SATURDAY'S assassination of Hamas leader Abed Al-Aziz Rantisi represented a victory not just for Israel, but also for the United States in its ongoing war against radical Islamic terrorism. Hamas has been an avowed enemy of America for years.
U.S. news accounts routinely get this wrong: They suggest that up until Israel's assassination last month of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, Hamas was concerned solely with the destruction of Israel, and had no intentions of targeting the United States.
In fact, Yassin and Rantisi both spoke often of expanding Hamas' operations to include U.S. targets. Then, too, Hamas has long aligned itself with terror-sponsoring states like Syria, Iran and Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
That said, the group's animosity for America reached a new level in recent weeks.
One of Rantisi's last public appearances came on Easter weekend, as thousands of Palestinians took part in rallies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in support of the armed rebellion against U.S. and Coalition forces in Iraq,
Speaking in Gaza, Rantisi called on Iraqis to "strike and burn" U.S. and Coalition forces, and "teach them the lessons of suicide actions."
Rantisi's comments - which came amid chants of "Death to America" and the burning of American flags by onlookers - were the latest in a long line of threats made by Hamas leaders toward the United States.
That is, until Monday, when Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal - speaking at a memorial service for Rantisi in Syria - called for a worldwide Arab and Muslim alliance to defeat the United States and Israel.
"Our battle is with two sides," said Meshaal. "One of them is the strongest power in the world, the United States, and the second is the strongest power in the region [Israel]."
Enter Muqtada al-Sadr, the extremist cleric who launched a violent power grab in Iraq this month. On April 3, Sadr vowed to serve as the "striking arm" in the region for Hamas and the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hezbollah. Since Israel has no troops in Iraq, it's obvious whom Sadr intends to "strike" in Hamas' name.
But Hamas has sent the same signal: Shortly before the U.S. invasion of Iraq last March, Sheik Yassin issued a fatwa (religious decree) ordering all Muslims to kill Americans wherever they were found if U.S. troops dared set foot on Iraqi soil.
As recently as last November, Yassin spoke of "striking the United States . . . in the appropriate place," a statement hardly befitting a man eulogized by a large segment of American media as an "elderly quadriplegic" and "spiritual leader."
But for sheer anti-U.S. vitriol, it is difficult to top Rantisi, who wrote an article published on a Hamas Web site in April 2003 titled, "Why Shouldn't We Attack the United States?"
In the article, Rantisi argued that attacking America was not only "a moral and national duty - but above all, a religious one." In another piece published soon after, he openly called for "terror against the United States."
Even before Rantisi's comments, however, Hamas had solidified its anti-American credentials by supporting the ousted Ba'athist regime in Iraq. In September 2002, Israeli agents videotaped a ceremony in Gaza City in which Sheik Yassin and other Hamas officials presented certificates and checks from the Iraqi government to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers
Yassin spoke at the rally, exhorting Palestinians to support Iraq in its confrontation with the United States. Tellingly, the participants stomped on American and Israeli flags upon entering the hall, and chanted pro-Saddam slogans.
But Hamas hasn't merely preached violence against America: It has also targeted U.S. citizens directly. In December 2003, Israeli authorities charged Jamal Akal, a Canadian citizen born in the Gaza Strip, with receiving weapons and explosives training from Hamas for use in terrorist attacks on Jewish targets in Canada and New York City.
And last April, two Hamas suicide bombers blew themselves up inside Mike's Place, a bar located next to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv that is frequented by U.S. government employees.
While previous Hamas attacks in Israel have claimed the lives of more than a dozen American citizens, these two incidents represent a troubling escalation in Hamas activity against the United States.
High-ranking Hamas officials have already managed to infiltrate America, the most notorious example being Musa Abu Marzook, a senior Hamas leader now based in Syria. Marzook, who had been living in northern Virginia, was detained by U.S. authorities for 22 months and deported to Jordan in 1997.
Following Yassin's death, Marzook warned his former host country that "currently the U.S. is not a target [of Hamas], but in the future, only God knows."
Despite the media's reluctance to catch on, Hamas' recent statements and actions regarding America make clear that the future Marzook spoke of is now.
Erick Stakelbeck is senior writer for the Investigative Project, a D.C.-based counterterrorism research institute.