The Ministry of Interior and National Security in Gaza announced in late September what it called an administrative reshuffle in its security institutions, a move that affected a number of senior officers in prestigious positions.
On Oct. 5, Col. Mohammed Ashour was appointed director of the Department of Interpol; Lt. Col. Hamadoun al-Qudra director of the Department to Combat Drugs; Col. Asaad al-Harthani deputy director of management and administration; and Col. Bassam Koka deputy director of the police force charged with intervention and maintaining order. On Sept. 30, Maj. Gen. Sami Nofal was appointed assistant to the director general of the National Security Forces; Mohammed Debabeche head of the General Intelligence Service; and Brig. Gen. Mohammed Khalaf director of the maritime police.
These positions are particularly crucial, considering the resumes of the officers appointed and the importance of the positions. The National Security Forces were established after Hamas’ takeover of Gaza in 2007 and guard Gaza's borders against security breaches by Israeli forces. Hamas formed the General Intelligence Service in August 2015. While it is not clear whether this service operates outside of Gaza, Hamas has dedicated its most skilled officers to it.
Among the newly appointed officers, Nofal was a security consultant for Hamas' former Interior Minister Said Siam, then served as comptroller at the Interior Ministry. Israel bombed his house during the war in the summer of 2014.
Debabeche was a senior Hamas security official who presided over military intelligence for al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing. He worked as a lecturer at the Islamic University in Gaza and was arrested and detained by Egypt for two weeks in late 2010 during a period of tension with Hamas.
Khalaf worked as director general of the Department of Central Operations at the Interior Ministry and coordinated the various security services in Gaza.
Spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Gaza Iyad Bezm told Al-Monitor, “The reshuffle that recently took place falls within normal changes made by the Ministry of Interior to serve, improve and promote the security sector. The reshuffle is part of a policy pursued for years by the ministry to inject new blood into the security sector in the Gaza Strip, which has a stable and quiet security situation that is marred only by Israeli threats.”
He added, “The internal Palestinian security conditions in Gaza are under control, and the ministry is seeking to make strenuous efforts to keep the atmosphere calm and under control within the Strip. These appointments have nothing to do with rumors about a possible reshuffle of the Palestinian government in Ramallah, because we have [our own] plan and we will not be influenced by external factors.”
This security shakeup within the Interior Ministry is indicative of the interest and care Hamas shows the security situation in Gaza, which is relatively devoid of organized crime, lawlessness and armed clashes, and this is a point that Hamas has been focusing on since the Palestinian division and its takeover of Gaza in mid-2007.
Remarkably, while calm has prevailed in Gaza, where Hamas is in control, chaos has recently been prevalent in the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority rules, as armed clashes continue between security forces and militants in several cities such as Nablus and Jenin.
Retired Maj. Gen. Wasef Erekat told Al-Monitor, “The simultaneous reshuffle of these security positions indicates that a decision has been made at the highest levels within the leadership of Hamas, which controls Gaza. Had the decision been limited to an officer or two at low security levels, it would have been possible to talk about a purely administrative change, but the decision involves several senior officers. This does not mean that Hamas does not trust the officers who have been replaced, but it probably prefers the officers who were hired, and the decision is linked to political, military and security developments with Israel in light of its threats against Gaza.”
The wars launched by Israel against Palestinians between 2008 and 2014 focused on security services in Gaza. When the security situation in Gaza spins out of control, Israel seeks to create chaos among Palestinians in a bid to confuse Hamas’ security and military calculations and prevent the movement from completing its military plans. In 2008, Israeli aircraft bombed the central Palestinian police headquarters, killing more than 180 soldiers and officers. Therefore, following every Israeli escalation against Gaza, Hamas traditionally vacates its security headquarters.
Islam Shahwan, a professor of security studies at Al-Awda University College in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “The Interior Ministry security reshuffle may have come to prevent any weakness in sensitive security positions in Gaza, given the Ramallah government's failure to commit to providing the necessary financial, administrative and functional resources to the ministry. I have information about changes coming within the ministry, ones that will affect major security posts, make room for new energy, ease the burden on other security officials and face any potential Israeli threat against Gaza.”
Al-Monitor tried to contact the official spokesman for the security services in the West Bank, Maj. Gen. Adnan al-Damiri, to no avail. However, a Palestinian security official in Ramallah told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “The changes carried out by Hamas in Gaza within the security services are illegal, as they are not approved by the prime minister and Interior Minister Rami Hamdallah. These decisions are an extension of the coup carried out by Hamas in Gaza in mid-2007. Those new appointments by Hamas are illegal.”
The changes in the Gaza Interior Ministry coincide with its announcement that it will recruit 500 soldiers for its security forces in Gaza. A 2011 study by Yezid Sayigh, a senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Beirut, showed that Hamas’ security sector is more integrated, has a clearer chain of command and has developed more professional training and planning capabilities than the West Bank's. Despite its scarce resources, Hamas has managed to rebuild its security sector in Gaza without outside help.
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