The Bush administration’s push for quick democracy in the Middle East has an increasingly clear implication: if Islamist organizations such as Hamas are to be likely electoral winners, Western powers should stop classifying them as terrorists, and, instead, come to terms with them.
This conclusion follows from such efforts as those led by Alastair Crooke and his Conflicts Forum, the European Union’s exploration of opening a dialogue with the Islamists, and an astonishing statement in which the White House spokesman referred to Hamas members as “business professionals.”
Before this whitewashing of Hamas proceeds too far ahead, it bears noting that the organization has not just murdered over four hundred Israelis, but also prepared itself for war with the United States.
The ideological justification for war is in place. In 2003, Hamas declared President George W. Bush “Islam’s biggest enemy,” and in 2004, it called him “the enemy of God, the enemy of Islam and Muslims.” A 2004 press release announced that “Hamas considers the US as an enemy and as an accomplice to the Israeli enemy aggression against the Palestinians. … The US will face responsibility for its position as an accomplice with Israel.”
Hamas logistical cells could be quickly turned operational. By early 2002, Eli Lake has revealed in the New York Sun, the FBI concluded that 50 to 100 trained Hamas and Hezbollah agents “had already infiltrated America,” where they worked “on fundraising and logistics.” But Dennis Lormel, formerly in FBI counterterrorism, notes that these cells “have the potential of being operational.”
FBI director Robert Mueller reaffirmed the threat in February 2005: “Although it would be a major strategic shift for Hamas, its United States network is theoretically capable of facilitating acts of terrorism in the United States.” According to a senior government counterterrorism official, Hamas could be merging with elements of Osama bin Laden’s “all inclusive military arm” and the two, together, could then “carry out military strikes” against the United States. “They have operations planned for here, they have the capabilities to strike at will, and when the time is right, they will do it.”
Counterterrorism specialist, Boaz Ganor, notes that “Hamas formally does not engage, and does not intend to engage, in a terrorist attack on American soil. But I think it is not inconceivable that Hamas would change its strategies, and they would like to be ready for that option.”
Hamas has gone global. Reports indicate it is active, planning attacks against American forces, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait. Of particular note, it was a Palestinian with possible ties to Hamas, Ahmed Mustafa Ibrahim Ali, who shot three American corrections officers at a prison in Kosovo in April 2004.
Palestinian anger could prompt violence in the United States. Ken Piernick, who once led the FBI counterterrorism efforts against Hamas, told the New York Sun: “In time, a very volatile and vitriolic hostility brewing in Gaza, in particular, will slowly suffuse itself to Hamas and Hezbollah cells in America. In the past couple of years, we have already seen inflammatory rhetoric from their supporters in the United States. At some point in time, it’s like the glass rod will snap.”
Potentially violent Hamas operatives in the United States have already turned up.
• In November 2003, the Israelis arrested Jamal Akkal, 23, a Canadian immigrant of Palestinian origins, and a year later, he pleaded guilty to planning to kill Israeli officials traveling in the United States, as well as leaders of the American and Canadian Jewish communities.
• In August 2004, Ismail Selim Elbarasse, a long-time Hamas money man, was arrested for videotaping the details of Maryland’s Bay Bridge. This “set off alarms among U.S. counterterrorism investigators,” the Baltimore Sun reports. They treated the incident as a Hamas reconnaissance of the bridge and “as a potential link between Hamas and al-Qaida.” In court papers, authorities alleged that the images Elbarasse’s shot of the bridge included close-ups of features “integral to the structural integrity of the bridge.”
Hamas, in short, can attack the United States at will — something that should not be forgotten.
President Bush stated in June 2003 that “the free world, those who love freedom and peace, must deal harshly with Hamas” and that “Hamas must be dismantled.” That approach should remain U.S. policy.
Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures (Transaction Publishers).