In its bloody campaign to demilitarize Gaza, Israel may leave Hamas too weak to lead the Palestinian militant factions.
If Hamas falls, waiting in the wings is an indeterminate number of anti-Israel extremist groups, some of which were formed by card-carrying members of Hamas when they felt the group wasn't radical enough, according to Matthew Levitt, a terrorism expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Some groups operate similarly to Hamas, receiving weapons, money, and guidance from Iran through the terrorist organization Hezbollah. The Palestine Islamic Jihad, considered the second-largest terrorist group in Gaza after Hamas, is thought to be behind many of the "record-setting 2,300 plus rockets launched from Gaza toward Israel in 2012," according to the State Department's 2013 Country Reports on Terrorism.
It's possible that the Palestinian Authority or the United Nations would step in to rebuild Gaza, and experts — including Levitt — think it's unlikely that Israel would leave the region to chaos. But whoever is actually in charge, plenty of groups could fill the void as the leading anti-Israel voice of the Palestinians.
Other than Hamas, the State Department has six jihadist organizations located in Gaza registered on its official list of foreign terrorist organizations: Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade; Army of Islam; Palestine Islamic Jihad-Shaqaqi Faction; Palestine Liberation Front-Abu Abbas Faction; Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. Here is what the State Department knows about these terrorist groups.
Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade (AAMB)
AAMB's few hundred members are funded primarily by Iran through the Lebanon-based Hezbollah. The group formed at the beginning of the second intifada in 2000, but earned a spot on America's terrorist list in 2002 after it conducted the first female suicide bombing in Israel. In November 2012, AAMB said it was responsible for firing "more than 500 rockets and missiles into Israel during Operation Pillar of Defense, the weeklong Israel Defense Force operation in Gaza," according to the State Department's report. Although the group is based primarily in Gaza, AAMB's goal is to take over the West Bank and create a Palestinian state.
Army of Islam (AOI)
AOI is a violent extremist Salafist group that wants to make friends with al-Qaida. It is responsible for terrorist attacks on citizens of Israel, Egypt, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. The State Department estimates its membership to be "in the low hundreds." AOI was founded in 2005 but didn't get recognized by the U.S. as a terrorist group until 2011, after Egypt alleged it was responsible for a church bombing that killed 25 and wounded 100.
Palestine Islamic Jihad-Shaqaqi Faction (PIJ)
PIJ is one of the oldest militant groups, formed in the 1970s with the goal of wiping out Israel and creating an Islamic state. Iran funds and trains PIJ's militants, estimated by the State Department to be somewhere under 1,000 in number. PIJ launches thousands of its own rockets at Israel but has also worked with Hamas.
Palestine Liberation Front"“Abu Abbas Faction (PLF)
Not much is known about the PLF's membership or its primary supporters, but it has been involved with the Palestinians since the 1990s, which is also when it was named to the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations. In 2006 it tried unsuccessfully to win a seat in the Palestinian parliament.The group has claimed responsibility for a handful of attacks on Israel.
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)
Syria and Hezballah help out the PFLP, which is supportive of a two-state solution but is also responsible for suicide bombings, rocket attacks, and attempted kidnappings of Israeli civilians and military during and after the second intifada. According to the State Department, its numbers are unknown. The PFLP has been around since 1967.
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC)
Syria helps train the several hundred members of the PFLP-GC, and Iran bankrolls them, according to the State Department, which attributes the group's split in 1968 from the PFLP to its desire "to focus more on resistance and less on politics." In the 1970s and 1980s, it attacked Israel "using unusual means, such as hot-air balloons and motorized hang gliders." Today, the PFLP-GC carries out rocket and armed attacks on Israeli citizens, and smuggles weapons to support other anti-Israel terrorist groups.