UK: Hamas Threatens Israeli Interests Worldwide

Last Updated: 26 September 1997
The Palestinian extremist group Hamas threatened on 25 September to attack Israeli interests worldwide in response to an alleged assassination attempt against a senior Hamas member in Amman (Jordan) earlier that day.

Security implications

The threat should be taken seriously and marks a significant widening of Hamas' campaign against Israel. Until this latest threat, Hamas observed a strict policy of only staging attacks inside Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Hamas activities will remain concentrated in Israel, but there is an increased risk of attacks in Jordan, Egypt, Europe and North America. Hamas has the capability of staging attacks abroad as networks already exist in neighbouring Middle East countries, Europe and North America. There is no increased risk of attacks on foreign targets in Israel.

The threat will increase the pressure on the Israeli security forces to combat Hamas. They in turn will put pressure on the Palestinian self-rule authority. The Israeli authorities believe that Hamas plans its activities from areas under Palestinian control. However, the perpetrators of two suicide bomb attacks on 4 September came from areas where Israel has ultimate security control (but where the Palestinians have civilian control). Israel has issued a list of actions that it wants Palestinian security officials to undertake against Hamas. The Palestinians are resisting this pressure by claiming that Israel has the same responsibility to counter Hamas, though they did arrest 20 suspected Hamas activists on 24 September.

It will require substantial efforts and resources to close down Hamas. The group provides essential social and welfare services as well as conducting political and military activities. The Palestinian self-rule authority does not have the resources to both eliminate Hamas and replace it as a provider of such services. Palestinians are already suffering severe economic problems, and a reduction in the provision of essential services would increase the area's volatility.

The use of activists from areas under dual control appears to be a deliberate Hamas policy to make it harder for Israel to respond to attacks. Israel cannot act as it wishes in such areas without damaging relations with the Palestinians. Good working relations between the two sides are needed for effective administration of the dual control areas. The Hamas policy is also designed to prevent the Palestinian self-rule authority from being directly implicated in the attacks. Although Hamas is opposed to self-rule, it does not want to undermine the self-rule government, as it considers such a government to be better than Israeli occupation. The two recent multiple suicide bombings have exposed Israel's impotence in the face of such attacks and regained the initiative for Hamas after a series of setbacks. Further multiple suicide bombings in easily accessible, crowded areas of major towns are likely.

Political implications

The Israeli pressure exerted on Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and the stress caused by recent crises in the peace process may have contributed to a deterioration in Arafat's health. Speculation about his health and his possible successor increased after he fainted at an Arab League summit in Cairo (Egypt) on 21 September. Among Arafat's possible successors are cabinet members Abu Mazen and Nabil Shaath. However, there are concerns about the ability of either to command widespread support. Abu Mazen is known to have doubts about the framework of the peace process and Shaath was criticised in a recent report by the Palestinian parliament on corruption. Palestinian extremist groups could exploit the uncertainty to increase their influence and to further undermine the peace process by staging more large-scale suicide bomb attacks.

Arafat's death could help break the stalemate in the peace process by prompting a re-evaluation of the process and removing one obstacle to progress. To many Israelis, Arafat remains closely associated with past Palestinian terrorist acts and he therefore commands little trust in the Israeli population. This issue will become increasingly important when talks start on the most controversial issues such as the status of Jerusalem. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may find it easier to convince Israelis of the need for compromise if dealing with a Palestinian leader who has come to prominence during the peace process.

Travel implications

Travel to Israel remains acceptably safe despite the Hamas threat. Hamas will continue to concentrate its activities against Israeli targets. The risk of large-scale suicide bombs in easily accessible public places such as markets remains. Visitors should minimise the amount of time spent in such places and should not visit them at times when they are likely to be most crowded.

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