In 1954, Egyptian President Gamal Abddul Nasser’s nationalist policies in Egypt come to be viewed as completely unacceptable by Britain and the US. MI6 and the CIA jointly hatch plans for his assassination. According to Miles Copeland, a CIA operative based in Egypt, the opposition to Nasser is driven by the commercial community—the oil companies and the banks. At the same time, the Muslim Brotherhood’s resentment of Nasser’s secular government also comes to a head. In one incident, Islamist militants attack pro-Nasser students at Cairo University. Following an attempt on his own life by the Brotherhood, Nasser responds immediately by outlawing the group, which he denounces as a tool of Britain. The following years see a long and complex struggle pitting Nasser against the Muslim Brotherhood, the US, and Britain. The CIA funnels support to the Muslim Brotherhood because of “the Brotherhood’s commendable capability to overthrow Nasser.” [BAER, 2003, PP. 99; DREYFUSS, 2005, PP. 101-108] The Islamist regime in Saudi Arabia becomes an ally of the United States in the conflict with Nasser. They offer financial backing and sanctuary to Muslim Brotherhood militants during Nasser’s crackdown. Nasser dies of natural causes in 1970. [DREYFUSS, 2005, PP. 90-91, 126-131, 150]
Following the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel takes over the administration of the West Bank and Gaza. Whereas Egyptian President Gamal Abddul Nasser had been tough on Islamist militants (see 1954-1970), Israel is much more permissive. One of their first actions is to release Sheikh Ahmed Yassin from prison. Yassin, a charismatic radical Islamist and the future founder of Hamas had been jailed in 1965 during one of Nasser’s crackdowns. [DREYFUSS, 2005, PP. 195] David Shipler, a former New York Times reporter, later recounts that he was told by the military governor of the Gaza Strip, Brigadier General Yitzhak Segev, that the Israeli government had financed the Islamic movement to couteract the PLO and the communists. According to Martha Kessler, a senior analyst for the CIA, “we saw Israel cultivate Islam as a counterweight to Palestinian nationalism.” In the 1970s, Yassin is able to form some Islamic organizations (see 1973-1978). In the 1980s, he forms Hamas as the military arm of his organizations (see 1987). [DREYFUSS, 2005, PP. 195, 197, 198]
After Egyptian President Gamal Abddul Nasser dies in October 1970, he is succeded as president of Egypt by his former Vice President, Anwar Sadat. Sadat is also a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and he promptly reinstates the group as a legal organization and welcomes them back into Egypt. Sadat also has a very close relationship with the head of Saudi intelligence, Kamal Adham. Through Adham, Sadat also develops close working relationships not only with the Saudis, but with the CIA and Henry Kissinger. Sadat uses the power of the religious right, and the Muslim Brothers in particular to contain the Nasserites and their resistance to the radical changes he introduces. During Sadat’s tenure in the 1970’s Egypt becomes a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism, and figures like Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman and Ayman al-Zawahiri gain great power in Egypt during this period. Ironically Sadat himself is assassinated in 1981 by Islamic Jihad, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, in 1981, because of his accomodation with Israel. [DREYFUSS, 2005, PP. 147-162, 165]
In 1973 Israeli military authorities in charge of the West Bank and Gaza allow Sheikh Ahmed Yassin to establish the Islamic Center, an Islamic fundamentalist organization. With Israel’s support, Yassin’s organization soon gains control of hundreds of mosques, charities, and schools which serve as recruiting centers for militant Islamic fundamentalism. In 1976 Yassin creates another organization called the Islamic Association that forms hundreds of branches in Gaza. In 1978 the Islamic Association is licensed by the government of Menachem Begin over the objections of moderate Palesinians including the Commissioner of the Muslim Waqf in the Gaza Strip, Rafat Abu Shaban. Yassin also recieves funding from business leaders in Saudi Arabia who are also hostile to the secular PLO for religious reasons. The Saudi government, however, steps in and attempts to halt the private funds going to Yassin, because they view him as a tool of Israel. [UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL, 2/24/2001; COUNTERPUNCH, 1/18/2003; DREYFUSS, 2005, PP. 195 - 197] Yassin will go on to form Hamas in the 1980s, which is created with the help of Israeli intelligence (see 1987).
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin forms Hamas as the military arm of his Islamic Association, which had been licensed by Israel ten years earlier (see 1973-1978). According to Charles Freeman, a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, “Israel started Hamas. It was a project of Shin Bet, which had a feeling that they could use it to hem in the PLO.” [COUNTERPUNCH, 1/18/2003; DREYFUSS, 2005, PP. 191, 208] Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East analyst for the Center for Strategic Studies, states that Israel “aided Hamas directly—the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO.” A former senior CIA official speaking to UPI describes Israel’s support for Hamas as “a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative.” Further, according to an unnamed US government official, “the thinking on the part of some of the right-wing Israeli establishment was that Hamas and the other groups, if they gained control, would refuse to have anything to do with the peace process and would torpedo any agreements put in place.” Larry Johnson, a counterterrorism official at the State Department, states: “The Israelis are their own worst enemies when it comes to fighting terrorism. They 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.”[UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL, 2/24/2001SOURCES:LARRY C. JOHNSON, UNNAMED FORMER CIA OFFICIAL]
Artist’s sketch of Said Ramadan. [Source: Wall Street Journal]In 1988, the Al Taqwa Bank is founded in Switzerland, and it quickly becomes one of the major funders for radical Islamic groups, including al-Qaeda (see 1988). The Al Taqwa Bank is closely associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, and one of its key founders, Said Ramadan, is one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s top leaders, and also the son-in-law of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Ramadan helped Saudi Arabia found the Muslim World League in 1962; the charity will go on to fund al-Qaeda and many other radical groups. But there is strong evidence that Ramadan also was a long-time CIA asset. [DREYFUSS, 2005, PP. 136]Declassified Swiss documents reveal that in the 1960s, the Swiss government considered him to be, “among other things, an intelligence agent of the British and the Americans.” The Wall Street Journal will report in 2005, “Historical evidence suggests Mr. Ramadan worked with the CIA.” For instance, he traveled on a Jordanian diplomatic passport given to him by the CIA, “his expenditures are financed by the American side,” and he worked closely with CIA supported propaganda fronts. [MOTHER JONES, 1/1/2006] The Egyptian government apparently also believed Ramadan worked with the US, and that he may have had a role in a plot against Egyptian President Abddul Nasser in the 1960s. Ramadan even met with President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Oval Office in 1953. [DREYFUSS, 2005, PP. 135-138] Ramadan will die in 1995 at the age of 69. It is not known how long his ties to the CIA and possibly other intelligence agencies lasted. Journalist Robert Dreyfuss will later comment: “It’s no exaggeration to say that Ramadan is the ideological grandfather of Osama bin Laden. But Ramadan, the Muslim Brotherhood, and their Islamist allies might never have been able to plant the seeds that sprouted into al-Qaeda had they not been treated as US allies during the Cold War and had they not received both overt and covert support from Washington.” [MOTHER JONES, 1/1/2006]