Tuesday, March 23, 2004

sowing, reaping…reaping, sowing
Coverage of the assassination of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, formerly Hamas’ hotline to Allah, reminded me of this report from a couple of years back

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 (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.
When the intifada began, Israeli leadership was 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 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.

It makes me wonder sometimes. Is there any disaster in the Middle East which actually isn’t a result of blowback? I’m also wondering about the timing of the assassination, given that it’s bound to result in both an escalation of attacks on Israel and contribute to instability in the region as a whole, not least in Iraq.

Arab rage at Israel's assassination of the Hamas founder quickly spilled into Iraq yesterday, signaling that the killing of the Palestinian militant could undermine U.S. policies and interests across the region.

Protesters at two demonstrations against the U.S.-led coalition — one in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and the other in the southern city of Basra — chanted in support of Sheik Ahmed Yassin.

"Do not worry, Palestine. Iraq will avenge the assassination of Sheik Yassin," protesters in Mosul chanted.

The article goes on to state that demonstrators blame the US for the killings. It seems that some people can’t decide whether Israel is manipulating the US or vice versa. However, this was an entirely predictable response, especially since both the missiles that killed Yassin and the helicopter that fired them were US made. And given that this response is predictable, it’s reasonable to speculate on whether it was intended.

Whatever you think of the mood music about freedom and democracy in the “new Iraq”, the government that eventually emerges there will be expected to perform certain functions for its sponsors. Ideally, it’s supposed to be a showcase for US goals in the region; democratic, peaceful, pro-Western. Part of this package involves recognizing Israel and undermining support for the Palestinian Intifada. Naturally, from Israel’s point of view, this last would be the main objective. It’s also an objective for the US, but a secondary one. Given the situation right now in Iraq, my guess is that the US would settle for the first items on the menu – a credible, plausibly representative government that keeps the peace locally is the best that can be hoped for right now. Hence the government’s vulnerability to pressure from Ayatollah Sistani. America has invested too much in Iraq to risk it all for Israel’s sake.

And that’s where US and Israeli interests start to diverge. It’s fine from the Israeli point of view to overthrow an enemy like Saddam and replace him with a government friendly to Israel. It’s not so fine from the same point of view for the US to work closely with Sistani and end up endorsing a credible, popular pro-Palestinian government, especially one that looks for inspiration to a man who describes Israel as a “zionist entity.” And it’s even worse if this government comes rivals Israel as the US’ main partner in the Middle East. Better, perhaps, to try and break that alliance before it’s fully formed.

"We call upon the sons of the Arab and Islamic nations to close ranks, unite and work hard for the liberation of the usurped land and restore rights," Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani said in a statement released by his office in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

"This morning, the occupying Zionist entity committed an ugly crime against the Palestinian people by killing one of their heroes, scholar martyr Ahmed Yassin," the statement said.

(including links from Juan Cole)