Hamas has joined the big leagues. No longer can it be seen as a local terror group that concentrates its efforts on destroying Israel. According to testimony given last week to the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee by Lt. General Peter Pace, the deputy chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Hamas has joined Hizbullah and Al-Qaida in the Triple Frontier Zone in Latin America where the borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay converge. There the Islamic terror groups train recruits, gather intelligence on targets for attacks, launder money and sell drugs.
Hamas is usually viewed as a local phenomenon. When in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks President George W. Bush announced that the US war on terror would target "every terrorist group of global reach" it was generally assumed this meant Palestinian terror groups were off the target list.
These organizations were seen as distinct from groups such as Al-Qaida, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Abu Sayyaf or Ansar al Islam that attacked mainly non-Israeli targets. By so distinguishing Palestinian terror organizations the Americans have, to date, been able to view the terror war against Israel as categorically distinct from the world jihad against the US and other western countries.
This distinction never made much sense. The fact that Islamic charities such as the Holyland Foundation, which were shut down in the US in the aftermath of September 11, funded both Al Qaida and Hamas made it clear that separating their operations was at best a dubious enterprise.
Consistent Palestinian public support for Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden – evidenced by opinion polls, the official PA media and public demonstrations – also gave the lie to the notion that the Palestinian terror war is in a class by itself.
But if in the past the distinction was difficult to justify, it became downright untenable in the wake of the murder of three US officials in Gaza last October. It is not simply that Palestinian terrorists targeted American officials. Nor is it just that the attack has been followed up by an official PA cover-up of the affair. The fact is that official PA media in the weeks preceding the attack conducted targeted incitement against the officials who were murdered.
As shown by Palestinian Media Watch, an independent organization which monitors the official PA media, on September 22, 2003, the PA daily Al Quds reported on the rejection by Palestinian NGOs of a USAID demand that they sign a commitment not to transfer USAID donations to terror groups or operatives. Further down on the same page of the paper was a USAID advertisement calling on Palestinians to apply for US government-funded scholarships to study at American universities. The US officials who were murdered three weeks later in Gaza had arrived in the area to interview Palestinian applicants for congressionally funded Fulbright scholarships.
This week US Ambassador Dan Kurtzer decried the PA show trial of four men it claims were behind the October attack.
The trial, which was conducted behind closed doors last Saturday, came in the wake of a US decision to offer a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the attack. Kurtzer said Monday that not only does the US consider the trial proceedings unacceptable; it also finds the charges inexplicable.
"We're not even sure that the charge sheet that has been put together reflects the gravity of the crime. The charges seem to implicate these individuals for involuntary manslaughter rather than what we would call first-degree murder," Kurtzer admonished.
US anger at the PA is well-founded. Kurtzer is known for his strong affinity with the Israeli peace camp. And yet, given the mountain of evidence of PA involvement in terrorism, he could not avoid concluding that "The road map failed because of terrorism. It failed because Palestinians had not only not done enough to stop terrorism and had not done enough to uproot the terrorist infrastructure, but in the wake of the terrorism directed against Israeli citizens… , the Palestinians did nothing."
Even the EU is no longer finding it possible to ignore PA involvement in terrorism. At the beginning of the week the Berlin Morgenpost newspaper published the results of an investigation by the EU's fraud investigations unit OLAF into the misuse of EU funds by the PA. The investigation, which was prevented for years by the EU's external relations Commissioner Chris Patten, went forward only after EU parliamentarian Francois Zimmeray collected the signatures of 157 EU parliamentarians overriding Patten's authority. The investigators were in Israel two weeks ago to check IMF allegations that $1.1 billion dollars of the EU's aid to the PA was illegally diverted.
According to the Morgenpost, OLAF investigators found that Yasser Arafat has diverted a large portion of the EU's assistance to the Fatah's Aksa Martyrs Brigade terror cells and to other Palestinian officials.
And yet, in spite of the fact that Hamas is clearly operating on a global level and in spite of the fact that the PA has been exposed for what it is, the US, like the EU, refuses to recognize the Palestinian war against Israel as an integral part of the world terror war that the US is fighting against.
In the same speech on Monday, Kurtzer said of the security fence, "If Israel makes a decision that the security fence is an important adjunct to its security then the United States will support that. However, if decisions on the routing of the fence are taken for reasons that have less to do with security and more to do with politics then we will have problems with it."
The question is, why does the US still insist that Israel cannot take any actions that will break the deadlock in the Palestinian war? Why is it that the US will not back Israeli actions that would bring it a political and military victory against the PA?
The answer was made clear this week. Led by Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday the OPEC oil cartel announced that it was cutting back oil production by one million barrels a day starting in April and would immediately eliminate the 1.6 million barrels a day of excess production over its standing quotas.
Reacting to the announcement, US Secretary of Treasury John Snow said that "higher energy prices act like a tax and are certainly not welcome."
In response to Snow's remarks, Reuters reported that the Saudi daily al-Riyadh shot back "saying that that the US has no right to warn OPEC against cutting oil output and accusing Washington of waging war on the cartel under the guise of protecting the global economy."
Were the US to acknowledge that the Palestinian war against Israel is in fact an integral part of the global jihad against the West, it would find itself in open hostilities with Saudi Arabia which, with a quarter of the world's proven oil reserves, has the power to seriously damage the global economic recovery. And yet, the Saudis, who are the largest backers of Sunni terrorists like Al Qaida and Hamas, are in fact the enemy of the US.
America's dependence on foreign sources of oil has brought about the unprecedented situation where it is engaged in a world war against an enemy it is partly dependent on. Imagine what World War II would have looked like if Adolph Hitler had controlled the world steel markets.
And so it is that the US finds itself pursuing its current policy toward Israel and the Palestinians. The fact of the matter is that Israel is one of the US's staunchest and most valuable allies in the global war against terrorism. And yet, the US has expended great efforts to ensure that Israel brought none of its abilities to bear at least openly in the US war against terror to date.
While the US media is filled with reports about the overextension of US forces worldwide, the Bush administration not only makes no use of Israel's capabilities, but it places stringent limitations on Israel's ability to carry out operations in its own defense.
In the run-up to the November presidential elections, the Bush White House finds itself on the defensive for its actions in the war on terror. Perhaps America's reluctance to articulate clearly who its enemies and allies really are is one of the main reasons it is losing control of the debate on the war as a whole.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.