HAMAS & THE IRA: TERRORISM IN
THE MIDDLE EAST & NORTHERN IRELAND
By Asaf Romirowsky
Historians and students of current affairs often compare the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to that between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republican Army (IRA), in which an organization claiming to represent Catholics took up arms against Irish Protestants and the British. For decades, the IRA's modus operandi was slaying thousands of innocent men, women, and children. It also utilized terror tactics such as human bombs, which involved chaining one of its unfortunate victims to the steering wheel of a lorry laden with explosives, which was then exploded. The IRA was Western Europe's most successful terror organization and has spread its malign tentacles across the globe. The parallels with Hamas are inescapable.
Since the IRA has disarmed, the IRA's days of major violence are behind it, but certain comparisons are still instructive. Even when the IRA agreed to a cease-fire (or a hudna), they not only continued to plan but also implemented attacks. Splinter groups such as the "Real IRA" continue to threaten and undertake smaller scale operations, although it is unclear whether these are, in fact, rogue operations or operations sanctioned by the IRA itself. And, most importantly, throughout the many years of negotiations, the IRA continually threatened to return to violence, if its conditions were not met. So, are Hamas and the IRA similar in their actions and practices? Can the IRA case help us predict Hamas' actions?
The IRA's willingness to accept a cease-fire was recognized as well received; however, the IRA's possession of illegal weapons quickly generated friction and tension that took years to overcome. Terrorist expert Ely Karmon explains the IRA's enduring attachment to arms and their difficulty with disarmament:
According to Karmon, in an article posted on the website of the Institute for Courter-Terrorism (ICT),
It is also worth noting that the single most deadly bombing, the Omagh bombing of August 1998, took place after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and its overwhelming approval by the Northern Irish electorate. The "Real IRA" was quickly repudiated by all parties. Still, these events brought into high relief the question of verifying IRA decommissioning, a problem that brought the peace process to a standstill. The IRA's vague promises of "putting weapons beyond use" were insufficient, and the crisis of 2002, where devolution was suspended and direct rule reintroduced nearly brought open warfare. It was not until the spectacular bank robbery of December, 2004, in which the IRA was a suspect, and then the horrific beating death of Robert McCartney in January, 2005, that unprecedented pressure was put on the IRA, even from Gerry Adams.
So, based on the IRA model, are we to expect Hamas to reform and democratize? Ironically, before the elections, it was the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority that continually refused to disarm Hamas. Now Hamas will become the Palestinian Authority. Having fought, literally, to keep its weapons for many years, the chances of Hamas voluntarily disarming are tiny, particularly since their ideology calls for continuing warfare against Israel and Jews.
All these contrasts come back to the one major difference between the IRA and Hamas -- religion. For the Irish, religion is not rooted in all facets of life, as it is in with Israelis and Palestinians. Religion in Northern Ireland is understood as a cultural and historical force, while, in the Middle East, religion ties Israelis and Palestinians to the same land. Furthermore, Hamas, being a religious organization, claims religious justifications for attempting to wipe out Israel. This factor is what differentiates the two groups -- Hamas and the IRA -- and will ultimately prove how futile are efforts to reform Hamas.
There is a domestic side to Hamas' victory. Hamas popularity did not increase because of Abbas' weakness; it actually began even before Oslo as a political counter force to Arafat's PLO. And as Arafat's corruption grew, the support for Hamas within Palestinian society became stronger.
One of Hamas' biggest achievements is demonstrating its agility to differentiate between the shortterm objective of a Palestinian state within the West Bank and Gaza and the longterm objective of creating an Islamist state on the land of Palestine, a state that would eliminate Israel. Maintaining this balance is what allowed Hamas to survive. But regardless of tactics, eliminating Israel is fundamental to Hamas' theology. For its part, the IRA wanted England out of Ireland, not England out of England.
During the "Oslo years of hope," while Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) were signing agreements with the "Zionist entity," Hamas was focusing on blowing up Israelis and the peace process. And, while Arafat and his cronies were living the good life on the backs of Palestinian society, it was Hamas' schools and medical facilities that served the masses. Knowing he couldn't avoid the growing support for Hamas; Arafat paid them off as well as gave them his blessing for attacking Israel. As then Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Amnon Lipkin-Shahak told Israel Radio on March 23, 1997, "organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad have an understanding from the Palestinian Authority to carry out attacks."
Furthermore, in his early days in Egypt, Arafat was associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. So, it was not a stretch for this seemingly secular revolutionary to lend a hand to Hamas.
The Palestinian Authority's lack of control over extremists during Fatah's rule proved abortive, and, now under Hamas' leadership, there is no doubt that Israelis require an unabated need for more security. The only positive outcome of these elections is the fact that, now when the PA attacks Israelis, there can be no hiding behind the canard of "extremists" who cannot be controlled. Furthermore, when the IRA bid farewell to its arms, it was welcomed with open arms into the European Union, which translated into economical incentives. Palestinians, however, value their ideology of hate much more than they do such incentives, and they will not give it up, no matter what the cost.
The Israeli-Arab Conflict
Middle East -- Arabs, Arab States,
& Their Middle Eastern Neighbors
Islamism & Jihadism -- Radical Islam & Islamic Terrorism
Page Three Page Two Page One
War & Peace in the Real World
Page Two Page One
Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.
Osama bin Laden & the Islamist Declaration of War
Against the U.S.A. & Western Civilization
Islamist International Terrorism &
U.S. Intelligence Agencies
U.S. National Security Strategy
Asaf Romirowsky is a Campus Watch associate fellow for the Middle East Forum and the Israel Affairs Fellow for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
The foregoing article by Asaf Romirowsky was originally published in Front Page Magazine, February 14, 2006 and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum.
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