Hamas is an interesting organization. It is involved in charity, governance and terrorism. Not necessarily in that order.
Perhaps, most surprisingly, it owes its existence and predominant position largely to Israel.
"Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel's creation," says Mr. Cohen, a Tunisian-born Jew who worked in Gaza for more than two decades. Responsible for religious affairs in the region until 1994, Mr. Cohen watched the Islamist movement take shape, muscle aside secular Palestinian rivals and then morph into what is today Hamas, a militant group that is sworn to Israel's destruction.It was a serious miscalculation on Israel's part.
Instead of trying to curb Gaza's Islamists from the outset, says Mr. Cohen, Israel for years tolerated and, in some cases, encouraged them as a counterweight to the secular nationalists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its dominant faction, Yasser Arafat's Fatah. Israel cooperated with a crippled, half-blind cleric named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, even as he was laying the foundations for what would become Hamas.
Eventually, Hamas came to power in Gaza and purged all Fatah elements from the new administration. It is now being supported by Syria and Iran, two implacable foes of Israel. It has links to Hezbollah. And it has been firing home-made rockets to Israel. In short, it is a major thorn on Israel's side.
But ever since the Khaled Meshaal and Ismail Haniyeh rivalry surfaced, Hamas has been doing unexpected things. Last year, after some obscure Jihadist group kidnapped and beheaded an Italian peace activist Hamas began a serious crackdown on Salafists. It kept raiding their headquarters, arresting them, confiscating their arms and even convicted them of murder.