|Vol. 1 No. 9|| |
In a stunning reversal of long-standing policy, Jordanian officials raided and shut down the offices of Hamas last month and issued arrest warrants against four senior officials. Three of the leaders--Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas in Jordan, Ibrahim Ghosheh, the group's official spokesman and political bureau member Musa Abu Marzuk were arrested on September 22 after returning from a trip to Teheran. The fourth, Mohammed Nazzal, remains in Jordan and has gone into hiding. Twelve other people were arrested for questioning.
A source at Jordan's interior ministry said that the activists under arrest were linked to "non-Jordanian organizations that carry out illegal activities."1 According to another Jordanian official cited by the Associated Press, computer files confiscated from the offices contained "serious and sensitive information on Jordan and some Jordanian personalities," records indicating that around $70 million had been transferred to Hamas from abroad over the last five years, as well as the locations of arms and explosives caches in several storehouses around the kingdom.2
|Abu Marzuk (left) and Meshal after their arrival in Amman|
The Jordanian government had allowed Hamas to operate freely in the past for several reasons. First, by permitting the group to operate openly, Jordanian security forces could monitor and, to some extent, influence its activities. Banning the group, it was feared, might drive it underground and cause it to join forces with other militant groups that threaten the kingdom's security. Second, Jordanian officials considered Hamas to be a counterweight against Yasser Arafat's secular Fatah movement, which dominates the Palestinian Authority (PA). Third, the presence of Hamas allowed the Jordanian government to defend itself against charges by the Islamist political opposition that it had become wholly subservient to Israel--King Hussein's vehement condemnation of Israel's assassination attempt against Meshal two years ago met with an enthusiastic response from the Jordanian public (he said at the time that Israel could forget about the peace process "should anything happen to our son Khaled").
However, several factors over the last few months led King Abdallah to reverse the kingdom's long-standing policy toward Hamas. During his recent visit to Washington, American officials told Abdallah that congressional approval of much-needed economic aid to Jordan would be very unlikely as long as Hamas continued to maintain an official presence in the kingdom (the pro-Israeli lobby had been actively lobbying members of congress to take precisely this position for several months prior to the King's visit). "We welcome the action taken by Jordan," said U.S. State Department spokesman James Foley on August 31. "We think it's a positive step."
Jordanian officials were also concerned about the close ties that Hamas had been cultivating with the extremist wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which appeared to confirm as much by releasing a statement shortly after the raid that denounced the crackdown as "provocative to the feelings of the Jordanian people and the Arab and Moslem peoples, who see Hamas as the vanguard of the nation, expressing its longing to resist the occupier." According to local sources, several members of the Muslim Brotherhood were also taken into custody by Jordanian security forces.
In addition, Israel recently provided Jordanian officials with detailed intelligence information about the group's close ties with Iran and Syria (an assessment reinforced by the red carpet reception in Damascus recently given to senior Hamas officials by Syrian Vice-President Abd al-Halim Khaddam and Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara'a). The intelligence information provided to Jordan also indicated that "clear messages" were sent from the Hamas Political Bureau in Jordan to Hamas activists in the occupied territories, instructing them to resume terrorist activities.3 When the Hamas delegation continued on to Iran, Jordan made the decision to strike before it returned.
In a statement published on September 2, the military wing of Hamas, the Izzeddeen al-Qassam Brigades, accused Israel's Mossad intelligence agency of conspiring with Jordan "to assassinate the movement's leaders outside Jordan, quietly and without an outcry" and threatened to retaliate for such a move by launching attacks inside Israel and against "Zionist interests" worldwide.4
Meanwhile, Hamas has mobilized its extensive support network in the kingdom to push for a reversal of the government's decision. According to Jordanian sources, 14 professional unions consisting of thousands of engineers, doctors, lawyers and other professionals have already urged the government to cancel the measures. The largest of these, the Engineering Union, called on its members to participate in a collective visit to those who were arrested at Jeweida prison. The General Secretariat of Arab Parties also issued a statement denouncing the measures against Hamas, which "undermined Jordanian-Palestinian relations and served only the interests of the Zionist entity."
Deputy Abdul Majid Aqtash, chairman of the lower parliament's Palestine Committee, condemned the measures and said that "Arab leaders must support this movement to counter Israeli pressure on the Arab World, and to force it to make more concessions."5
Saleh Armouti, president of the Jordan Bar Association (JBA) and other prominent lawyers have already agreed to represent Meshal and other Hamas activists.
1 al-Quds al-Arabi, 1 September 1999.
2 "Officials: Hamas Gave Arms Training," Associated Press, 17 September 1999.
3 Ma'ariv, 2 September 1999.
4 "Hamas Warning to Israel Follows Jordan Crackdown," Mideast Mirror, 2 September 1999.
5 "Demand for Hamas Office Opened," Jordan Focus, Issue 37, 13 September, 1999