WASHINGTON, Oct. 8 (JTA) — The U.S. State Department’s biannual list of foreign terrorist organizations once again includes Hamas, Hezbollah and other groups that perpetrate terrorist attacks against Israel.
But the significance of the list, issued last Friday, is unclear in light of the new U.S. war against terrorism.
The inclusion of Hamas and Hezbollah in the State Department list contrasts with President Bush’s executive order issued two weeks ago that focused exclusively on those groups believed associated with Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network.
That list was aimed at terrorist groups thought to be responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States. Noting he was going after groups with a global reach, Bush called the move a “first strike” on the global terror network to starve terrorists of their support funds.
The exclusion of Hamas and Hezbollah — as well as organizations associated with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat — dismayed Israel and many Jewish activists.
Danny Ayalon, the foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said these organizations are driven by the same ideology as terror suspect bin Laden and have a global reach.
“We think it is important that they be on the new lists in order to give fighting them high priority,” Ayalon said soon after the executive order was released.
Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said there is “no doubt that Hezbollah has a global presence.” In addition, he said, Hamas has a global infrastructure and Palestinian Islamic Jihad has global ties.
Groups designated by the State Department as foreign terrorist organizations are banned from using U.S. financial centers and prohibits U.S. citizens from providing funds to these groups. It also ban members from receiving U.S. visas.
The executive order goes further, expanding the Treasury Department’s power to target the support structure of terrorist organizations, seize the assets of terrorists and punish those that support them. It also increases the government’s ability to block U.S. assets of foreign banks who refuse to freeze terrorist assets abroad.
As the U.S.-led offensive in Afghanistan gets under way, Israel is still hoping that Bush was sincere when he said the list of 27 terrorist groups was “just a beginning” and that the United States would continue to add more names to the list.
“We understand that the first part of the counter-terrorism strike is against Al Qaida,” Regev said, referring to the group headed by bin Laden. “We have to be patient in the war against terrorism.”
Regev said Israel wants to be as supportive as possible of the U.S. campaign.
The timing of the State Department list appears coincidental, since it involves a certification process the State Department does every two years to identify foreign terrorist organizations.
The 28-organization list, which will be included in State Department’s “Patterns of Global Terrorism,” focuses exclusively on organizations and not countries that sponsor terrorism. This year’s list is similar to the last one issued in 1999.
The State Department list also includes two Jewish groups deemed as terrorist, Kahane Chai and Kach, extremist groups whose stated goals, according to the State Department, are to “restore the biblical State of Israel” and claimed responsibility for the shooting deaths of four Palestinians in 1993.
The operational significance of the State Department’s list has been minimal in the past, according to Patrick Clawson, the director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The question is whether the list will have more significance in light of the new war on terrorism.
Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said better collection of financial information and sharing of information with other governments could make the foreign terrorist organization designation more effective.
Boucher also tried to provide reassurance that the United States will remain engaged in the fight against all terrorist groups.
“The effort is to end all terrorism of global reach and not just put this one organization out of business,” he said.
“We have worked with Israel very closely and constructively over the years in trying to deal with the problems that Israel faces against terrorism,” Bouche added.