The Axis of Good is designed as a coalition of the various Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups. The Gaza Strip was chosen as its first base for propagating its violently anti-American, anti-West ideology around the Arab world. Bin Laden’s disciples are joining the coalition while, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and Palestinian sources report here exclusively, the Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Yassin has permitted his followers to enroll with the local salvation committees. Until now, Yassin avoided anti-American gestures, emphasizing the local, Palestinian nature of his movement’s struggle as distinct from the worldwide jihad.
Leading Hamas lights who have joined the salvation committees include Palestinian Legislative Council member Mussa Mohammad Zubut, chairman of Muslim charity associations Ahmed Kurd, and Yassin’s financial adviser, Youssef Shanti. While previously empowered by the crumbling Palestinian Authority, they now derive their authority from the local salvation committees.
Arafat took the significant step of appointing his close associate Ikram Sabir, the Mufti of Jerusalem and senior cleric on Temple Mount, to the World Committee of the Axis of Good, to serve alongside Quaradawi.
He also named an Israeli Arab leader, Raed Salah, to the forum.
Salah heads the Arab Islamic fundamentalist movement of Israel, the most powerful political grouping representing the 1.2 million-strong Israeli Arab community. These two appointments effectively hand religious jurisdiction over Temple Mount, site of the Jewish Temples and sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, to the Axis of Good World Committee, together with pastoral authority over Israel’s Muslim Arab citizens.
The World Committee has symbolically set up offices in the al Mujanna Building, home of the Hamas headquarters in the Gaza Strip. The Hamas, with a nod from Arafat in Ramallah, has therefore pre-empted international efforts to find a moderate substitute for the PA chairman as a partner for peace negotiations by assembling a political-religious structure that is both anti-Israeli and anti-American, as a rallying point for the Palestinian struggle.
This is the backdrop to the Fatah-Hamas talks starting in Cairo earlier this month and continuing in the Gaza Strip this week under Egyptian intelligence auspices. Supposed to discuss a truce in Palestinian attacks inside Israel, the Cairo round petered out after a Palestinian gunman shot dead five Israelis on the dovish Kibbutz Metzer, including a mother and two small children. The Gaza session was then punctured at its outset by a car bomb explosion in the northern Gaza Strip in which its suicide driver was killed before he could blow up an Israeli army post in the area.
Arafat begins handover to Hamas
The suicide attacks against Israeli targets were deliberately timed to sabotage those talks.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources say they were the work of Fatah, acting on Arafat’s orders, although they were claimed by Hamas and other groups. The real story is that Arafat, Yassin and Quaradawi have joined hands in an unholy alliance.
While it suited the Egyptian president to label the Fatah-Hamas talks as a dialogue for ending the Palestinian suicide terror campaign, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report that his real agenda was to monitor the Islamic fundamentalists’ advancing domination of the Gaza Strip with Arafat’s connivance. Mubarak needs to keep abreast of this process and make sure it does not get out of hand.
The report he received from el-Baz and Suleiman pointed to the danger of the Gaza Strip, for the first time since 1948, breaking free of Egyptian influence and degenerating quickly into a fundamentalist Islamic enclave and a no-go zone for Egyptian security forces. This pocket would have a high potential for terrorist violence that could well spill over into Egypt’s mainly Palestinian-inhabited northern Sinai desert.
Aware of the real power brokers of the Gaza Strip, the Egyptians made sure to invite “external Hamas” and its leader, Khaled Mashal to the Fatah-Hamas meeting in Cairo. They also offered him a deal to persuade him not to derail the talks.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources say Egypt was prepared to allow Mashal to move himself and Hamas headquarters, complete with personnel, from Damascus to Cairo, provided he signed an accord with Fatah. Both must agree to a limited cessation of terror attacks against Israel and, even more important, set up a shared pro-Egyptian governing body in the Gaza Strip. However, Cairo was prepared to put the terrorist issue on a back burner for the sake of arresting the slide of its influence in Gaza.
In normal times, Mashal would have jumped at the chance of moving from drab, out of the way Damascus to cosmopolitan Cairo, a regional travel hub. Yet he turned Mubarak down flat. Since the rise of radical Islamic fundamentalism, the stakes in the game of politics, religion and terror have gone too high for the Hamas master terrorist to risk bucking the dominant trend and going along with the Egyptian offer.
Certain European power groups find it politic to encourage the radicalization of the Gaza Strip, and even the formation of the seven Islamic terror enclaves in regions far from their shores. They figure that the enclaves will channel Islamic extremist energies towards targets far from Europe’s Muslim minorities instead of stirring them up. It is a fact, as discovered by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, that a large chunk of the roughly $1.5 million spent by Quaradawi for his Gaza Strip operation comes not only from various Saudi charities but also from such countries as Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and France.
Should the salvation committees take over as the dominant force in the Gaza Strip, Hamas will step into Arafat’s shoes as the Palestinian partner in the secret military alliances he signed with Iran and the Hizballah in mid-2000. Those deals assured Arafat, in advance of the Intifada he launched in September 2000, of an ample supply of weapons, money, explosives and terrorist experts to fight the Israelis from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian leader, sensing that his days are numbered, wants to make sure that his life’s work, his particular brand of terrorist war against Israel and development of the suicide weapon of terror, is continued. His best bets are Islamic terrorist elements – Palestinians and others – with whom he collaborated in the past. Now he is gradually handing over those partnerships to competent successors, while keeping his hand in from his isolated headquarters in Ramallah.
His Iranian connection was exposed in January 2002 by the seizure on the Red Sea by Israeli naval commandos of the Karine A freighter attempting to smuggle a cargo of Iranian arms to the Palestinians. The direct Hizballah connection is now emerging.
After the Hamas takes over in the Gaza Strip and joins forces with the Hizballah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, a contiguous Mediterranean Sea route will open up to link the two terrorist enclaves – from the Gaza Strip to southern and central Lebanon controlled by the Shiite fundamentalist Hizballah.