Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Even though public health is about everything, I'll concede that this post is pretty much off-topic for Stayin' Alive. But I hope my friends will indulge me, as I have a long-standing interest in the Israel/Palestine problem (for want of a better title).

The Hamas election victory is clearly bad news. Regardless of speculation about whether finding itself having to govern will cause the Hamas leadership to moderate its rhetoric and objectives, it is pretty clear that no Israeli government will deal constructively with a Hamas-led government in the foreseeable future, and that the world's most intractable conflict is just going to turn uglier. Furthermore, while it is undoubtedly true that voters were tired of Fatah's corrupt and feckless leadership, everyone who understands the situation knows that the victory was at least equally a testament to Palestinians' disillusionment with the prospects for accomodation and peace. The implications for the already critical instability of the region are grim.

Down the memory hole, like most of what really matters about Middle East history, is that Hamas is largely a creature of the Israeli security services. And no, I have not donned the Alcoa sombrero. If you'll click on the link you will see that it is Anthony Cordesman and Vincent Cannestraro, along with various of those ubiquitous anonymous administration officials, who say so.

Israel financed and encouraged the development of Hamas for two, or possibly three, main reasons. First, they thought it would weaken the Palestinian movement to build up a rival to Fatah. Second, the Israelis did not in fact want peace, but rather the permanent acquisition of Palestinian territory, and so they did not want to be placed in a position where international pressure to deal with the PLO became irresistible. By encouraging Palestinian extremism and terrorism, they hoped to discredit the Palestinian cause. Finally, some may have hoped that by getting close to the hard-liners in Hamas, Israel would gain intelligence.

Here's what Richard Sales says (link above):

In the end, as Hamas set up a very comprehensive counterintelligence system, many collaborators with Israel were weeded out and shot. Violent acts of terrorism became the central tenet, and Hamas, unlike the PLO, was unwilling to compromise in any way with Israel, refusing to acquiesce in its very existence.

But even then, some in Israel saw some benefits to be had in trying to continue to give Hamas support: "The thinking on the part of some of the right-wing Israeli establishment was that Hamas and the others, if they gained control, would refuse to have any part of the peace process and would torpedo any agreements put in place," said a U.S. government official who asked not to be named.

"Israel would still be the only democracy in the region for the United States to deal with," he said.

All of which disgusts some former U.S. intelligence officials.

"The thing wrong with so many Israeli operations is that they try to be too sexy," said former CIA official Vincent Cannestraro.

According to former State Department counter-terrorism official Larry Johnson, "the Israelis are their own worst enemies when it comes to fighting terrorism."

"The Israelis are like a guy who sets fire to his hair and then tries to put it out by hitting it with a hammer."

"They do more to incite and sustain terrorism than curb it," he said.

Now, here's another interesting story to contemplate: the story of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, and the CIA.

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