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Hamas and Hizbollah: The Radical Challenge to Israel in the Occupied Territories

Authored by Dr. Stephen C. Pelletiere. | November 1994

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This study argues that Hamas and Hizbollah, the two main religious groups fighting Israel, probably are more threatening to U.S. interests than is generally believed. It discusses the various openings that the groups were able to exploit to advance themselves, and particularly how they profited from errors on the Israelis' part.

At the same time, the study contends, there has been a corresponding rise of religious radicalism in Israel. This means that on both sides of the struggle--Jewish as well as Arab-- extremism is gaining strength. It is going to be difficult, the study concludes, to avoid a decisive confrontation between the two forces.

To be sure, the Israelis have now begun peace talks with the Arabs. However, the study points out, the talks are not proceeding as well as might be hoped. In line with this, a proposal has been put forward to overcome the present impasse. This suggestion involves stationing U.S. troops on the Golan Heights as guarantors of security.

The author believes that this idea should be scrutinized carefully. The plan may result in the United States becoming bogged down in the territories for an extended period. Moreover, the level of violence in this area is such that positioning U.S. troops there could jeopardize their safety.


Hamas and Hizbollah are two groups that are well-known and generally feared throughout the Middle East. They are the ones most actively striving to bring about the destruction of Israel. Beyond seeking the destruction of the Jewish state, they are part of a movement that aims to destroy the Middle East state system.

The primary weapon with which the groups hope to accomplish this is ideology. The radicals have formulated a call to action that is extraordinarily persuasive to communities in despair. Unemployed youth in particular respond to the notion that violence is empowering and that to exist one must fight. This is the essence of jihad, a concept that westerners consistently misconstrue.

This study focuses on communities where the radicals have had their greatest successes: the Palestinians living under Israeli domination and the Shias of southern Lebanon.1 It shows how misguided policies instituted by the Israelis helped Hamas and Hizbollah to put down roots in these communities and eventually to flourish.

What the West is confronting, the study warns, is a regional Islamic revolution, brought about by Hamas and Hizbollah, with the aid of other radical groups similarly inspired.

The study examines this unique species of radicalism so that U.S. policymakers and military leaders can defend against it. It first considers Hamas and conditions of life in the Gaza Strip, Hamas's principal base of operations.2


1. Throughout this study the author refers to the Shias. Along with the Sunnis, they comprise the two major sects of Islam. The Shias, which are by far the smaller of the two, are also the more radical. Practically all of Iran and probably not quite half of Lebanon are Shia.

2. Hamas is an acronym standing for Harakat al Muqawame alIslamiya, the Islamic Resistance Movement. Until this year there was no scholarly work devoted to Hamas. This was remedied with Ziad Abu-Amr's Islamic Fundamentalism in the West Bank and Gaza, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1994.