Dissent is not only present in the anti-American front in Iraq. Hamas top ranks are locked in serious infighting in the aftermath of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin‘s death on March 22 in Gaza City.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Islamic sources report: The Israeli missiles that killed Yassin also struck at the heart of the radical Islamic cradle in which his Palestinian Hamas terror movement was reared: the Muslim Brotherhood whose center is in Cairo. Hamas shares its ideological bedrock, the Muslim Brotherhood, with al Qaeda. The Muslim Brotherhood also begat the Egyptian Jihad Islami which, under the leadership of Ayman Zuwahiri, became Osama bin Laden‘s foremost operational arm and partner-in-terror.
The repercussions from Yassin’s death threaten to shake al Qaeda’s Arab and Islamic base far more violently even than, say, a direct hit to its Number 2 leader, Zawahiri, by some Hellfire missile fired from an American Predator drone or a Pakistani helicopter.
True, Zuwahiri’s demise would give President George W. Bush‘s global war against terrorism an important psychological boost, but it would affect al Qaeda’s operational capabilities only marginally. It could seal the fate of Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf. The pro-al Qaeda elements in Pakistan’s SIS intelligence that staged three failed attempts on his life this year would be driven by revenge to make sure this time – or at least get him removed from office.
But Zuwahiri’s death would not make the earth move in the Middle East or even in al Qaeda. Yassin’s passing promises far more profound reverberations.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Middle Eastern experts analyze the great significance of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon‘s decision to eliminate the man Israel calls “the Palestinian bin Laden.”
Yassin was the first high profile figure of the Muslim Brotherhood, one of al Qaeda’s Arab ideological parents, to be destroyed since global war was declared on terror. The West, including the United States, has always taken care to respect the distinction drawn by moderate Arab governments between the “military wings” of terrorist organizations and their “spiritual” leaders – even while those leaders preach the violent philosophies of the Brotherhood and other jihadist groups.
In dying, Yassin, who controlled both, exposed this dichotomy as a myth.
While the blight of terrorism is spreading, so too are the internal squabbles, factional fragmentation and even internal armed clashes besetting the terrorist camp. What happened in the eleven years since the landmark Mogadishu battle between US forces and al Qaeda was this: Radical Muslim preachers have been pulled increasingly into the terrorist orbit; some are in the process of crossing the line into hands-on terrorism and beginning to set up personal militias. This trend generates rivalries and feuds, a phenomenon for the United States to get hold of and exploit to further the war on terror. Yassin’s death lifted a corner of the cloak concealing this boiling stewpot.
His assassination put a stop to two years of fruitless effort by the United States, through allies in Qatar and Egypt, to temper the radicalism and violence of the Palestinian Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, by loosening Iranian and Hizballah influence over them. Washington found hope in the prospect of their metamorphosis from purely terrorist groups to ideological and political movements.
US policy on Syria, Lebanon and Hizballah has been delivered a setback that will govern the next steps with regard to Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran.
While speeding up some vital processes – even possibly prompting unusual military movements in the Middle East – the cataclysmic death of the Hamas sheikh is likely to slow down the progress of Bush’s Greater Middle East Initiative beyond its set timetable for enhancing his re-election chances at home. The region will have much to digest before embracing democracy in the Bush cast.