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If you follow the trail of arms from Iran - through Somalia, Sudan and Egypt to the Gaza Strip - you come to a fork in the road. One direction leads to the conclusion that Teheran's smuggling of weapons to Hamas for its fight against Israel is but a facet of the greater Islamist confrontation with Western civilization; the other to the determination that there is no war of civilizations, and that Iran and Hamas are ripe for inclusion in the international community.
YESTERDAY, CBS News reported that in January, Israeli aircraft bombed an Iranian arms convoy in Sudan bound for Hamas during Operation Cast Lead. The attack took place northwest of Port Sudan. All the casualties were Sudanese, Eritreans and Ethiopians and all the trucks were destroyed. They were presumably thought to be carrying rockets that would extend Hamas's range to Tel Aviv, making the mission worth the risk.
â€¢ The arms start off in Iran, which sees itself at war with Israel on every continent, using all available means and proxies. Teheran orchestrated the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina in 1992, and the Buenos Aires Jewish Community Center in 1994. Iranian instructors taught Hizbullah the art of truck-bombing, which claimed hundreds of Israeli lives in Lebanon.
The mullahs began courting Hamas in 1990, once they had determined that destroying Israel trumped any theological differences with the Sunni jihadists.
Today, Iran is heavily invested in Hamas - financially, diplomatically, militarily and politically.
â€¢ The weapons move to Somalia, a failed state and humanitarian basket case controlled by warlords who seek to surmount clan differences with radical Islam. Youthful Shabab extremists are their shock troops. The goal is a world caliphate, but for now they'd settle for Wahhabi control of Somalia. A moderate Islamist president sitting in Mogadishu is too weak to exert power; Muslim pirates rule the coastal waters.
â€¢ The next port of call: Sudan. Once Osama bin Laden's headquarters, Sudan is notorious for its genocide against non-Arabs in Darfur. The country has close ties with Iran, whose Revolutionary Guards are training its reconstituted army.
On March 4, the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Since then al-Bashir has been to Cairo - twice - to strategize with President Hosni Mubarak. And he means to attend next week's Arab League Summit in Qatar. Beyond the backing he has in the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the African Union, Bashir's support is being spearheaded by Iran, Hamas, Hizbullah, Syria and Islamic Jihad. Iran's parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, called the arrest warrant an "insult directed at Muslims."
â€¢ Next port of call - Egypt. Every bullet shipped to Gaza by Iran traverses Egypt, either overland or via the Port of Damietta in a journey coordinated by Hamas in Damascus and Iran's Revolutionary Guard. By the time the shipments arrive at the smugglers' tunnels connecting the Sinai to Gaza, innumerable hands have facilitated them, and innumerable eyes looked the other way.
AMERICAN policy wonks who argue that Iran and Hamas are ripe for inclusion in the international community see taking that direction as "pragmatic." They've unearthed Hamas's "moderate" wing - and it's "open to compromise."
Not, granted, on the core issues of terrorism, honoring previous Palestinian commitments and Israel's right to exist. But Hamas would agree to a lengthy cease-fire. And it might allow Mahmoud Abbas to front for them. Further, say the wonks, with Hamas standing over his shoulder - who knows, Abbas might negotiate a peace deal! It would be brought to a Palestinian referendum, and Hamas would abide by the results.
But none of this will happen, the wonks warn, if the West remains hung up on what Hamas says it will do to Israel.
Similarly, when the US sits down Tuesday at The Hague, with Iran, to discuss Afghanistan, the wonks will likely argue that Teheran's attendance signals its underlying pragmatism - and that this pragmatism could be torpedoed by obsessing over Iranian threats to destroy Israel.
If the new Obama administration takes the easy road counseled by these wonks, willfully ignoring the implacable nature of Islamist extremism, it will have embarked on a journey of disastrous self-delusion.