Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Will a Gaza "Hamas-stan" Become a Future Al-Qaeda Sanctuary? -

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror and David Keyes

In light of Israel's planned disengagement from Gaza, to take place in 2005, and the termination of Yasser Arafat's hold on power, the eventual take-over of the Gaza Strip by Hamas certainly cannot be ruled out. Would a Gaza 'Hamas-stan' become another al-Qaeda sanctuary in the future? In the past, al-Qaeda sought to establish itself wherever there was a security vacuum - in remote mountain areas or in economically weak, failed states. Would a security vacuum in a post-withdrawal Gaza facilitate al-Qaeda's entry there?

The affinity of Hamas for groups that are part of the al-Qaeda network was dramatically demonstrated in 2004 when Hamas distributed computer CDs in the West Bank and Gaza that express the organization's identification with Chechen terrorists and with other 'holy wars' in the Balkans, Kashmir, and Afghanistan.

Al-Qaeda and Hamas are often funded by the same people and organizations. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, 'Hamas [leaders]...often use the very same methods and even the same institutions [as al-Qaeda] to raise and move their money.'

Both al-Qaeda and Hamas legitimize the use of suicide bombing based on the same religious authorities: Sheikh Salman al-Auda (Saudi), Sheikh Safar al-Hawali (Saudi), Sheikh Hamud bin Uqla al-Shuaibi (Saudi), Sheikh Sulaiman al-Ulwan (Saudi), and Sheikh Qardhawi (Egypt-Qatar). All five clerics appear on the Hamas website.

To prevent a safe haven for terrorism from emerging in Gaza, Israel must maintain control over the strategic envelope around Gaza even after its disengagement, particularly air, land, and sea access to the territory, though Israel will face enormous international pressure to ease its grip as a gesture to a post-Arafat regime.

Similarly, Western powers may seek to limit Israel's freedom of movement to re-enter Gaza, should security conditions deteriorate (i.e., an increase in Kassam rocket attacks on Israel). Ironically, by seeking to neutralize Israeli military power, Western states would help create the very sort of security vacuum in Gaza that al-Qaeda requires in order to establish a new sanctuary.