Professor Anthony H. Cordesman , who currently holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Washington, DC-based Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), has near-conclusively demonstrated Israel’s systematic financial and monetary aid to Hamas, which began in the late 1970s. According to internal documents published several years ago by the Israel-based Institute for Counter Terrorism , in 1978 Israeli authorities allowed Hamas co-founder Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Yassin to establish the group under its early name, “Islamic Center”, in Israel. A few years later, during the Iran-Contra Affair (1985-1986), Israel acted as Washington’s conduit in supplying US-made weapons to Iran and then channeling the profits to the Contras paramilitary mercenaries fighting Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. Israel did so in full knowledge of the fact that the Iranian government was at that time Hamas’ primary military supplier. As a result, Hamas even today uses numerous US-made weapons in its operations in Israel and the Palestinian territories, channeled to it by Israel, through Iran. According to Richard Sale, Terrorism Correspondent for United Press International, who has studied the internal documents, Israel’s active support for the militant group actually intensified after Iran’s Islamic Revolution caused Hamas’ popularity to boom in Palestine .
A Rational Policy
The reason for this unorthodox alignment between Israel and Hamas was strategically rational: it reflected a conscious attempt by the Israeli intelligence services to establish a viable opposition to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). By the late 1970s, the secular and leftist disposition of Arafat’s leadership was gradually attracting support for the Palestinian cause from far beyond the relatively narrow confines of the Arab World. Indeed, in 1988, when the PLO executive committee in Algiers declared the independence of the nation of Palestine, nearly 100 countries recognized it, including the entire Arab World, most of Africa, nearly all of Asia (including India), Cyprus, as well as the entire Socialist Bloc. Brazil, Australia and virtually all Western European nations welcomed official Palestinian Delegations on their territory. By aiding Hamas, Israel hoped that the militant group’s Islamist ideology would eventually damage the near-universal appeal of the Palestinian liberation struggle. Moreover, by promoting Hamas’ operational ties with the Khomeini regime in Tehran, Israel desired to associate in Washington’s eyes the Palestinian struggle with the fundamentalist ideology of the Iranian theocrats.
Which is, in fact, exactly what happened. Israel’s exiling of Arafat and the PLO leadership to Lebanon and Tunisia, until 1994, allowed Hamas to roam free in the Palestinian territories, which in turn enabled the militant faction to become the most active political and religious institution inside the Palestinian lands. By 2005, when Arafat died, Hamas was powerful enough to seriously threaten the PLO’s traditional supremacy in Palestine. The Palestinian civil war, which followed Hamas’ subsequent electoral victory, was the best possible outcome for all those —in Israel and elsewhere— who do not wish to see a unified and viable Palestinian state.