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Why did the Hamas 'shadow unit' reveal itself?

Why did the Hamas 'shadow unit' reveal itself?
3 min read
05 January, 2016
What explains the timing of Hamas' release of videos detailing Gilad Shalit's time in their captivity?
Hamas recently released a number of videos showing Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit's five years in Hamas captivity.

Shalit was shown smiley and friendly with his captors, even grilling chicken on the beach. He was guarded by an elite band of al-Qassam brigades, who Hamas dubbed a "shadow unit."

Among the unit's duties, according to the video, are "to guard enemy captives held by the al-Qassam Brigades, to hide them and to thwart enemy attempts to find them."

The video says that the unit "treats enemy captives honorably, in line with the rules of Islam, and provides for their needs, taking into account the treatment given to the prisoners of the resistance in the hands of the enemy."

Members of the unit "stay in the shadows, away from the light," according to the video, and they operate in complete secrecy.

Many of the group's supporters viewed the video as evidence of Hamas' humane treatment of prisoners, compared to Israel's documented human rights abuses.

In 2011 Hamas brokered a deal to exchange 1,027 Palestinian prisoners for Shalit, which many lauded as a success for the movement.

Many Palestinians speculated on the timing of the release of the recent videos.

Shalit smiling with one of his captors [twitter]
Palestinian analyst Adnan Abu Amer told The New Arab that these videos were "uncharacteristic" of Qassam in terms of their "transparency", whereas the organisation is renowned for its secrecy.

He said that the videos may be a form of "psychological warfare" on Israelis, attempting to pressure the government into a prisoner swap. 

Hamas claims that they have the bodies of two Israeli soldiers in their possession. Additionally, they also claim to be holding two Israeli prisoners - one Ethiopian and one Bedouin with Israeli nationality.

Others analysts agreed, with Palestinian analyst Akram Atallah telling al-Watan newspaper that the leaks were to pressure Israel into entering into prisoner negotiations.

Abu Amer also said that these videos could be a way to directly reach the prisoners' families.

The families of the dead Israeli soldiers in collaboration with a group of Israeli businessmen informed Hamas that they would be willing to donate fuel to Gaza, during an electricity crisis, in exchange for the corpses of their sons.

The release of the video might also be a military propaganda move on the part of Hamas, as the movement has been suffering from a lack of popularity in Gaza as the siege worsens, and the Rafah crossing continues to be closed, in addition to the failure of unity negotiations.

A prominant source of the group's popularity - their reputation for resisting Israel - has also come under question by young Gazans who have not seen life improve following the devastating 2014 war, after which an uneasy truce has prevailed.

"There is a desire for the new Qassam to show their security and intelligence capabilities to indicate that we are...a regular army rather than a military apparatus and an armed group", Abu-Amer said.

Meanwhile, Palestinians took to social media using the Arabic-language hashtag "shadow-unit" to mock Israel's failure at finding Shalit, as the videos showed him visible in various parts of the Gaza strip.

During Shalit's captivity, Israel offered a large bounty to anyone who could give them any details concerning the whereabouts of the imprisoned soldier.

Ibrahim al-Madhoun told The New Arab that the most "important" message of the videos was the emphasis on Israel's intelligence failure and their inability to rescue Shalit.

The corpses of Israelis and Palestinians are frequently used as bargaining chips. In 2008, Israel released four prominent Hizballah prisoners in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers.