Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Three top Hamas activists - political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal, and two other top officials, Musa Abu Marzook and Ibrahim Ghosheh - were arrested departing a plane from Iran Wednesday in the capital city of Amman.
The three were detained on several charges, including membership in an illegal organization, according to media reports.
Mashaal, who survived an assasination attempt by the Israeli Mossad (secret services) that almost caused a rift in Israeli-Jordanian relations, and Ghoshe, both Jordanian citizens, were held in custody. Abu Marzook, who is not Jordanian, was deported to Iran.
At the end of August, Jordan's King Abdullah ordered the closure of Hamas offices in Amman. Some 15 activists were arrested at the time for what "activities incompatible with the office's license."
Jordanian Prime Minister Abdul-Raouf al-Rawabdeh said last week that weapons had been stored in those offices and accused Hamas of using Jordan as a training base and harming Jordan's national security.
Hundreds of Hamas supporters demonstrated in Palestinian-controlled Nablus after the arrests, calling on Jordan to free the Hamas leaders.
Dr. Ely Karmon, senior research scholar of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), told CNSNews.com that as far as Jordan is concerned "it's a very important move [and a] sign that the political process is moving forward."
Jordan realizes, Karmon said, that it "must neutralize Hamas. . . . Abdullah made a courageous move."
The Muslim Brotherhood, which spawned Hamas, is an important political force in Jordan's parliament. In fact, Hamas supporters were out in force at the Amman airport to welcome the leaders this morning and protest their arrest.
According to Karmon, Abdullah took his cue from Syrian calls for Palestinian groups to give up the armed struggle and rely on political means.
Abdullah also sees the Islamic militants as a threat to his own regime.
Karmon said that Hamas is actually "at a turning point of how to behave" itself. According to its ideology, Hamas hopes to achieve the freedom all of Palestine and will use the armed struggle to achieve its goals. However, Hamas has been hit from all sides - Israel, the Palestinian Authority and now Jordan - in combating its terrorist infrastructure.
"For the last year Hamas speaks about Jihad and the armed struggle but they haven't succeeded" in staging massive attacks, said Karmon.
Hamas' last terrorist attack occurred in Israel in early September, when twin bombs exploded in Tiberias and Haifa prematurely, killing three terrorists and seriously injuring one Israeli woman. New details about the attack emerged yesterday as the court partially lifted a gag order on publishing details of the attacks.
The three terrorists who died in the explosions, as well as a fourth activist, were all known to be members of the Islamic Movement in Israel, an organization of Israeli Arabs who are legal citizens.
What emerged from court documents yesterday was that a fourth terrorist, Ibrahim Abdel Majid Salah, had been in the car in Haifa shortly before it exploded but had left the vehicle to buy something to drink.
Investigators had already speculated that the bombs had gone off an hour earlier than planned because Israel had ended its daylight savings time a few days earlier, but Palestinian clocks had not changed.
Salah told police that he and his partner as well as the team in Tiberias were to have loaded the bombs onto inter-city buses. One of the terrorists would have loaded the bomb, ridden on the bus and then disembarked before the bomb exploded, making his getaway in a car driven by the second terrorist.
General Security Service head Ami Ayalon yesterday told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that he wanted to be able to deal firmly with the radical elements of the Islamic Movement in Israel, according to media reports.
Karmon told CNSNews.com that the participation of Israeli Arabs in terror attacks didn't begin a month ago. "It's a long process of recruiting and infiltrating."
One of the terrorists, killed in the Tiberias explosion, was probably already involved with Hamas in 1994, he pointed out. At that time the Tiberias bomber's identity card was found on the body of a suicide bomber in an attack in Afula in northern Israel. But he managed to convince investigators at the time that he had lost his document.
The problem, Karmon said, is not that the terrorists were associated with Hamas, which is an illegal organization, but with the Islamic Movement, which is a legal organization. Hamas began as a "religious and social movement" for 20 years but suddenly took up terrorism when the Intifada began in 1987. Its "strategy is [for] the long run," Karmon said.
According to Karmon, the "real danger of Islamic movement in Israel" is that it could divide and sub-divide into factions and one faction could eventually become a terrorist organization.