the U.S. but on Western civilization. That is why they are defined as the Judeo-Crusader alliance. This is a religious war and Hamas is part of it. It shares the full vision of the caliphate.
Has Hamas actually spelled that out?
The Hamas [Covenant] treaty of August 1988 declares very clearly that it is an integral part of the global jihad alliance. Article 22 defines the Jewish people as the biggest enemy of the international community, saying they are responsible for the French Revolution, the Communist Revolution, World War I and World War II. It is one of the worst anti-Semitic pamphlets published after World War II.
How do you view Hamas?
It is part of the groups that declared total war against the West. It is not as strong as the others. Hamas today has more than 50,000 men and about 25,000 are hardcore combatants. They are using the local civilian infrastructure [in the Gaza Strip] as a firebase against Israel, and in so doing are committing a double war crime — both against their own people and against Israel. According to international law, the moment you turn any civilian infrastructure into a firebase, it becomes a legitimate target for reprisal. You cannot seek immunity by firing rockets from a school or a mosque, and then whine that Israel is firing back.
There have been reports that ISIS is beheading Christians and other minorities in Iraq.
The brutality and the violence go back to the Koran or the interpretations to the Koran. Their attitude towards non-Muslims is horrible. What they did in the last few weeks to Christians and Yazidis — they said you can convert to Islam and if not you will be executed. They are fundamentalists who believe it is okay to kill Jews and Christians. I don’t think that Hamas is any less cruel. Had they taken over Israel, they would have done the same thing to the Jews.
Does ISIS pose a threat to Israel from the east?
If they tried to overthrow Jordan, Israel would not allow that and neither would the U.S. or the U.K. because if the Hashemite kingdom falls, the area would be in a bad situation.