Skip to comments.Israel Gave Major Aid to Hamas
Posted on 06/30/2002 12:46:35 PM PDT by Austin Willard Wright
United Press International 24 February 2001
Israel gave major to aid to Hamas
By Richard Sale, Terrorism Correspondent
New York -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, speaking of the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas recently described it as "the deadliest terrorist group that we have ever had to face."
Active in Gaza and the West Bank Hamas wants to liberate all of Palestine and establish a radical Islamic state in place of Israel. It has gained notoriety with its assassinations, car bombs and other acts of terrorism.
But Sharon had left something out.
Israel and Hamas may currently be locked in deadly combat, but, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials, beginning in the late 1970s, Tel Aviv gave direct and indirect financial aid to Hamas over a period of years.
Israel "aided Hamas directly -- the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO," 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 obtained from the Israel-based Institute for Counter Terrorism (ICT) by UPI, 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.
After 1967, a great part of the success of the Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood was due to their activities among the refugees of the Gaza Strip. The cornerstone of the Islamic movements success was an impressive social, religious, educational and cultural infrastructure, called Da'wah, that worked to ease the hardship of large numbers of Palestinian refugees, confined to camps, and many of whom were living on the edge.
"Social influence grew into political influence," first in the Gaza Strip, then on the West Bank, said an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
According to ICT papers, Hamas was legally registered in Israel in 1978 by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the movements spiritual leader, as an Islamic Association by the name Al-Mujamma Al Islami, which widened its base of supporters and sympathizers by religious propaganda and social work.
Funds for the movement came from the oil-producing states and directly and indirectly from Israel, according to U.S. intelligence officials. The PLO was secular and leftist and promoted Palestinian nationalism. Hamas wanted 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 organized by an Iran-backed movement called Hezbollah that bore similitaries to Hamas, these sources said.
"Nothing stirs up the energy for imitation as much as success," commented one administration expert.
A further factor of Hamas' growth was the fact the PLO moved its base of operations to Beirut in the 1980s, leaving the Islamic movements to strengthen their influence in the Occupied Territories "as the court of last resort," he said.
When the intifada began, the Israeli leadership was further surprised when Islamic groups began to surge in membership and strength. Hamas immediately grew in numbers and violence. The group had always embraced the doctrine of armed struggle, but the doctrine had not been practiced and Islamic groups had not been subjected to suppression the way groups like Fatah had been, according to U.S. government officials.
But with the triumph of the Khomeini revolution in Iran, with the birth of Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorism in Lebanon, Hamas began to gain 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 US 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 a more devious purpose: "to help identify and channel towards Israeli agents Hamas members who were dangerous terrorists."
In addition, by infiltrating Hamas, Israeli informers could listen to debates on policy and identify Hamas members who "were dangerous hardliners," 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 acknowledge its very existence.
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 other groups, if they gained control, would refuse to have anything to do with the pace process and would torpedo any agreements put in place," said a U.S. government official.
"Israel would still be the only democracy in the region for the United States to deal with," he said. All of which is viewed with disapproval by 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. Former State Department counter-terrorism official Larry Johnson told UPI: "The Israelis are their own worst enemies when it comes to fighting terrorism. They 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."
Aid to Hamas may have looked clever, "but it was hardly designed to help smooth the waters," he said. "It gives weight to President George W 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 overcomplication.
An Israeli Embassy defense official, asked if Israel had given aid to Hamas replied: "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."
Asked to confirm a report by U.S. officials that Brigadier General Yithaq Segev, the military governor of Gaza, had told U.S. officials that he had helped fund "Islamic movements as a counterweight to the PLO and communists," the Israeli official said he could confirm only that he believed that Segev had served back in 1986.
The Israeli Embassy press office referred UPI to its Web site.
-- Copyright 2001 by United Press International. All rights reserved.
Carter did little. Reagan ramped it up. If we had it to do all over again, I would not hesitate. Would you?
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