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Danse macabre - Paul McGeough's 'Kill Khalid' and the rise of Hamas
After a long conversation about Marilyn Shepherd's review, Webdiarist Eliot Ramsey has submitted his own interpretation. Thanks, Eliot!
Danse macabre – Paul McGeough's 'Kill Khalid' and the rise of Hamas
Miriam Farhat, "otherwise known as the Mother of Martyrs", was on a high.
She’d just been elected on the Hamas ticket to the Palestinian Legislative Council, Palestine’s parliament, in the upset 2006 landslide election which saw the radical Islamist faction overturn Fatah as the dominant political force in Gaza.
It had not been an easy path to victory for Miriam, but doubtless that was part of her electoral appeal.
As author Paul McGeough explains:
Miriam was part of the wave of the future for Gaza as she and her Hamas colleagues, under the leadership of Khalid Mishal, swept to power in the Strip with 44 percent of the votes against political opponents who were poorly led, hopelessly divided and notoriously corrupt.
In the surreal, bizarre and frequently deadly world of Middle Eastern politics, and against a backdrop of decades of compromise, incompetence, failure and corruption by secular movements like Fatah, the rise of ultra-conservative, ultra-nationalist Islamist factions such as Hamas and its Lebanese counterpart Hizbolla have signalled a tectonic shift in power relations in the region.
That such movements are liberally funded and otherwise supported by both Sunnis (including the Wahhabist Saudis) and Shiites (such as the Islamist Iranian regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad), reflects major change in the fundamental regional political and cultural bedrock of the Middle East.
Paul McGeough new book, Kill Khalid: Mossad's failed hit... and the rise of Hamas (Allen & Unwin, 2009), provides an engaging, fast paced account of the rise of Hamas from its origins as an offshoot of the fundamentalist, gradualist Muslim Brotherhood, the world's oldest and largest Islamic political group, through to its newfound role as the thrusting, aggressive vanguard of Islamist Arab nationalism in the Middle East.
McGeough recounts the founding of Hamas at a "council of war" in Amman, the capital of Jordan, in 1983, ostensibly as a reaction to the events of the First Intifada.
But according to Khalid Mishal, the current head of Hamas, the plotting had begun much earlier, first during his exile in Kuwait and subsequently at the secret conference in Jordan.
"The plan for the creation of Hamas had been locked into the Muslim Brotherhood’s strategic planning as much as four years before the fatal traffic collision, near the Erez border crossing, that heralded the onset of the first Intifada," says McGeough.
McGeough’s hook into his fast-moving, highly readable account of the rise of Hamas is the botched 1997 attempt by Israel’s Mossad security service to assassinate Mishal, then a comparatively unknown backroom functionary of the movement.
The assassination attempt itself came in the aftermath of two horrific Hamas suicide bombing attacks in Israel, calculated by Hamas to upset the Oslo Accords, the 1993 agreement between Israel's Yitzhak Rabin and Fatah’s Yasser Arafat intended to provide a framework for the future relations between Israel and the anticipated Palestinian state.
To Hamas, the Oslo Accords were a betrayal by Arafat and a treasonous abdication of the Palestinian cause.
By the time the suicide attacks took place, though, an inexperienced Benjamin Netanyahu had taken control of Israel’s government, and it was his fateful decision to order the assassination of a senior Hamas figure to avenge the bombings.
For reasons that are not clear, second-ranked Khalid Mishal was to be the intended target of the Mossad operation.
Complicating matters was that Mishal was based in Jordan, which only recently had signed a peace treaty with Israel, becoming the second only Arab government to that time to recognise the Jewish state.
Critical to the rise of Khalid Mishal to his present role as commander of the combined military and political arms of Hamas was the immense celebrity that he gained in the Arab world by his surviving the failed assassination bid.
He had become a household name on 'Arab street' because of the sensational events surrounding the capture by Mishal’s bodyguard and Jordanian police of two of the Mossad agents despatched to kill Mishal, and the controversy of the subsequent deal struck by Jordan’s King Hussein to exchange the captured Israeli agents for Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Yassin who was at that time a prisoner in Israel.
The book is, of course, more far reaching than some mere account of a failed Mossad operation against a Hamas official.
McGeough takes the reader on a revealing tour of Hamas’s global fund raising efforts which finance its extensive social, political and humanitarian activities as well as military operations, including the roles played by Mishal's brothers, successful businessmen in the USA.
He explores in some detail the political intrigues within Hamas, and its deadly ever spiraling confrontations with Fatah.
The book also explores the various power plays by governments in the region, including the Jordanian, Syrian, Kuwaiti, Saudi and Iranian regimes, to bring Hamas under their aegis - and control - and to capitalise on its new-found political momentum.
The strength of McGeough’s book is its concise, reader-friendly style, giving a comparatively detailed account of the emergence of one of the more intriguing, some say loathsome political an military machines of the post-Cold War era.
The journalistic, even chatty reportage of McGeough’s book may jar some readers, especially when it purports to reveal detailed, intimate conversations held behind the closed doors of Mossad or within King Hussein’s private chambers.
However, for many readers, 'Kill Khalid’ will be a quick-paced, informative and interesting introduction to the complex world of Middle Eastern politics generally, and the grim danse macabre that is the relationship between the Arabs and the Jews in particular.