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(photo credit: www.intelligence.org.il)
In February 2003, an IDF ground unit in the Gaza Strip, seeking Hamas suspects, went into the Dar al-Arqam school, which had been created by the founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. What proved to be important in this operation were some of the written materials the soldiers collected about what Hamas was teaching the next generation of Palestinians.
Among the texts were the writings of famous Saudi Wahhabi religious authorities, among them Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad al-Fahd, the author of a religious ruling justifying the use of weapons of mass destruction against infidels (i.e. Christians and Jews).
There was also Sheikh Sulaiman bin Nasser al-Ulwan. His ideological entry into the world of Hamas immediately raised eyebrows. After all, his name was featured in a famous Osama bin Laden video clip from December 2001, when the al-Qaeda leader entertained his entourage on camera by re-enacting with his hands the 9/11 attack of hijacked aircraft slamming into the World Trade Center. At the end of the clip, a Saudi messenger enters the scene and tells bin Laden that he is delivering a "beautiful fatwa" from Sheikh al-Ulwan. Now this radical Wahhabi's ideas were penetrating the minds of Palestinians as well. His religious ruling justifying suicide attacks appeared on the Hamas Web site along with those of other al-Qaeda clerics.
That Hamas and al-Qaeda share some common ideological roots should not have come as any surprise. Hamas is an Arabic acronym for the "Islamic Resistance Movement."
Article 2 of the 1988 Hamas Covenant reads: "The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the wings of Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine."
Throughout the Arab world, the Muslim Brotherhood is regarded as the common wellspring of all modern jihadi terrorism. Indeed, Dr. Ahmad Al-Rab'i, former Kuwaiti minister of education, wrote in July 2005 in the Arabic London daily, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, "The beginnings of all of the religious terrorism that we are witnessing today were in the Muslim Brotherhood's ideology."
Al-Qaeda's history is equally tied to the Muslim Brotherhood. For example, bin Laden's mentor and teacher, Abdullah Azzam, was a Palestinian who emerged from the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood. bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, also belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood before establishing the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and merging his group with al-Qaeda. Khaled Sheikh Muhammad, the al-Qaeda mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's branch in Kuwait.
The Muslim Brotherhood credo clearly set the stage for jihadism across the Middle East: "God is our objective, the Quran is our Constitution, the Prophet is our leader, struggle is our way, and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations." (This was incorporated as Article 8 of the Hamas Covenant.)
It is thus understandable why Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak insists on keeping the Muslim Brotherhood illegal, though independent candidates identifying with the organization have run for Egypt's parliament.
THE IDEOLOGICAL compatibility of Hamas with jihadi movements elsewhere raises the question of whether a new Hamas state in the Middle East could become a new center for global terrorism. Unlike al-Qaeda, Hamas for the most part has not been involved in terrorist attacks against Western targets in the US and Europe. Hamas was left to focus its military efforts on Israel. However, Hamas has established important - albeit limited - links with al-Qaeda that should be noted.
For example, bin Laden actually sent emissaries to Hamas in September 2000 and January 2001, after Yasser Arafat launched the second Palestinian intifada; Israel arrested three Hamas militants in 2003, after they had returned from an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda Operations chief Abu Zubaydah first entered the world of terrorism through his membership in Hamas. And there was even a case of actual operational cooperation: According to a 2004 FBI affidavit, al-Qaeda recruited Hamas members to conduct surveillance against potential targets in the US.
Where Hamas and al-Qaeda have cooperated extensively is in the area of funding. They frequently have shared the same financial networks.
According to a study by the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations on terrorist financing, Hamas leaders often use the very same methods and even the same institutions as al-Qaeda to raise and move their money.
One of Bin Laden's financial managers for al-Qaeda in the 1990s, Wadi al-Hage, wrote the words "joint venture" next to his phone book entry for the "Holy Land Foundation," a Texas-based non-profit organization that funded Hamas - which was also closed down by President George W. Bush. Both the US and the UN have asserted that Saudi businessman Yassin Qadi funded al-Qaeda and Hamas through two non-profit organizations.
Hamas has indicated that while it prefers not to be connected to al-Qaeda by Western reporters, it nonetheless publicly identifies with many of its jihadi goals. The leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Mahmoud al-Zahar, for example, had no qualms about expressing his confidence that Israel's disengagement from Gaza - for which Hamas took direct credit - would lift the morale of the Arab and Islamic world and affect the battle for Afghanistan and Iraq. He plainly admitted: "We are part of the great world plan whose name is the world Islamic movement."
In 2003-4, Hamas distributed a colorful poster in Jenin and Hebron featuring individual portraits of Hamas founder Yassin with bin Laden and the leaders of the Chechen mujahideen, Shamil Basayev and Khattab. The poster also refers to other battlefields of global jihad - the Balkans and Kashmir. This indicates that Hamas sees anyone fighting in global jihad as potential allies. It should not have been surprising, then, that after Israel completed its Gaza pullout, Israeli military intelligence reported that al-Qaeda cells had infiltrated from Egyptian Sinai and found a new area which would host them.
True, Hamas and al-Qaeda have had their tactical differences over whether Islamist groups should participate in elections, as well as how they view cooperation with Shi'ite Iran; nevertheless, their ideological common ground is far greater than any disagreements between them of this sort.
AT LAST month's Herzliya Conference, former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon warned that Israel might face the threat of Islamic volunteers from the war in Iraq trying to enter the West Bank in the future. Indeed, in the past six months, al-Qaeda-affiliated organizations in Lebanon, Jordan and the Sinai have moved their operations much closer to Israel's borders. In a letter sent by bin Laden's deputy, al-Zawahiri, to insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - intercepted by the US - al-Qaeda in Iraq was instructed to move into neighboring states and prepare for the "clash with Israel."
In other words, the threat of al-Qaeda soon seeking to enter the West Bank must be seriously considered.
When Prime Minister Ariel Sharon presented his disengagement plan on April 14, 2004, he received a written assurance from Bush that the US was committed to Israel retaining "defensible borders" in the remaining disputed territory of the West Bank. If Israel were to withdraw to the line of its security fence in the West Bank - or even farther to the 1967 lines and abandon the strategic barrier it has controlled over the Jordan Valley - the vacuum created would allow the al-Qaeda forces of al-Zarqawi in the east to link up with Hamas in the west.
This would also undermine the security of Jordan, which would be perceived as the best springboard for foreign insurgents seeking to join the struggle with Israel - a situation reminiscent of the pre-September 1970 period, when Palestinian terrorist groups sought to use the Hashemite Kingdom as their main base of operations.
In short, the potential links between Hamas and al-Qaeda not only pose a threat to Israel, but also to the stability of the region as a whole.
The writer is Israel's former ambassador to the UN and the author of Hatred's Kingdom, which details the links of al-Qaeda with Saudi Arabia.