Efraim Halevy has worked for the Mossad for 28 years serving three Israeli prime ministers as chief of the national intelligence service. He is known as a hawk but also as a pragmatist. He believes
Mother Jones: Mr. Halevy, in your memoir you make clear your belief that Europe, and to a lesser extent the
, have not fully come to terms with the national security threats posed by Islamic militancy and terrorism. Yet you've also said it would be a grave mistake for the West to treat all Islamist terrorist groups the same way, and argued that United States should have some sort of process for talking with Hamas. If the West, led by Israel , continues to shun Hamas as an illegitimate terrorist group, do you see a risk that the group could take on a more nihilistic type of violence, a la al Qaeda? Washington
Efraim Halevy: Hamas is not al Qaeda and, indeed, al Qaeda has condemned them time and time again. Hamas may from time to time have tactical, temporary contact with al Qaeda, but in essence they are deadly adversaries. The same goes for
. Hamas receives funds, support, equipment, and training from Iran Iran, but is not subservient to . A serious effort to dialogue indirectly with them could ultimately drive a wedge between them. Tehran
MJ: Why do you think
Israeland should talk with Hamas? Washington
EH: Hamas has, unfortunately, demonstrated that they are more credible and effective as a political force inside Palestinian society than Fatah, the movement founded by [former Palestinian Authority president] Yassir Arafat, which is now more than ever discredited as weak, enormously corrupt and politically inept.
[Hamas has] pulled off three "feats" in recent years in conditions of great adversity. They won the general elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006; they preempted a Fatah design to wrest control of
Gazafrom them in 2007; and they broke out of a virtual siege that imposed upon them in January 2008. In each case, they affected a strategic surprise upon all other players in the region and upon the Israel United States, and in each case, no effective counter strategy mounted by the USand proved effective. Israel
Security in the
West Bankis assured not by the fledgling and ineffective security forces of Abu Mazen now undergoing training once again by American-led instructors. It is the nightly incursions of the Israeli Defense Forces into the West Bank, their superior intelligence, together with that of the Israel Security Agency that does the job.
Current strategy in the West Bank to forge a credible Palestinian security capacity is floundering; indeed, several of the deaths of Israelis at the hands of
West Bankterrorists were perpetrated by none other than members of the units under the command of Abu Mazen.
It makes sense to approach a possible initial understanding including Hamas—but not exclusively Hamas—at a time when they are still asking for one. No side will gain from a flare up leading to
Israelre-entering the strip in strength to undo the ill-fated unilateral disengagement of 2005. Gaza
MJ: Should Hamas be required to recognize
Israel's right to exist before would talk with it? Israel
Israelhas been successful in inflicting very serious losses upon Hamas in both Gazaand the West Bankand this has certainly had an effect on Hamas, who are now trying to get a "cease fire." But this has not cowed them into submission and into accepting the three-point diktat that the international community has presented to them: to recognize Israel's right to exist; to honor all previous commitments of the Palestinian Authority; and to prevent all acts of violence against Israel and Israelis. The last two conditions are, without doubt, sine qua non. The first demands an a priori renunciation of ideology before contact is made. Such a demand has never been made before either to an Arab state or to the Palestinian Liberation Organization/Fatah. There is logic in the Hamas' position that ideological "conversion" is the endgame and not the first move in a negotiation.
MJ: Again and again,
Israeland too have tried to engineer which Palestinians would come to power, to whom they would speak or recognize, etc. Is this itself problematic? Should the West step back from trying to manipulate internal Palestinian politics? Washington
EH: Yes, for two reasons. First, is the sovereign right of Palestinians to decide who their leadership should be. I think that is the basis of democracy. More than that, it is the best possible way in my opinion for a country or society to determine how it wants to be governed and how it wants to be lead. And second, so far it must be admitted that attempts to do this [manipulate internal Palestinian politics] have not succeeded. After all, in the final analysis, it would not be possible to create and fashion a leadership from without.
MJ: It's not just
Washingtonand , but Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas who is asking those countries not to deal with Hamas, but rather strengthen him. So do you think it's more of the same phenomenon if the West then picks Hamas as the more legitimate representation of the Palestinians? Israel
EH: I don't think one or the other are the sole representation. But I think that the way things are at the moment, the two of them have a major role in the leadership of the Palestinian people, and to exclude one and to magnify the other artificially will not lead to a productive outcome.
I don't know whether it is Abu Mazen who is pushing
Washingtonand not to deal with Hamas, or Abu Mazen who is acquiescing to them, or some combination of both. I don't know who the stronger element in this policy is. Israel
There is a triangle of forces:
, the Abu Mazen–led group in Ramallah, and the [Bush] administration. They have become mutually interdependent on this policy and one cannot rule without the other two. That's the way it is at the moment. Israel
MJ: You are not optimistic that the current administration will change course?
EH: It appears by all indications that neither
nor the United States are prepared to contemplate such a test of alternative strategy. Therefore, what we seem to be in for is a period where Israel will continue to negotiate the details of a permanent settlement to the dispute with a rump Palestinian leadership that has already indicated it will not run for re-election in the upcoming elections in 2009. Israel
You can read the entire interview here.