"PARIS — France confirmed on Monday that it has been engaged in contacts with the leaders of Hamas, the radical Islamic group that is running Gaza, for several months to try to better understand its positions.
The Bush administration, which recently likened talks with Hamas to appeasement of the Nazis, quickly criticized the French for the contacts, calling them unhelpful.
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner (above) emphasized that there were no negotiations with Hamas, labeled a terrorist group by the United States, Israel and the European Union.
'These are not relations, they are contacts,' Mr. Kouchner said on Europe1 radio. 'We are not the only ones to have them,' he said. 'We must be able to talk if we want to play a role.'"
-- Steven Erlanger, writing for the New York Times
Israel and Hamas may currently be locked in deadly combat, but, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials, beginning in the late 1970s, Tel Aviv gave direct and indirect financial aid to Hamas over a period of years.
Israel "aided Hamas directly -- the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization)," said Tony Cordesman, Middle East analyst for the Center for Strategic Studies.
Israel's support for Hamas "was a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative," said a former senior CIA official...
"The thinking on the part of some of the right-wing Israeli establishment was that Hamas and the others, if they gained control, would refuse to have any part of the peace process and would torpedo any agreements put in place," said a U.S. government official who asked not to be named.
"Israel would still be the only democracy in the region for the United States to deal with," he said.
All of which disgusts some former U.S. intelligence officials.
"The thing wrong with so many Israeli operations is that they try to be too sexy," said former CIA official Vincent Cannestraro.
According to former State Department counter-terrorism official Larry Johnson, "the Israelis are their own worst enemies when it comes to fighting terrorism."
"The Israelis are like a guy who sets fire to his hair and then tries to put it out by hitting it with a hammer."
"They do more to incite and sustain terrorism than curb it," he said.
Aid to Hamas may have looked clever, "but it was hardly designed to help smooth the waters," he said. "An operation like that gives weight to President George Bush's remark about there being a crisis in education."