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JERUSALEM – Following Hamas’ victory by a large margin in last week’s Palestinian parliamentary elections, experts watching the terror group closely tell WND it has been aligning itself more than ever with its hard-line Islamic counterpart in Egypt and point to worrying signs the new Palestinian powerbrokers might have designs for an eventual Egyptian takeover.
Sources close to the group say a major Egyptian opposition figure has been serving the past year as spiritual leader of Hamas.
“If I were Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, I would look with great concern at the Hamas ascension to power in the territories. This has very dangerous implications for the Egyptian regime,” Reuven Erlich, director of the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at Israel’s Center for Special Studies, told WND.
Hamas was founded in 1987 as a military offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks to create an Islamic theocracy throughout the Middle East and ultimately around the world. Although ideologically connected to the Brotherhood, Hamas’ stated goal is mostly focused on the destruction of Israel by “armed struggle.” Still, Hamas leaders have long maintained anti-Western attitudes and have talked about the need for secular Arab states to be replaced with Islamic regimes.
Egypt is the second-largest recipient of United States financial aid in the Middle East. It signed a peace agreement with Israel in 1979. The U.S. calls Mubarak’s government moderate and maintains Egypt is an important strategic ally.
Palestinian and Israeli security officials told WorldNetDaily Mubarak is concerned the ascension of Hamas to power will embolden the Muslim Brotherhood, members of which ran in last year’s general elections, to seek a similar power grab in Egypt.
Analysts say Mubarak considers the Brotherhood a major challenge to his government. It scored very well in the latest Egyptian elections, winning an unprecedented 20 percent of the Parliament and trouncing all other opposition parties in spite of widespread reports of massive election tampering on the part of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party. Mubarak also arrested more than 1,500 Brotherhood activists prior to the elections.
Although there are some ideological differences between the Brotherhood and Hamas – the Muslim Brotherhood says they are committed to a non-violent, reformist approach to Islamic takeover – experts say they are concerned by the current level of cooperation between the two organizations.
Erlich points to recently captured Hamas posters and material from the West Bank and Gaza that lists Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna as one of the most important figures to Hamas.
“We found al-Banna’s face all over Hamas material. He is an important part of Hamas culture and ideology and is held by them in the highest regard,” said Erlich.
Palestinian security sources close to Hamas told WND Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader Mahdi Akif has been serving as a replacement Hamas spiritual leader ever since Israel assassinated former spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin in March 2004.
“Whenever there is an organizational spiritual issue, Hamas takes it to Akif,” said the Palestinian source. “He gave them the blessing to run in the elections and was instrumental in using Islamic tradition to deduce it was OK to join the government. The Brotherhood in essence is helping run Hamas. And Akif is the most important religious personality in the Hamas leadership right now.”
An Israeli security official said Egypt is especially concerned by the close proximity of the Gaza Strip, which borders the Sinai Desert.
“There is major worry now in Mubarak’s regime of losing control in the Sinai. Hamas is already in control of Gaza. There have been indications Hamas has designs for more control of the Sinai along with the Muslim Brotherhood. There is particular concern if they gain any control that al-Qaida cells thought to be in the area will be allowed to flourish and can attack both Egypt and Israel.”
Egyptian forces together with Palestinian security officers and European monitors now control the Rafah Crossing at the Gaza-Sinai border after a deal brokered in November by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Over the past two months, Hamas has numerous times breached the border to allow weapons and terrorists to cross through, one time even ramming a dump truck through the border wall, leaving it open for much of two days. Earlier this month, two Egyptian border guards were killed by gunmen trying again to breach the wall.
Also, Egypt from time to time has accused Hamas of involvement in attacks on its soil. Egyptian security reports hinted at possible Hamas involvement in the suicide bombings of tourist centers in Taba in October 2004, killing 34 people, including 11 Israelis.
Still, Egypt has seemingly friendly dealings with Hamas leaders and regularly serves as a mediator in brokering deals involving the group.
Overall Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who resides in Syria, is due to meet with Mubarak later this week to discuss the terror group’s formation of a government. The two speak regularly by phone. Last year, Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman was instrumental in mediating a cease-fire agreement between Israel and the Palestinian factions, including Hamas. Suleiman and Meshaal held talks yesterday in Damascus.
Yaacov Amidror, former head of research for Israeli military intelligence downplayed the concerns of a Hamas takeover of Egypt.
“Mubarak understands the threat of Hamas and he won’t allow it to happen,” Amidror told WND. “I don’t believe Hamas will have the chutzpah to get together with the Brotherhood and attempt a takeover. Still, they are connected historically and ideologically, and at the end of the day, one of the most dangerous options in the Middle East is a network of Muslim Brotherhood cells that become one.”
Multiple Brotherhood leaders in Egypt have said the past few days their group is strengthened by the Hamas ascension to power.
“Political life in Egypt at present is controlled by two poles: the regime and its security and military agencies on one side and the Muslim Brotherhood on the other,” said Brotherhood leader Abdel Rahman. “Maybe Hamas’ win will help Muslim brothers to have a bigger influence on Egypt’s foreign policy.”
And Hamas chief in Gaza Mahmoud al-Zahar has previously made statements denouncing the “secular” Egyptian government and other regional non-Islamist regimes, including Jordan.
Yehudit Barsky, director of the division on Middle East and International Terrorism at the American Jewish Committee, told WND, “I do not believe it is logistically possible for Hamas to take over Egypt. It is conceivable the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood will try. Both groups are fashioned from the same mold and ultimately share the same goals of an Islamic takeover of the region and one day the world.”