Friday, May 12, 2006

Hamas and Jordan

Al-Hayat today published a picture of the weapons and explosives the Jordanian government seized which it says Hamas smuggled into the country for use in attacks on Jordanian and western targets there.

Apparently members of a Hamas cell have admitted to receiving training in Syria and smuggling the weapons on behalf of the militant movement. Jordan has arrested 20 people in relation to the smuggling charges, three of them Jordanians of Palestinian descent, at least one of whom had fought in Iraq. It also arrested 15 members of the Islamic Action Front, the political branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan.

Hamas has denied it is involved in the operation and refused to send representatives to Jordan as part of an official Palestinian Authority delegation investigating the allegations. Representatives of President Mahmoud Abbass did participate. Hamas leader Ismail Haniya has denounced the Jordanian government's "media escalation" of the issue.

The three primary suspects have admitted to working with Hamas representatives in Syria, and in purchasing the weapons in al-Qa'im, in Iraq, as well as in Jordan, then moving them among various locations in Jordan. They have also admitted to casing various targets, including the home of an intelligence service officer in the city of Salt "who had harmed Hamas", General Security targets in the city of Zarqa and tourist locations in the city of Aqaba.

It is no secret that Hamas smuggles arms through Jordan. A lietenant in the army told me in an informal conversation that they frequently caught people bringing arms through the southern part of the country on their way to the Negev, and from there to the Palestinian territories. The arms mostly came from Iraq but some also came from Saudi Arabia, not the governments, but the territories. The Jordanian government, according to the lietenant, has sophisticated sensors all along the border and puts a lot of resources in stopping such smuggling, but that because of the rough terrain some smugglers manage to avoid detection.

He also complained that while the Jordanian government puts enormous efforts into stopping smuggling both in and out of Jordan, his Israeli counterparts "do nothing" to stop smuggling from Israel into Jordan and that, "they only care about what is going into Israel". The lietenant stated that the most common items smuggled into Jordan from Israel included weapons and drugs. He was frustrated by this because he felt that the Israel's causualness about smuggling from Israel "doubled" the work of Jordanian border guards.

I still find these charges a bit hard to swallow. For Hamas to start attacking Jordanian targets just doesn't make sense. but a trusted high-level former Jordanian government official (of Palestinian descent) says that while he can not say for sure what the arms were intended for, he knows some of the Jordanian officials involved in the issue and that they are "honest and good people" whom he trusts.

If the story is true, which I'm starting to believe that somehow it is, it must signal a significant split between some of the political leadership in Syria and that in the Palestinian territories, or even more significantly, a splintering of the group among various factions. It would be disasterous for Hamas to attack sites in Jordan and common sense would seem to dictate that Hamas' self-interest would not at all be served from attacking Jordanian targets.

On a side note, there is increasingly depressing news from the Palestinian Territories. Hamas is not suprisingly using its power of government to further Islamize Palestinian society. Islamize is not accurate, as it has nothing to do with religion, and a lot more to do with the narrow-minded fundamentalist and highly politicized version of Islam that the Muslim Brotherhood and most other Islamic parties in the Middle East espouse. Regarding Hamas, this now includes using government media and changing the curriculum in schools "to further inculcate their message into the minds of people", as one friend put it.

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