How will Israelis deal with Hamas and other threats?
What does the Palestinian election mean in the long run? Who are the real terrorists in the region? What countries are funding the terrorists, and how can Israel and the United States deal with them? How can we solve the problems of terrorism when the perpetrators swear destruction for both Israel and the United States? These are some of the questions we posed to two experts on terrorism who have been in Orange County in the tumultuous early days of 2006.
Although much of the world is concerned about Iran’s potential capability of producing nuclear weapons, people need to worry about Iran’s support of terrorist organizations within the Palestinian Authority, according to Yehudit Barksy, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Division of Middle East and International Terrorism. Iran, which has supported terrorist organizations for more than a quarter of a century, harbors four senior leaders of Al Qaida. It is a major source of support and funding for Hamas, she said.
Barksy believes that Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s declaration that Israel should be “wiped off the map” is “not only being implemented by means of his country’s efforts to build a weapon of mass destruction.” In addition to the rhetoric, he is maintaining a Gaza front by dispensing funds, training, and logistical support via Hezbollah to Fatah affiliates.
Approximately nine million dollars — nearly 10% of Hezbollah’s $100 million annual budget — was devoted to funding Palestinian terrorist groups operating in Palestinian Authority areas. Each cell received between $5,000 and $8,000 a month by Hezbollah for expenses, including arms, cell phone calling cards, and spending money, according to Barsky.
Barksy, who visited Orange County recently, described Hamas as “the Muslim Brotherhood, fashioned from the same mold and ultimately sharing the same goals of an Islamic takeover of the region and one day the world.” Although Hamas has not carried out any recent terrorist acts, it is transferring Qassam rockets to other terror organizations such as Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which continue to launch attacks from Gaza against Israel, according to Barsky, whose organization monitors extremist publications and websites, provides detailed analyses and briefings on Middle East extremist organizations and their supporters in the United States, and publishes Counter Terrorism Watch, a web-based resource about international terrorism and efforts to contain it.
“In addition, mainstream US Muslim organizations are heavily influenced by Saudi-funded extremists,” Barsky said. “More than 80 percent of the mosques in the U.S. have been radicalized by Saudi money and influence.”
Ariel Sharon is leaving a complicated legacy, according to Amos N. Guiora, a visiting member of the law faculty at Case Western Reserve University and an expert in the legal aspects of security and counter-terrorism whose expertise was integral in forging the Gaza-Jericho Agreement and the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement. “He was the last of the Mohicans – the last of the settlers from 1948 – a dashing, brilliant, charismatic general of the 1973 War leading the charge across the Suez Canal. Then at the age of 75, he decided that his life’s work, the settlements, had been a mistake.”
Prof. Guiora credits Sharon with being able to change his mind. He also believes the security fence erected during the Sharon administration is a better alternative than other potential measures and thinks that a “recontoured” version of the fence may serve as the border between Israel and Palestine.
“Iran will become a threat when nuclearly viable,” Prof. Guiora said. “Israel has to define how great that threat is and how to respond to it. We have to make some decisions, along with the U.S., but President Bush has less political capital for taking on Iran because of Iraq.”
In terms of Hamas, Prof. Guiora believes that Israelis have to “take a very deep breath in terms of meeting and talking with them. It’s a period requiring patience and great wisdom. I hope we’re up to the task.”
Prof. Guiora thinks that “it’s too early to judge what Hamas is going to do. To people voting in the election in January, Hamas represents a lack of corruption and cradle-to-grave health, education, and welfare.”
The Israeli government needs to decide how to negotiate with Hamas and determine what criteria to establish. “Will the Israelis ask Hamas to dismantle its platform?” he asked. “For the moment, Hamas is still coming out with the usual rhetoric.”
He continued, “The Palestinian Authority had 12 years in control. It totally and miserably failed. It got voted out, because it couldn’t lead or provide basic services and was corrupt beyond belief.”
“Once there is peace, we can begin addressing Israel’s social problems, which have been put on the back burner,” Prof. Guiora said. “They include acclimation of the Ethiopians and people from the Former Soviet Union, improving the educational system, reducing poverty, and reducing violence as a whole. If one is not an optimist, one can’t live in Israel.”
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