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Iran wants the same control over Hamas it has over Hizbullah, an organization that is nothing less than a "delivery system" for Iranian weapons, Henry A. Crumpton, the State Department's counterterrorism coordinator, told the Jerusalem Post.
Crumpton, who last week held a joint counter-terror dialogue with Israel, said that while most pundits think in terms of missiles when talking about Iranian delivery systems, Hizbullah - which he said is "just an extension of the Iranian government" - must be thought of in these terms as well. (The full text of the interview will appear in Tuesday's Jerusalem Post.)
"You combine the Iranian nuclear weapons program with Hizbullah, and that is a pretty nasty mixture," he said.
Crumpton said that while Iran does not yet have that kind of control over Hamas, "it is clearly an objective. The Iranians would love to have another proxy like that."
Asked what will keep Hamas from gaining such control, Crumpton said, "I hope the Palestinian people; and I hope the leadership of Hamas, if they are going to be responsible or courageous enough."
Crumtpon, a 20-year CIA veteran and highly respected former spy master, has been credited with coming up with the US strategy after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to use elite intelligence and military officers together with elements of Afghani society to oust the Taliban.
Faint echoes of a partnership strategy can be heard when he talks about the how the international community and US should be acting vis- -vis Hamas.
While the two situations are markedly different - primarily because while the Taliban was foisted on the Afghans, the Palestinians voted for Hamas themselves - Crumpton said the similarity is that "Israel and the US cannot impose our will, force our will on the Palestinian people, they have to be a part of this."
The soft spoken Crumpton "starred" in the US's National Commission report on 9/11 as the person known simply as "Henry" who pressed the CIA to do more in Afghanistan to hunt down Osama bin Laden before the attacks in the US, but who had two of his key proposals rejected.
He also figured prominently in Bob Woodward's book on the war in Afghanistan, Bush at War, this time as the CIA operative "Hank" who - among other things - understood the importance of money and aid in gaining the support of Afghan warlords.
"This is not about us versus them," Crumpton said about Hamas and the PA. "It is about the Palestinian people working with foreign partners -the US, Europe and Israel - to persuade the new Hamas government to be responsible, or if not, then eventually get a new government in there."
While he did not say that the goal was to economically destabilize the PA so that the population would turn on Hamas, he did say the US was not interested in giving Hamas a "free ride."
"This is not about destabilizing the PA, it is about providing humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people while not supporting Hamas, and giving the Hamas the political opportunity to step forward and become responsible leaders," Crumpton said.
He was not, however, starry eyed about the prospects of Hamas rising to the occasion by recognizing Israel, accepting previous agreement with it, and renouncing terrorism.
"I think it will be tough," he said. "I think that they will have to make some bold decisions, and fundamentally change the way they look at Israel and the world. It won't be easy for them; I'm not kidding myself about this. To a large degree violence is part of their identity, it defines who they are. But change is not impossible."
Things are not being made any easier, he said, by the fact that countries such as Russia and Turkey are relating to Hamas as a legitimate actor, "when they are clearly not. It is a problem. We have communicated this. We have told the Russia and others that this is not helpful."