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Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu has been warning voters about the danger of Hamas for years, but when he addressed the foreign press at Mishkenot Sha'ananim's Israel Newsmakers Forum on Tuesday, he expanded his description of the threat to include the entire globe.
Netanyahu's message to the world was that it is not in the best interests of the international community to treat Hamas differently than it treats al-Qaida and other fundamentalist Islamic groups, despite the party's victory in the Palestinian election last month.
"Hamas is not a local organization," Netanyahu said. "It's part of a worldwide Islamic movement that is trying to liberate the State of Israel and fight a mad, historic battle with the West. Because of this, the assumption that Hamas is a leopard that can change its spots is false. Power did not domesticate the Taliban or the ayatollahs in Iran, and it won't domesticate Hamas."
Netanyahu pointed at the crowd of journalists from around the world and said, "They are not really after us. They are after you. For them, Israel is the little Satan, America is the big Satan and Europe is the middle Satan." Comparing Hamas to Iran, he said that Israel must prevent a second Iran from emerging in the West Bank, one that could threaten Jordan and create a huge Islamist kingdom that could stretch from Iraq to the suburbs of Tel Aviv.
"Any territory that we give them will be used against us, and already has," Netanyahu said. "Any money that we give them will be used against us."
Netanyahu accused Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government of reacting to Hamas's victory with "helplessness, weakness and confusion, when we need containment and pressure." He said that if elected prime minister, he would deter Hamas by responding with great force to missile attacks, launching an American-led international public relations campaign and preventing the flow of funding that could be used to build an army or pay preachers who support terror.
A Spanish reporter embarrassed Netanyahu by asking about the Mossad's failed attempt to assassinate Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Jordan when Netanyahu was prime minister in 1997.
"You tried to have the Mossad kill Khaled Mashaal, but he is now one of the major players in the region and you're probably not," the reporter said. Netanyahu responded that the foreign press should wait before writing him off and that "not all the things we seek to do are accomplished."
Despite his attacks on Olmert, Netanyahu did back one key diplomatic policy advocated by Kadima in recent days, even though some hawks have argued against it: distinguishing between funding for the Palestinian Authority and that for Palestinians.
"It is possible to keep monies from going to the Hamas government, the Hamas regime, the Hamas armed people, the Hamas microphones, and at the same time allow humanitarian efforts for the population," he said in response to a question about how he would promote moderation among Palestinians. "In fact, it's necessary to make a distinction between the two, and that will be my policy."
Earlier, when asked to confirm reports that the Olmert administration planned sanctions against the Palestinians in order to provoke an overthrow of Hamas, Netanyahu replied that he hoped - but doubted - that this was the case, as it would represent an adoption of his policies.
The cabinet has discussed a host of potential actions to impose on Palestinians with Hamas in power, ranging from limitations on their movement to barring workers from entering Israel, but only a freeze on transferring PA taxes and customs revenue has been approved.