Creating the Enemies We Now Fight Against
We’ve extensively documented that the U.S. and Israel created Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in an attempt to fight other enemies.
Larry Johnson – a counterterrorism official at the U.S. State Department – says:
The Israelis are their own worst enemies when it comes to fighting terrorism. They are like a guy who sets fire to his hair and then tries to put it out by hitting it with a hammer. They do more to incite and sustain terrorism than curb it.
As one example, Israel helped create Hamas.
United Press International reported in 2002:
According to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials, beginning in the late 1970s, Tel Aviv gave direct and indirect financial aid to Hamas over a period of years.Israel “aided Hamas directly — the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization),” said Tony Cordesman, Middle East analyst for the Center for Strategic Studies.
Israel’s support for Hamas “was a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative,” said a former senior CIA official.
According to documents United Press International obtained from the Israel-based Institute for Counter Terrorism, Hamas evolved from cells of the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928. Islamic movements in Israel and Palestine were “weak and dormant” until after the 1967 Six Day War in which Israel scored a stunning victory over its Arab enemies.
After 1967, a great part of the success of the Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood was due to their activities among the refugees of the Gaza Strip. The cornerstone of the Islamic movements success was an impressive social, religious, educational and cultural infrastructure, called Da’wah, that worked to ease the hardship of large numbers of Palestinian refugees, confined to camps, and many who were living on the edge.
“Social influence grew into political influence,” first in the Gaza Strip, then on the West Bank, said an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
According to ICT papers, Hamas was legally registered in Israel in 1978 by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the movement’s spiritual leader, as an Islamic Association by the name Al-Mujamma al Islami, which widened its base of supporters and sympathizers by religious propaganda and social work.
According to U.S. administration officials, funds for the movement came from the oil-producing states and directly and indirectly from Israel. The PLO was secular and leftist and promoted Palestinian nationalism. Hamas wanted to set up a transnational state under the rule of Islam, much like Khomeini’s Iran.
Israel was certainly funding the group at that time. One U.S. intelligence source who asked not to be named said that not only was Hamas being funded as a “counterweight” to the PLO, Israeli aid had another purpose: “To help identify and channel towards Israeli agents Hamas members who were dangerous terrorists.”
In addition, by infiltrating Hamas, Israeli informers could only listen to debates on policy and identify Hamas members who “were dangerous hard-liners,” the official said.
In the end, as Hamas set up a very comprehensive counterintelligence system, many collaborators with Israel were weeded out and shot. Violent acts of terrorism became the central tenet, and Hamas, unlike the PLO, was unwilling to compromise in any way with Israel, refusing to acquiesce in its very existence.
But even then, some in Israel saw some benefits to be had in trying to continue to give Hamas support: “The thinking on the part of some of the right-wing Israeli establishment was that Hamas and the others, if they gained control, would refuse to have any part of the peace process and would torpedo any agreements put in place,” said a U.S. government official who asked not to be named.
“Israel would still be the only democracy in the region for the United States to deal with,” he said.
All of which disgusts some former U.S. intelligence officials.
“The thing wrong with so many Israeli operations is that they try to be too sexy,” said former CIA official Vincent Cannestraro.
Aid to Hamas may have looked clever, “but it was hardly designed to help smooth the waters,” he said. “An operation like that gives weight to President George Bush’s remark about there being a crisis in education.”
Cordesman said that a similar attempt by Egyptian intelligence to fund Egypt’s fundamentalists had also come to grief because of “misreading of the complexities.”
An Israeli defense official was asked if Israel had given aid to Hamas said, “I am not able to answer that question. I was in Lebanon commanding a unit at the time, besides it is not my field of interest.”
Asked to confirm a report by U.S. officials that Brig. Gen. Yithaq Segev, the military governor of Gaza, had told U.S. officials he had helped fund “Islamic movements as a counterweight to the PLO and communists,” the official said he could confirm only that he believed Segev had served back in 1986.
The Israeli Embassy press office referred UPI to its Web site when asked to comment.
Veteran journalist Robert Dreyfuss writes:
In the decades before 9/11, hard-core activists and organizations among Muslim fundamentalists on the far right were often viewed as allies for two reasons, because they were seen a fierce anti-communists and because the opposed secular nationalists such as Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, Iran’s Mohammed Mossadegh.
In Syria, the United States, Israel, and Jordan supported the Muslim Brotherhood in a civil war against Syria. And … Israel quietly backed Ahmed Yassin and the Muslim Brotherhood in the West Bank and Gaza, leading to the establishment of Hamas.
See this and this:
According to former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Charles Freeman, Shin Bet—the Israeli counter-intelligence and internal security service— knowingly created Hamas:
Israel started Hamas. It was a project of Shin Bet, which had a feeling that they could use it to hem in the PLO.
Anti War reported in 2006:
Amid all the howls of pain and gnashing of teeth over the triumph of Hamas in the Palestinian elections, one fact remains relatively obscure, albeit highly relevant: Israel did much to launch Hamas as an effective force in the occupied territories. If ever there was a clear case of “blowback,” then this is it. As Richard Sale pointed out in a piece for UPI:
“Israel and Hamas may currently be locked in deadly combat, but, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials, beginning in the late 1970s, Tel Aviv gave direct and indirect financial aid to Hamas over a period of years. Israel ‘aided Hamas directly – the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization),’ said Tony Cordesman, Middle East analyst for the Center for Strategic [and International] Studies. Israel’s support for Hamas ‘was a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative,’ said a former senior CIA official.”
Middle East analyst Ray Hanania concurs:
“In addition to hoping to turn the Palestinian masses away from Arafat and the PLO, the Likud leadership believed they could achieve a workable alliance with Islamic, anti-Arafat forces that would also extend Israel’s control over the occupied territories.”
In a conscious effort to undermine the Palestine Liberation Organization and the leadership of Yasser Arafat, in 1978 the government of then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin approved the application of Sheik Ahmad Yassin to start a “humanitarian” organization known as the Islamic Association, or Mujama. The roots of this Islamist group were in the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, and this was the seed that eventually grew into Hamas – but not before it was amply fertilized and nurtured with Israeli funding and political support.
Begin and his successor, Yitzhak Shamir, launched an effort to undercut the PLO, creating the so-called Village Leagues, composed of local councils of handpicked Palestinians who were willing to collaborate with Israel – and, in return, were put on the Israeli payroll. Sheik Yassin and his followers soon became a force within the Village Leagues. This tactical alliance between Yassin and the Israelis was based on a shared antipathy to the militantly secular and leftist PLO: the Israelis allowed Yassin’s group to publish a newspaper and set up an extensive network of charitable organizations, which collected funds not only from the Israelis but also from Arab states opposed to Arafat.
Ami Isseroff, writing on MideastWeb, shows how the Israelis deliberately promoted the Islamists of the future Hamas by helping them turn the Islamic University of Gaza into a base from which the group recruited activists – and the suicide bombers of tomorrow. As the only higher-education facility in the Gaza strip, and the only such institution open to Palestinians since Anwar Sadat closed Egyptian colleges to them, IUG contained within its grounds the seeds of the future Palestinian state. When a conflict arose over religious issues, however, the Israeli authorities sided with the Islamists against the secularists of the Fatah-PLO mainstream. As Isseroff relates, the Islamists
Tacit complicity from both university and Israeli authorities allowed Mujama to keep a weapons cache to use against secularists.
Again, the motive was to offset Arafat’s influence and divide the Palestinians. In the short term, this may have worked to some extent; in the longer term, however, it backfired badly – as demonstrated by the results of the recent Palestinian election.
Israel’s relentless offensive against its perceived enemies – first Fatah, now Hamas and Islamic Jihad – has created a backlashand solidified support for fundamentalist extremist factions in the Palestinian community.
There is a lesson in there, somewhere, though it isn’t one the Israelis or their American sponsors seem capable of learning just yet.
The Wall Street Journal noted in 2009:
“Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation,” says [Israeli official Avner Cohen], a Tunisian-born Jew who worked in Gaza for more than two decades. Responsible for religious affairs in the region until 1994, Mr. Cohen watched the Islamist movement take shape, muscle aside secular Palestinian rivals and then morph into what is today Hamas, a militant group that is sworn to Israel’s destruction.
Instead of trying to curb Gaza’s Islamists from the outset, says Mr. Cohen, Israel for years tolerated and, in some cases, encouraged them as a counterweight to the secular nationalists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its dominant faction, Yasser Arafat’s Fatah. Israel cooperated with a crippled, half-blind cleric named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, even as he was laying the foundations for what would become Hamas. Sheikh Yassin continues to inspire militants today; during the recent war in Gaza, Hamas fighters confronted Israeli troops with “Yassins,” primitive rocket-propelled grenades named in honor of the cleric.
When Israel first encountered Islamists in Gaza in the 1970s and ’80s, they seemed focused on studying the Quran, not on confrontation with Israel. The Israeli government officially recognized a precursor to Hamas called Mujama Al-Islamiya, registering the group as a charity. It allowed Mujama members to set up an Islamic university and build mosques, clubs and schools. Crucially, Israel often stood aside when the Islamists and their secular left-wing Palestinian rivals battled, sometimes violently, for influence in both Gaza and the West Bank.
“When I look back at the chain of events I think we made a mistake,” says David Hacham, who worked in Gaza in the late 1980s and early ’90s as an Arab-affairs expert in the Israeli military. “But at the time nobody thought about the possible results.”
Israeli officials who served in Gaza disagree on how much their own actions may have contributed to the rise of Hamas. They blame the group’s recent ascent on outsiders, primarily Iran. This view is shared by the Israeli government. “Hamas in Gaza was built by Iran as a foundation for power, and is backed through funding, through training and through the provision of advanced weapons,” Mr. Olmert said last Saturday. Hamas has denied receiving military assistance from Iran.
Arieh Spitzen, the former head of the Israeli military’s Department of Palestinian Affairs, says that even if Israel had tried to stop the Islamists sooner, he doubts it could have done much to curb political Islam, a movement that was spreading across the Muslim world. He says attempts to stop it are akin to trying to change the internal rhythms of nature: “It is like saying: ‘I will kill all the mosquitoes.’ But then you get even worse insects that will kill you…You break the balance. You kill Hamas you might get al Qaeda.”
When it became clear in the early 1990s that Gaza’s Islamists had mutated from a religious group into a fighting force aimed at Israel — particularly after they turned to suicide bombings in 1994 — Israel cracked down with ferocious force. But each military assault only increased Hamas’s appeal to ordinary Palestinians. The group ultimately trounced secular rivals, notably Fatah, in a 2006 election supported by Israel’s main ally, the U.S.
In Gaza, Israel hunted down members of Fatah and other secular PLO factions, but it dropped harsh restrictions imposed on Islamic activists by the territory’s previous Egyptian rulers.
The Muslim Brotherhood, led in Gaza by Sheikh Yassin, was free to spread its message openly. In addition to launching various charity projects, Sheikh Yassin collected money to reprint the writings of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian member of the Brotherhood who, before his execution by President Nasser, advocated global jihad. He is now seen as one of the founding ideologues of militant political Islam.
Mr. Cohen, who worked at the time for the Israeli government’s religious affairs department in Gaza, says he began to hear disturbing reports in the mid-1970s about Sheikh Yassin from traditional Islamic clerics. He says they warned that the sheikh had no formal Islamic training and was ultimately more interested in politics than faith. “They said, ‘Keep away from Yassin. He is a big danger,’” recalls Mr. Cohen.
Instead, Israel’s military-led administration in Gaza looked favorably on the paraplegic cleric, who set up a wide network of schools, clinics, a library and kindergartens. Sheikh Yassin formed the Islamist group Mujama al-Islamiya, which was officially recognized by Israel as a charity and then, in 1979, as an association. Israel also endorsed the establishment of the Islamic University of Gaza, which it now regards as a hotbed of militancy.
Gen. Yitzhak Segev, who took over as governor in Gaza in late 1979, says he had no illusions about Sheikh Yassin’s long-term intentions or the perils of political Islam. As Israel’s former military attache in Iran, he’d watched Islamic fervor topple the Shah. However, in Gaza, says Mr. Segev, “our main enemy was Fatah,” and the cleric “was still 100% peaceful” towards Israel. Former officials say Israel was also at the time wary of being viewed as an enemy of Islam.
Mr. Segev says he had regular contact with Sheikh Yassin, in part to keep an eye on him. He visited his mosque and met the cleric around a dozen times. It was illegal at the time for Israelis to meet anyone from the PLO. Mr. Segev later arranged for the cleric to be taken to Israel for hospital treatment. “We had no problems with him,” he says.
In fact, the cleric and Israel had a shared enemy: secular Palestinian activists. After a failed attempt in Gaza to oust secularists from leadership of the Palestinian Red Crescent, the Muslim version of the Red Cross, Mujama staged a violent demonstration, storming the Red Crescent building. Islamists also attacked shops selling liquor and cinemas. The Israeli military mostly stood on the sidelines.
Mr. Segev says the army didn’t want to get involved in Palestinian quarrels but did send soldiers to prevent Islamists from burning down the house of the Red Crescent’s secular chief, a socialist who supported the PLO.
A leader of Birzeit’s Islamist faction at the time was Mahmoud Musleh, now a pro-Hamas member of a Palestinian legislature elected in 2006. He recalls how usually aggressive Israeli security forces stood back and let conflagration develop. He denies any collusion between his own camp and the Israelis, but says “they hoped we would become an alternative to the PLO.”
A year later, in 1984, the Israeli military received a tip-off from Fatah supporters that Sheikh Yassin’s Gaza Islamists were collecting arms, according to Israeli officials in Gaza at the time. Israeli troops raided a mosque and found a cache of weapons. Sheikh Yassin was jailed. He told Israeli interrogators the weapons were for use against rival Palestinians, not Israel, according to Mr. Hacham, the military affairs expert who says he spoke frequently with jailed Islamists. The cleric was released after a year and continued to expand Mujama’s reach across Gaza.
Similarly, Hezbollah was created in blowback after Israeli’s scorched earth brutality in Lebanon. Time noted in 2009:
Originally a small-scale guerrilla group in southern Lebanon formed to resist Israeli invasion in the 1980s, Hizballah built its reputation on a dogged ability to repeatedly hold its own against Israeli forces ….
“When we entered Lebanon, there was no Hizballah. We were accepted by perfumed rice and flowers by the Shi’a in the south,” Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak once noted. “It was our presence there that created Hizballah.”
As the Washington Post reported in 2006, it was Israeli’s brutality which led to the creation of Hezbollah:
The 1978 Operation Litani provided a clear lesson in the rules of unintended consequences. It was a swift success militarily; Israeli forces pushed across the border and moved about 20 miles north to the Litani River without serious opposition from primarily ragtag Palestinian defenders. They weren’t native to the area or fully familiar with it — they’d moved to it in the early 1970s to escape a crackdown in Jordan.
Under U.S. and other international pressure, the Israeli forces soon withdrew. But the Israeli defense minister at the time, Ezer Weizman, who later became president, ordered relentless bombing of the Lebanese border hills to drive out the civilian population. U.S. officials complained of civilian casualties, but the attacks continued.
The idea, Israeli officials explained, was to create a free-fire zone where it could be assumed that anybody moving around was a Palestinian guerrilla and a fair target for Israeli warplanes or artillery fire. The result over the next year, however, was a long list of civilian deaths — farmers carrying tobacco crops to market, families picnicking on jagged hillsides and villagers caught in their homes when stray bombs landed.
Eventually, increasing numbers gave up and fled to Beirut. These families, most of them Shiite Muslims, took up residence in what was then undeveloped land between southern Beirut and the international airport — and now is the teeming Shiite suburb known as the Dahiya.
Its exploding young population, sons of those chased from southern homes, became the base of a new radical organization born several years later. Inspired by the 1979 Iranian revolution, it eventually took the name Hezbollah, or Party of God.
More than two decades later, Hezbollah has grown into an extensive political force in Lebanon, backed by Shiite Muslims who have become the largest religious community in the country. Hezbollah candidates run for elections. Hezbollah social service agencies provide health care and schooling for poor farmers. Hezbollah television, al-Manar, broadcasts technically slick and virulently anti-Israeli programs into Lebanese homes.
Not least, a Hezbollah military wing, not the national army, fought year after year against Israeli troops who remained after 1982 to occupy a border enclave. Politically worn out, the Israeli occupation forces finally pulled out of Lebanon in 2000, a departure that has gone down in local historical narrative as a Hezbollah victory.