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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Israel and the Creation of Hamas

Sukrit Sabhoolk, a reader of the Hawblog asked about Ron Paul's charge that Israel encrouraged the creation of Hamas as a counterweight to Yasser Arafat. Paul cited this as a classical example of "blockback" in foreign policy. Paul appears to be on firm ground in making the claim.

In lengthy article in 2002 for the UPI, Richard Sale discussed the history of the Israel/Hamas relationship. Here are some excerpts:

Israel "aided Hamas directly -- the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization)," said Tony Cordesman, Middle East analyst for the Center for Strategic Studies.

Israel's support for Hamas "was a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative," said a former senior CIA official.

According to documents United Press International obtained from the Israel-based Institute for Counter Terrorism, Hamas evolved from cells of the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928. Islamic movements in Israel and Palestine were "weak and dormant" until after the 1967 Six Day War in which Israel scored a stunning victory over its Arab enemies.


According to U.S. administration officials, funds for the movement came from the oil-producing states and directly and indirectly from Israel. The PLO was secular and leftist and promoted Palestinian nationalism. Hamas wanted to set up a transnational state under the rule of Islam, much like Khomeini's Iran.

What took Israeli leaders by surprise was the way the Islamic movements began to surge after the Iranian revolution, after armed resistance to Israel sprang up in southern Lebanon vis-�-vis the Hezbollah, backed by Iran, these sources said.

"Nothing provides the energy for imitation as much as success," commented one administration expert.....

But with the triumph of the Khomeini revolution in Iran, with the birth of Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorism in Lebanon, Hamas began to gain in strength in Gaza and then in the West Bank, relying on terror to resist the Israeli occupation.

Israel was certainly funding the group at that time. One U.S. intelligence source who asked not to be named said that not only was Hamas being funded as a "counterweight" to the PLO, Israeli aid had another purpose: "To help identify and channel towards Israeli agents Hamas members who were dangerous terrorists."

In addition, by infiltrating Hamas, Israeli informers could only listen to debates on policy and identify Hamas members who "were dangerous hard-liners," the official said.

In the end, as Hamas set up a very comprehensive counterintelligence system, many collaborators with Israel were weeded out and shot. Violent acts of terrorism became the central tenet, and Hamas, unlike the PLO, was unwilling to compromise in any way with Israel, refusing to acquiesce in its very existence.

But even then, some in Israel saw some benefits to be had in trying to continue to give Hamas support: "The thinking on the part of some of the right-wing Israeli establishment was that Hamas and the others, if they gained control, would refuse to have any part of the peace process and would torpedo any agreements put in place," said a U.S. government official who asked not to be named.

"Israel would still be the only democracy in the region for the United States to deal with," he said.

All of which disgusts some former U.S. intelligence officials.

"The thing wrong with so many Israeli operations is that they try to be too sexy," said former CIA official Vincent Cannestraro.

According to former State Department counter-terrorism official Larry Johnson, "the Israelis are their own worst enemies when it comes to fighting terrorism."

"The Israelis are like a guy who sets fire to his hair and then tries to put it out by hitting it with a hammer."

"They do more to incite and sustain terrorism than curb it," he said.

Aid to Hamas may have looked clever, "but it was hardly designed to help smooth the waters," he said. "An operation like that gives weight to President George Bush's remark about there being a crisis in education."

Cordesman said that a similar attempt by Egyptian intelligence to fund Egypt's fundamentalists had also come to grief because of "misreading of the complexities."

An Israeli defense official was asked if Israel had given aid to Hamas said, "I am not able to answer that question. I was in Lebanon commanding a unit at the time, besides it is not my field of interest."

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Blogger William deB. Mills said...

While the Israeli support for Hamas to undermine Fatah may be common knowledge among specialists today, it was undoubtedly very highly classified at the time, so a serving Israeli defense official would presumably be prohibited from commenting.

In thinking about Gaza, we also need to remember that Hamas won a democratic election in January 2006, only to have Tel Aviv and Washington subvert the election results by undermining the incoming Hamas administration's (odd sound, no?)finances and then by arming Fatah and provoking a little Palestinian civil war that resulted in the division into Fatah-administered West Bank and Hamas-administered Gaza.

Lastly, we need to remember that the summer 2008 ceasefire between Gaza and Hamas was broken by Israel's refusal to tone down its economic blockade, not by Hamas.

Yes, a little knowledge is dangerous - dangerous to those who try to con us.

2:51 PM  
Blogger David T. Beito said...

Good summary. The Israeli blockade has to be the most underpublicized story this year in American newspapers.

9:21 PM  
Blogger David T. Beito said...

Good summary. The Israeli blockade has to be the most underpublicized story this year in American newspapers.

9:22 PM  

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