The London-based Monthly Filastin al-Muslimah, the main organ of Hamas, recently published an exclusive interview with the Egyptian Brigadier-General (ret.) Tala`t Muslim on the future of the terrorist activity of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hizballah and other Islamic groups, against Israel (January 1999 edition). The interview is particularly interesting in that it demonstrates the legitimacy and encouragement which an Egyptian ex-high officer gives to the Islamist terrorist operation--noteworthy against the background of reconciliation process between Israel and the Palestinian national leadership.
For fifty years, the age of the Zionist entity, there was no doubt of some of the basic perceptions of the noble Qur'an, vindicated by history. One of the most important of these: the Zionist enemy speaks only the language of weapons and the methods of maneuvering and deception, in order to achieve its wishes for expansion. Against all this the Muslim nation has been divided into two groups: one was the group of governments and regimes that followed the enemy by dialogue and talks that brought us only harm and the loss of rights. The other, the group of the peoples led by Jihadi movements, has understood the lesson from the beginning, and has identified the nature and the language of the enemy. They sacrificed both soul and fortune for the defense of Arabic and Islamic rights. The group of governments went from negotiation to negotiation until the last security accord at Wye Plantation, which is confiscating the future of the Palestinian problem. Hence the importance of talking with the strategic expert Brigadier-General Tal`at Muslim, who can shed some light on the future of the Jihadi operations of movements like Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, Hizballah and others, and their role in the shadow of this accord.
A. These are the main forces that influence the Arab-Israeli dispute. In the past they managed to be a strong factor influencing the Israeli and American politicians. They are the only forces that uphold all of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and seek to achieve this target by the use of the language that the enemy knows best.
They are not the only influencing powers but the strongest and the leading ones. The rest of the Arabic armed forces have some influence, but it comes from their potential involvement and not from their actual activity.
We should conclude that the Jihadi operations have proved their effectiveness. One example of this was the fact that only recently the Zionist Prime minister had to cut short his visit in Britain in order to return to the occupied lands to head a session of his government to weigh the various choices. One of these was the issue of unilateral withdrawal from Southern Lebanon. Even Sharon, The Foreign Minister, who is well known for his hostility to the Arabs and the Muslims, sees the need for unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon, which proves the strong influence of these operations on the Zionist enemy.
A. These operations are part of the legitimate armed struggle against the Zionist occupation. They are effective in the framework of the Arab-Zionist dispute, especially since the Arab official circles have actually abandoned the armed struggle. This is undoubtedly one of the means that every nation should take in its struggle with the enemy. The neglect of it is the neglect of one of the most important and vital methods of struggle. These methods have removed all doubt over the ability of the Arab nation to employ the military option.
Q. To what extent have these operations taken by the resistance movements been successful in putting pressure on the Zionist enemy?
A. These operations have proved that there was no peace with Israel and the Zionist powers in the occupied territories, as long as Israel does not recognize the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. They proved that the Palestinian people possess the power, the ability and the will to turn the Zionists' life into hell, and make the Zionist parents fear for the life of their children. Hence, there was a strong pressure of the Zionist public opinion on the Zionist government to recognize the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.
A. They should act with more effectiveness and planning. In some cases we find the Jihadi operations suffering from bad planning or execution. For example there were cases where the bomb exploded in the hands one of the warriors of the Jihad. This is a great loss for two reasons: on one hand it hits a warrior, and on the other it prevents the bomb from exploding on the enemy.
Good planning brings about the concentration of powers in order to act against several targets at the same time and place, and hence to increase the losses of the enemy to such a degree that he will seriously reassess his actions. It is possible to hit specific targets such as electricity network, water supply or an Israeli military camp. Bombing of such vital targets within a short time would not let the enemy recover from the first one before being hit by the next.
Moreover, there should be better coordination with the popular elements that can be relied on. No doubt one of the consequences of the Jihad is the fact that the enemy take measures of revenge that cause the people to suffer a lot. This may cause some alienation between the people and the Jihad warriors, whence comes the importance of the coordination.
Q. What is the future of these operations in the shadow of the Wye Plantation security accord and the involvement of the American intelligence in the surveillance of the resistance?
A. No doubt the accord signed by the Palestinian Authority and the involvement of the CIA in the Palestinian arena cause the Jihadi operations some difficulties. But, I predict that the operations will not stop even if they may fail from time to time. The resistance movements must give more attention to the planning, the secrecy and self- sacrifice, so that whenever there are difficulties they will find more power to overcome. If the operative uses a small bomb he should then tend to use a bigger one or several bombs, so that the explosion will be more effective and will be compensation to the failure in another place.
Unfortunately, the American involvement in Palestinian affairs will cause them to be aware of every move of the Palestinian Authority, which will weaken it on one hand. On the other hand, the CIA has a lot of possibilities to gather information and to interfere in the activity of the Jihadi elements and weaken their position. Furthermore, the accord gives the CIA the opportunity to infiltrate into Palestinian society, and this is a dangerous factor not only for the resistance but to the Palestinian people and even the Arab nation.
Q. The Wye Plantation Accord has been initiated against the Islamic movements, primarily Hamas and the Jihad. The Palestinian Authority has actually started to arrest anyone who opposed the accord and put Sheikh Yassin under house arrest. What do you say to the PA in this matter and what should it do now after it is already involved in a security accord with Israel?
A. The PA has lost much of its capability for action in return for only small advantages it gained from the accord. The PA holds some external achievements in return for the loss of the essence of liberation and political in that it was seeking. Even if the Zionist enemy has agreed upon the withdrawal from some territory this is only an external phase because most of this territory remains in fact under Israeli protection. Even the state that the PA is seeking to establish would be under Israeli and American protection, which may cause a dispute among the leaders of this authority.
The PA should not prevent the people from resisting the occupation. It may do so naturally in the territory that is under its rule, because no one would fight in a territory where there is no Zionist power. But, as long as there are occupied lands the people have the duty to resist occupation. The PA has no responsibility over any Palestinian individual outside its rule. Even if he lives under the Palestinian rule but carries out an operation outside its rule, the PA should deny any responsibility for that.
A. I think this is far from being a danger. The Jihadi movements are well aware of the danger of a civil war not only to them but also to the whole issue they are struggling for, and they are anxious not to reach that point. But, we cannot ignore the possibility because in certain circumstances some developments could occur out of their control. Hence, I cannot totally exclude an inner Palestinian fight, although I tend to minimize its prospects. The PA should dedicate itself to the people, and the Jihadi movements should remember that their strategic enemy is the Zionist entity. They should know that whatever happens from any other side, it should not bias us from the basic target by marginal ones, including the PA itself.
A. I think that the problem lies in the accords with the Zionist enemy. The future existence of the PA is conditioned in them by the fulfillment of the accords, and hence it cannot use the Jihadi movements, because it demands from the leaders of the PA to give up their personal interests and to set the interest of the cause over any consideration. The opposer became the backbone of the negotiator and the PA continues the negotiations as it likes, without any reaction against the elements of the resistance.
Q. The PA claims that the resistance movements accuse it of joining the Israeli intelligence or cooperating with it in the attempt to break the moral spirit of the Mujahidin. Where does it endanger the military operations in Palestine?
A. These accusations naturally raise reservations. What I can say is that every accusation needs to be supported by clear evidence and not be raised without any basis. No one of course, is immune from mistakes, both in the PA or the other elements, but if there are accusations they should be accompanied by evidence and real sources. We should not make room for a war of accusations because this is a verbal war that is no less dangerous than war by real weapons. This kind of war is dangerous because it touches the individual in the essence of his belonging and loyalty to his cause. Therefore it should be put aside as long we have no solid evidence.
A. From the strategic point of view the accord gives few advantages to the Palestinian side, and at the same time it carries strategic dangers for it. The principal advantage is the fact that the extreme party of Zionism, the Likud, has accepted for the first time a withdrawal from Palestinian lands, and this is a point we should not underestimate. Another advantage, which may be strategic or tactical, is the fact that for the first time there is a dispute between the Israeli side and the American side. It may become a strategic issue between the two, but it may also be tactical and temporary.
The accord confiscates the future of Palestine, because if the Palestinian people cannot achieve its expectations in the present circumstances, he should not be prevented by the accord from doing so in the future.
The change of the Palestinian national charter is a big strategic mistake that enlarges the problem because it was made in the presence of the American president.
The acceptance of the American Zionist involvement in the internal affairs of the PA, either through the American presence in the meeting of the Palestinian National Council, or by the cooperation with the CIA in the surveillance over the Palestinian Jihadi movements.
The questions of sovereignty, security and protection are tactical issues. But another strategic element here is the acceptance that no party be allowed to take one-sided moves. This is a limitation of the PA, and we could see it when chairman Arafat has declared that he would declare the establishment of a Palestinian independent state in accordance with Israel, which means that Israel will not allow it.
Q. The attacks of the Lebanese resistance made the Zionist enemy to consider a withdrawal. How far can these attacks succeed in achieving this goal with no conditions or limitations?
A. I think they will succeed because it put the issue on the agenda, and the Zionist enemy will withdraw soon from Southern-Lebanon without any conditions or limitations, except for what had been agreed upon in April 1996, not to bomb civilians by both sides. It was the first time that such an agreement was signed between a state and an organization.
A. I have many reservations about the theory of restraint. But, there is no doubt that this ability has proved its effectiveness. Its main importance is that the operating members are ready to sacrifice themselves, and this is the first factor of the Lebanese resistance. The second factor is the organization. The recent operations have proved that the resistance has effective means in the field of gathering information on the Zionist enemy. It has also superiority in planning operations against the enemy and the power to resist the revenge attacks carried out by the enemy. The resistance knows that every operation will be followed by the revenge of the enemy against Hizballah centers, and therefore it can resist it.
The resistance has succeeded also in attracting elements from within the Zionist entity or the militia of the South Lebanese Army, and gathered from them valuable information. It gives the impression that the resistance has enormous abilities, which if they are developed may bring more effectiveness.
Q. Israel is now demanding a security agreement with the Lebanese government, but the new Lebanese president Emile Lahoud demands an unconditioned withdrawal according to the UN resolution 425. What is your assessment?
A. It is obvious that in the present or in the near future, Israel has no chance to achieve its goal by signing a contract with the Lebanese government, as it did in the Wye Plantation Accord. We know that it had in the past reached an agreement with the Lebanese president Bashir Jumail, but it had to give it up. I think there could be no such agreement in the present circumstances. The election of President Emile Lahoud and the new government headed by Salim al-Hus, make such an agreement impossible in the expected future. Israel has no choice now but to execute resolution 425, which means to withdraw or carry the losses of the Jihadi operations against it and against its militia, and they can not endure it for a long period.
Q. How do you estimate the Israeli threats to attack the Lebanese civil infrastructure due to the rising tension between the resistance movement and the Israeli occupation forces?
A. There is no doubt that Israel may try to execute its threats, as it has done before in certain periods. But, at the same time we can say that it is not an easy issue. According to the April agreement if Israel will do so it will endanger all the civilian targets in Lebanon, but it will need a mediator in order to reach an agreement with Lebanon. Therefore, the destruction of the Lebanese civil infrastructure will not add any new element but will enlarge the scale of the attacks of the resistance on Israeli targets.
A. The formal Arab-Islamic position is extremely bad because it does not understand the nature of the dispute, its needs and the importance of the Jihadi operations in the fulfillment of the Arab goals and the Arab security. Naming the operations of the resistance as terrorism is wrong and it loses a major weapon that should be used to achieve our goals. At the same time we do not know what are the advantages to these governments from such declarations, except for more dedication to the American and Israeli superiority. It does not serve those governments and in the long run will cause them harm.
This interview may hint at an internal debate within Hamas about the future policy of the Islamic movement in regard to terrorist operations inside Israel. In the case of such a debate, the supporters of continuing terrorism in the movement—especially outside Palestine—need the opinion and recommendation of an Arab strategic expert from outside of its ranks. His position gives the terrorist activity of Hamas a strategic weight in the struggle against Israel and the reconciliation process with the Palestinians.
Moreover, the leadership of the movement continues its efforts to enlist the support of Arab elements in order to pressure the Palestinian Authority to withdraw from the accords with Israel. They began doing this during the tour of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin in several of the Arab countries in the first half of 1998, and strengthened this trend after the signing of the Wye River Accord on October 1998.
The views expressed in the interview are clear and match the positions of Hamas. But, it should be noted that there is an attempt to present the terrorist operations of the Islamic movements as having much more effect on Israeli society than the threat of the Arab armies: “They are not the only influencing powers but the strongest and the leading ones. The rest of the Arabic armed forces have some influence, but it comes from their potential involvement not from their actual activity.” This position may reflect not only the Islamist position but the way the Islamic movements look at the internal developments in Israeli society, and the Israeli politicians and media.