Both Egypt and Syria are making efforts to protect terrorist groups and their infrastructure from the global war on terrorism, an Israeli lawmaker said here.

As part of that effort, Egypt did its utmost to mediate a hudna – an agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to temporarily halt terror attacks; while Syria has expressed renewed interest in peace talks with Israel, said Dr. Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Hatred of the West, America, Israel, Judeo-Christian civilization and democracy motivates terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda, Hizballah, Hamas and individuals to commit suicide attacks, but state-sponsored terrorism has a different motivation, Steinitz told a handful of journalists in a special briefing at the Knesset on Wednesday.

“Ideologically, religious motivation is extremely potent,” Steinitz said. “But from the perspective of the states, which support terrorism or harbor terrorism in their land and [give] them some kind of physical or moral or financial or political backing, the motivation is entirely different…

“Terrorist organizations in the Middle East are important [strategic] tools for states and regimes,” he added.

Sponsoring terrorist organizations gives countries three main advantages, he said.

State sponsors of terrorism can exert pressure on neighboring countries without risking a general war; they can use their influence over terror organizations to blackmail oil-rich regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait; and they can threaten Israel without risking a conventional war or defeat.

“Since they were defeated in the past in conventional wars, now they can fight against Israel by proxy,” he said.

Steinitz called it paradoxical that the recent war in Iraq may have prompted Middle Eastern states to consider terrorist organizations even “more vital to their national interests and security than before.” Now they realize that no conventional Arab army can seriously resist a Western army with its sophistication and advanced technology.

Syria and Egypt, for example, are both “making sincere efforts to save terrorist organizations from the global war on terrorism with the hopes that in two, three, four years, things will change,” Steinitz said.

Either the effect of the September 11 terror attacks will fade or maybe there will be different leaders in the United States, Britain or Western Europe, he added.

During the war in Iraq, Syria – which is on the State Department’s list of terror-sponsoring states – opened its borders for volunteers, including suicide bombers, to cross into Iraq to fight U.S.-led troops.

Damascus has also flatly refused a U.S. demand to close down the headquarters of at least 10 Palestinian terrorist organizations in the capital.

Syrian President Bashar Assad told visiting U.N. Envoy to the Middle East Terje Larson last week that he was ready for negotiations with Israel, the Hebrew daily Ma’ariv reported on Thursday. In a long conversation, Assad also downplayed U.S. pressure on Damascus, the paper reported.

“The main attempt now is to save the terrorist infrastructure for the future,” said Steinitz. The Syrians are making efforts to save Hizballah, but Syria realizes that according to the Bush doctrine, no country should support terrorism. That’s why Syria has offered to resume the peace process with Israel, Steinitz said, indicating that the offer is merely a smokescreen.

Hizballah, on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations, is believed responsible for suicide bombings in Beirut in the early 1980s, which left hundreds of American servicemen dead. It is firmly entrenched in southern Lebanon along Israel’s northern border.

Hizballah is backed by both Damascus and Tehran and is equipped with missiles that could strike most northern Israeli cities.

Israel has said for the past few years that it will hold Syria responsible for the actions of Hizballah, and it has hit Syrian targets in Lebanon at least twice in the last three years in retaliation for cross-border attacks by the militant Islamic group.

“The Egyptians are [doing] their best to broker a hudna between the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas… the result will be to save the Hamas infrastructure from being dismantled…

“The Egyptians say to Hamas, ‘We are ready to give you guarantees that say the Palestinian Authority does not crack down on you like we did in Egypt on the Muslim [Brotherhood] in the past,” Steinitz said.

Egypt, which has upgraded its army into a modern force with U.S. aid over the last 20 years, is considered by Washington as key broker in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Egyptian security officials negotiated for months with leaders of the top militant groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, to persuade them to make an agreement with the PA to halt violence temporarily (hudna).

In Arabic, the meaning of the word hudna is not a ceasefire but rather a temporary truce with one’s enemies in order to build strength until it is possible to conquer them, Arabic experts have said.

Both Israel and the U.S. have said that, while a halt to violence is welcome, there needs to be a total dismantling of the terrorist infrastructure – collection of weapons, arrest of terrorist leaders and an end to incitement.

Israeli government and security officials have charged that the terrorist organizations are using the temporary calm as a time to regroup and rearm. They say the terrorism will resume – even worse than it was previously.

Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who was recently wounded in an Israeli attempt on his life, said the hudna was intended to show Palestinians that they would not benefit from calm.

When violence erupts again after a few weeks or months of calm, it would reaffirm Palestinians’ belief in the intifadah [violent uprising] as the only option for them, Rantisi was quoted as saying in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, published on Thursday.

He also said PA Prime Minister Machmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) never intended to disarm any Palestinian organization.

But Steinitz said that the PA shouldn’t be different than any other regime when it comes to dealing with terrorist groups.

“On the face of it, the [PA] is a legitimate government now,” he said. “It has to deal with terrorists, to dismantle [the organizations], to arrest terrorist leaders and to fulfill its previous commitments in Oslo [agreement with Israel] that there will be no armed forces or terrorist organizations in the territories.”

Steinitz charged that the Egyptian help in reaching the hudna offered political backing to the leaders of terrorist organizations, which in the end does not hurt Israel as much as it does Abbas and his security chief, Mohammed Dahlan.

It is also ensured that the Hamas infrastructure will be left intact.

“The infrastructure will survive and this is by the way ridiculous because… America is asking, demanding Damascus to close Hamas offices in Damascus but Hamas offices in Gaza will continue to be open,” Steinitz said.

“This is something to be noticed because both Syria and Egypt are willing to use even the peace process in order to save the terrorist organizations,” he said.