After Hamas bombers learned their deadly skills in Lebanon, international pressure brought them back to wreak their havoc on Israel's streets
In a rare moment of diplomatic candour, departing US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk used a recent farewell address to tell an audience of leading Israelis that the Oslo peace process "some days seems to be turning into a nightmare.
"I think it is clear to all of us," Indyk remarked, "that something is fundamentally wrong here."
Israel's determined investigation into the two recent suicide bombings in Jerusalem has brought into focus the "something" which is troubling Indyk--as it has many others, for years. Ironically, the seeds for Oslo's collapse may have been sown at its very inception.
On September 9, 1993, even as PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin exchanged mutual letters of recognition, Israeli buses were sent to the Lebanese border to return hundreds of Hamas activists deported earlier to south Lebanon. The spate of suicide bombings now ravaging Israel can be traced back to this episode, when international--including American--interference forced Israel to treat Hamas with kid gloves and bring back the recruiters of human bombs.
The UN condemned Israel (Security Council Resolution 799) for the temporary expulsion of 415 Hamas extremists in December 1992. Months later, President Bill Clinton's new UN Ambassador, Madeleine Albright, threatened to veto a second UN resolution sanctioning Israel for the deportations. The PLO, then as now, stood by their Hamas "brothers" and instructed a Palestinian delegation to boycott talks then underway in Washington. To get the Palestinians back to the table, the US and Israel agreed to an accelerated return of the deportees. As a result, the Hamas men were given a heroes' welcome in Gaza even as Rabin and Arafat shook hands at the White House.
While in Lebanon, the deportees received explosives training from Hizb'Allah and other terror factions. It is apparent that they also were persuaded on the merits of suicide bombings, a modus operandi Hizb'Allah had been using with success against Israeli and Western targets in Lebanon since 1982. Upon the Hamas group's return, the wave of suicide bombings inside Israel began. (In April 1993, the first such attack had occured, to protest the deportations.) Twenty further such incidents to date have reaped unprecedented carnage throughout Israel, with the number of victims now standing at more than 160 dead and over 1,000 wounded.
A common theme emerging in recent media reports on the uncovering of active Hamas terror cells has been that many of the suspects are former deportees to Lebanon. Notably, Israeli security has identified one of these once-expelled activists, Mahmoud Abu Hanude, as the recruiter and ringleader of the terrorist cell that attacked the Jerusalem marketplace on July 30 and the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall on September 4.
Observers have noted that Arafat's recent embrace of Hamas leader Abed el-Aziz Rantisi--who rose to prominence as spokesman for the deportees--clearly gave a "green light" to further terrorism. But it was only one of many green lights given in recent years by world leaders reluctant to confront this growing Islamic threat.
Israel's Foreign Ministry last month surveyed the Islamic world and found that, even though suicide is forbidden in Islam, more and more prominent Muslim leaders are publicly endorsing these acts against Israel as an honourable and acceptable form of martyrdom.
It is not clear whether Indyk's Oslo "nightmare" will be abated by Israel's release of Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin as we go to press. Yassin was serving a life sentence for his involvement in the murder of Arab "collaborators", and suspected of ordering the deaths of two Israeli soldiers. His imprisonment was often cited by Hamas as the reason for suicide attacks, and he has sanctioned their use. On October 5, 1993, the day 31 Israelis were injured when a suicide bomber rammed the #178 bus from Jerusalem to Shiloh, Yassin told an Israeli Arab lawmaker visiting his prison cell that such attacks will continue "as long as the occupation continues". (The Jerusalem Post, Oct 6, 1993)
Upon his release, Yassin made it clear he had not softened his stance while in jail. Hamas would only announce a "ceasefire", he said, once the Israeli "occupation" had ended.
As the general Islamic view is that all of Israel--as a former Muslim area--must be won back for Allah, an end to attempts by Hamas' would-be martyrs to win a speedy trip to paradise seems nowhere in sight.