Friday, January 30, 2009

Can The Fatah Option Work in Gaza

As originally published on

By Dan Diker and Khaled Abu Toameh

Israel's three-week military operation in Gaza in December-January has raised the issue of the possible return of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party to Gaza to replace the Hamas regime. The Israelis, Americans, the major European powers, and especially the Egyptians favor Abbas' forces regaining control not only over Gaza's border crossings, but also over the entire Strip. However, international demands for Fatah's return to Gaza face seemingly intractable obstacles.

A previous U.S.-funded and armed Fatah security regime in Gaza had entirely failed. Years of massive corruption and gangsterism by Fatah security forces resulted in an Iranian-financed, armed and trained Islamic emirate ruled by Hamas. Abbas had had the full backing of the international community to turn Gaza into the Hong Kong of the Middle East. Instead, Fatah collapsed under a Hamas assault in summer 2007.

Currently, the U.S.-sponsored Fatah forces in the West Bank are still ill-prepared for the task of taking control in Gaza. Two modest paramilitary forces have been trained to police crime and enforce public order, but not to uproot terror groups. In fact, the PA has increasingly offered safe haven to terror groups. Brig.-Gen. Radhi Assida, the PA National Security Forces (NSF) commander in Jenin, revealed to the Palestinian website Maan on January 24, 2009, that PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's NSF had agreed to provide protection to four senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terrorists wanted by Israel. Assida also confirmed that PIJ operatives continue to receive monthly salaries from the PA Interior Ministry, just like their colleagues in the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades.1 Furthermore, thousands of Fatah security operatives in Gaza and the West Bank have realigned their loyalties away from Abbas and Fayyad. Other armed militias are currently less active or dormant but remain armed and intact. Some local militia commanders continue mafia-like criminal enterprises while simultaneously working as local commanders in PA security forces, thereby continuing to undermine public trust.

In post-war Gaza, Fatah forces would face a wall of opposition from Hamas and many other Jihadi groups. Hamas' military leadership remains intact, as do most of its terror capabilities. Hamas continues to enjoy popular support from a majority of Palestinians, particularly those living in Gaza, despite public anger over the war. Fatah will be hard-pressed to re-take the Gaza Strip because the party has lost credibility among Palestinians, largely because of its failure to reform itself and get rid of icons of corruption among the top brass.2

International Calls for Fatah's Return to Gaza

Israel's military campaign to destroy the Hamas army and terror infrastructure in Gaza triggered broad international efforts to implement a cease-fire that would include the return of Palestinian Authority forces to Gaza. The international community appears determined to help stop weapons smuggling into Gaza and reopen the Gaza border crossings to Egypt and Israel and restore a Gaza-West Bank link.3

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is backing the return of Abbas' forces to the crossings in line with the U.S.-brokered 2005 border crossing agreements.4 He hosted the major European powers at Sharm al-Sheik on January 18, 2009, immediately following the Gaza cease-fire, to discuss new security measures to stop Hamas weapons smuggling beneath the Egyptian-Gaza border and to secure the flow of humanitarian aid via the crossings.

The UN Security Council approved Resolution 1860 that explicitly called for restoring the 2005 Gaza crossing agreement between the PA and Israel and affirming Gaza as an integral part of PA-controlled territory.5 Abbas traveled to the UN in New York to support the resolution.6 PA officials in the West Bank also indicated a readiness to send forces to Gaza, but noted, "It depends on whether Israel manages to get rid of the Hamas regime."7 U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the UN Security Council that stabilizing Gaza will "require a principled resolution of the political challenges in Gaza that reestablishes ultimately the Palestinian Authority's legitimate control and facilitates the normal operation of all crossings."8 President Barak Obama has called for the reopening of the Gaza border crossings, while making his first overseas phone call to a foreign leader to PA Chairman Abbas to express support.9

Which "Fatah Forces" are Jerusalem, Washington, and Cairo Counting On?

The convergence of opposition to Hamas in Washington, Cairo, Riyadh, Jerusalem, and Ramallah could serve as a pretext for regime change in Gaza. However, international hopes for such a change may be premature since the PA's security forces do not constitute a single, professional, experienced and disciplined military organization under a centralized chain of command. Rather, Fatah security forces are divided into several paramilitary groups in the West Bank and Gaza, some more reformed and effective than others.

Since Oslo, Fatah's multiple security forces constitute several militias that were originally established and commanded by Yasser Arafat, who employed Palestinian "graduates" of Israeli prisons and others who lacked any formal police or security training.10 Today, however, some of the PA forces are far more professional, having been equipped and trained by U.S. security officials in Jordan.11 PA National Security Forces report to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, while Mahmoud Abbas controls the Presidential Guard, a smaller force that protects the Abbas regime and functions as a police force. However, these forces are still in their infancy. They have less than one year's experience, number fewer than 1,500 men, and lack a chief of staff and an overall "top-down" central command structure. Fayyad's NSF has not yet demonstrated the ability or will to uproot both active and dormant terror groups and militias.12

In Gaza, Fatah retains a residual, yet completely decentralized, force infrastructure of competing security militias that are not loyal to Abbas but to local leaders, militia commanders, and crime families.13

One of the problems in creating a robust PA military force large enough to reassert control in Gaza is that Palestinian commanders do not automatically enjoy the loyalty of their soldiers. Palestinian allegiances are invariably influenced by Arab cultural affiliations to clan, family, town, neighborhood, and political group. Many Palestinian NSF officers have family members and close relatives that are employed by competing security organizations or armed militias, which makes all-out armed confrontation highly unlikely. That explains in part the Fatah collapse in June 2007, as its forces were unable to confront their brothers, cousins, and uncles in Hamas.

Fatah Forces in Gaza

In Gaza, tens of thousands of former Fatah security personnel and activists maintain loyalties to various former PA security forces and commanders, such as the deposed former strongman Mohammed Dahlan. Some former Fatah security personnel have found employment with the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as well as Hamas and local crime families such as the Dughmush and al-Samhadana clans, and local al-Qaeda-inspired Salafist groups such as Jaish al-Islam, Fatah al-Islam, and Jaish al-Umma. The Fatah umbrella in Gaza also includes a number of smaller militias such as the Abu Rish Brigades, which had broken away from Fatah's Preventive Security forces.

Some of the fourteen competing security organizations Arafat had established after the signing of the Oslo agreements were disbanded in 2005 under the direction of the U.S. Special Security Coordinator General Keith Dayton, who moved to enforce Quartet Roadmap reforms. However, the unofficial militias have never been uprooted or disbanded. Instead, militia members froze their activities by agreement with the PA in exchange for compensation from the PA and clemency from Israel. Some local militia group commanders were even integrated into the "reformed" security forces under U.S. supervision, as ranking officers, while they continued to extort and threaten local businessmen.14

In 2009, thousands of "unemployed" Fatah militiamen, such as members of the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, still hold weapons that they conceal in their homes. In their current dormant status, they also continue to receive monthly salaries from the Palestinian Authority on the instructions of Abbas and Fayyad,15 who are eager to avoid conflict with these groups and to protect themselves from the death threats made by the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas against them.16

Hamas Threatens, Fatah Pays

The enmity between Fatah and Hamas is far greater than Palestinian hatred of Israel.17 Nasser Juma'a, a Palestinian Legislative Council member from Nablus, described Hamas as "insects" in the final week of Israel's offensive in Gaza.18 Hamas legislator Salah Bardaweel countered that PA Chairman Abbas "played a major role" in the Israeli killing of Hamas Interior Minister Said Siam "through his men in the Gaza Strip, who have been pointing out the homes of Hamas members."19 However, what is remarkable and ignored in Western diplomatic circles is that Fayyad has continued to pay the monthly salaries of between 6,000 and 12,000 Hamas Executive Force operatives in Gaza, in line with the 2007 Mecca national unity agreement that brought Hamas under the umbrella of the Palestinian Authority for budgetary purposes.20

It is widely believed in Western diplomatic circles that the PA in Ramallah was only paying the salaries of civil service employees in Gaza to encourage them to stay at home to avoid working with Hamas, especially after Hamas' expulsion of Fatah in June 2007. This is incorrect. The PA, and indirectly the U.S., and international donor countries have continued to pay monthly salaries to Hamas security operatives (Read: terrorists) and their commanders from the PA's $120 million monthly budget allocation to the Gaza Strip.21 The height of irony in this regard may have been seen during the Gaza war when Hamas fighters received their salaries from the PA at Gaza City's Shifa Hospital which was immune from IDF fire.22

Understanding the Hidden Complexities of the Fatah Security Forces

The prospective return of any Fatah security forces to Gaza must take into account the complexities of the many competing centers of Fatah power, as well their implications within the context of Palestinian political culture. For the past 16 years, U.S., European, and Israeli policy-makers have lavished billions of dollars on "strong" leaders like Arafat, or actively sought to strengthen "weak" leaders like Abbas, without assessing the effect of these policies on the internal Palestinian political discussion.23 For example, the PA received $3 billion in 2008, according to French estimates,24 while the December 2007 Paris donor's conference committed to transfer over $7 billion in aid to the PA over the years 2008-2010.25 Yet the Palestinian public still sees U.S.-led international assistance as a virtual "payoff" to a corrupt government and security forces in exchange for PA cooperation.

After years of unsuccessful Western-backed PA security regimes, since the signing of the Oslo agreement in 1993, and through the Annapolis agreement in 2008, the Palestinian street is largely convinced that U.S. backing of the PA has sanctified brutality, state-approved "gangsterism," and corruption in the name of stopping radicals and advancing the peace process. Palestinian public cynicism translated into Hamas' landslide parliamentary victory in 2006 and its subsequent takeover of Gaza in 2007. This analysis, then, may serve as a basis for careful reconsideration of past misassumptions about Fatah's security capabilities and help clarify current security realities in Gaza.

Back to Square One? The Return of Mohammed Dahlan

Former PA Civil Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan, who had headed the U.S.-backed Fatah Preventive Security force in Gaza until Hamas routed his forces in June 2007, has re-emerged as a leading candidate to command Fatah's security forces, particularly to secure the Gaza crossing points into Egypt and Israel. Despite Hamas' bloody thrashing of Dahlan's forces, his prospective return to Gaza reportedly aroused the interest of former Secretary of State Rice.26 Palestinian and Egyptian leaders have also been interested in Dahlan's reassertion of control.27 While Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak reportedly told PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad that, "For me, Dahlan does not exist,"28 current circumstances would point to his involvement in any new PA security force in Gaza.

Dahlan appears to have emerged from retirement to his Cairo villa where he had kept a low profile since the Hamas takeover. However, he has of late given many interviews on Egyptian and Saudi media outlets, blasting Hamas' deep connection to Iran while making thinly veiled suggestions as to his potential role in rebuilding Gaza.29 It is no coincidence that the Egyptians and Saudis are providing Dahlan a platform to condemn Hamas. Cairo and Riyadh quietly backed the Israeli operation in Gaza and had backed Dahlan's forces with some $20 million before the 2007 coup.30

Although Dahlan lost many men and even his home to Hamas, he continues to enjoy the backing of several thousand armed Fatah activists who have remained in Gaza under Hamas rule. A major motivating factor behind Dahlan's possible return is the billions of dollars in international aid that have been promised to finance reconstruction efforts. Dahlan had built his personal fortune by being Fatah's key man in Gaza between 1996 and 2007.31 Perhaps most significantly, Dahlan may be the only Palestinian leader unfazed by threats of revenge by other Palestinian groups.32

Reports of U.S. interest in Dahlan's re-involvement in Gaza follow nearly twelve years of close coordination with the United States. He had been a long-time favorite of the Clinton and Bush administrations and was praised as a reformer during the Oslo years for publicly criticizing Arafat's dictatorship and calling for Palestinian security reforms.33 Starting in 1996, President Clinton approved intensive CIA and FBI backing of Dahlan's Preventive Security forces and other PA security organs.34

Dahlan's relationships with Washington were top-tier.35 He referred to Bill Clinton as "a friend." Dahlan was also embraced by lawmakers and senior security officials alike.36 A senior member of the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence told the authors in 2005 that Dahlan was "charming." Dahlan too understood the importance of his U.S. partners. In early 2008 Dahlan said of CIA Director George Tenet, "He is simply a great and fair man."37 President George W. Bush also met with Dahlan on several occasions. After talks at the White House in July 2003, Bush publicly praised Dahlan as "a good, solid leader" and reportedly called him "our guy" to advisors behind closed doors.38

Reviving a Failed Security Paradigm?

A key question is whether Dahlan's possible return essentially revives a failed strategy. Until Dahlan's forces collapsed before Hamas, the U.S. had placed its full weight behind him, investing at least $56 million in the PA security infrastructure at the Karni crossing39 where General Dayton had invested much of his time before the Hamas coup.40 The U.S. had also backed a high-risk, covert State Department plan code-named "Plan B,"41 that was drafted jointly by U.S., Jordanian, and PA officials, that called for Dahlan's Fatah forces to overthrow Hamas in Gaza and reassert control.42 While the White House vigorously denied any such designs, the plan was widely known among senior Fatah officials.43

Dayton, though listed as a key figure in the Dahlan project, would later deny any material involvement with the plan.44 However, he testified before Congress on May 23, 2007, just weeks before the Fatah collapse in Gaza, saying, "the $3 million assistance package to the (Palestinian) Office of National Security ensures that the U.S. Security Coordinator has a strong and capable partner as we proceed with Palestinian security sector transformation and our focus on a smaller but more capable Palestinian security force, operating under the rule of law and with respect for human rights."45 Yet Dayton's security program was roundly criticized by senior Israeli defense officials as "a complete failure."46

It is widely recognized in Palestinian circles that at the time of the Hamas coup, Dahlan's Fatah force simply refused to fight. Fewer than 10,000 armed Hamas men managed to defeat 70,000 U.S.-backed Fatah loyalists. It is also no secret among Palestinians that Dahlan was shuttling between Cairo and Germany for "medical treatment" for bad knees during the fighting, despite having been paid handsomely for his security efforts.47 Hamas did not have to work hard to repel a Fatah takeover attempt. Hamas operatives recruited Fatah family members to convince their relatives in uniform to surrender without fighting.

The Gaza debacle was a setback for Dahlan. The extent of his personal fortune - amassed during the time when he cooperated closely with Washington on the peace process - may not be well known by the incoming U.S. administration. Palestinian documents captured in the IDF's 2002 Defensive Shield operation revealed Dahlan's involvement in major racketeering, including revenues from cigarettes, cement, and the collection of illegal crossing fees.48 He was also known as a partner in the smuggling networks involving the Rafah border tunnels, together with the al-Samhadana crime family.

Ironically, even prior to 2007, U.S. security officials had not been deterred by Dahlan's actions and reputation on the Palestinian street. He had been a key architect of the 2005 border crossing agreements that he designed with U.S. Secretary of State Rice, but which fell apart after Hamas violence drove European monitors to abandon their posts. Glenn Kessler noted in his 2007 biography of Rice that in the 2005 Gaza crossing agreements, "Rice focused especially on Mohammed Dahlan, the Palestinian Authority's civil affairs minister, but in effect Fatah's boss in Gaza, because Abbas would never agree to a deal unless Dahlan gave his approval."49 Dahlan had controlled the security and economic aspects of the Karni and Rafah crossing points, where at least 750 truckloads of goods and 1,000 Palestinians passed daily including many Hamas leaders that were on Israel's "wanted" list.50 Costly import licenses and crossing permits were all in the hands of Dahlan's people and are widely believed to have generated millions of dollars in profits.

A former senior World Bank official had estimated Dahlan's personal wealth at well over $120 million as of mid-2005, just before Israel's disengagement from Gaza.51 Dahlan's personal fortune is a notable achievement, since most of his life has been spent in and around Gaza refugee camps, Israeli prisons, and Fatah security installations.

Palestinian Impatience with Dahlan

Gazans and West Bankers have been less forgiving than the U.S. of Dahlan's record. The former Gaza strongman's reputation for brutality, extortion, and corruption precedes him. Torture of Hamas and other opponents in Gaza by Dahlan loyalists have even been documented on "YouTube."52 Fatah websites implicated him, together with the Gaza-based Dughmush clan, in the 2005 murder of General Musa Arafat, Fatah's former head of Military Intelligence and National Security forces in Gaza.53 The Palestinian street had branded Dahlan "the CIA" for years, ever since the U.S. agency had provided him a black bullet-proof SUV.

No less troubling for Israel is the fact that years of CIA and Israeli Security Agency coordination did not prevent Dahlan's alleged complicity in ordering a deadly terror attack against an Israeli school bus in Gaza on November 18, 2000, that killed two adults and severely wounded three children from the Cohen family who were former Gush Katif residents.54

Mahmoud Abbas' PA Presidential Guard

While the United States, Egypt, and Western countries have mentioned the possible return to Gaza of PA forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, his direct authority and influence has been limited to the Ramallah-based Presidential Guard - a modest 1,500-man armed force. The Presidential Guard is tasked with protecting the PA Chairman and the Fatah regime but not foiling terror attacks, or uprooting militias in the West Bank. Even with dedicated security forces that continue to undergo U.S.-sponsored training at bases near Jericho in line with the Roadmap security reform program, Abbas rarely ventures out of Ramallah.

The dangers to Abbas posed by various terror groups, militias, warlords, and gangs have prevented him from visiting most Palestinian cities and towns in the West Bank, let alone refugee camps, earning him the reputation on the Palestinian street of being "the Mayor of Ramallah." The Presidential Guard's record in Gaza is mixed. They were among the first to surrender to Hamas in June 2007, and subsequently were not officially disbanded but became dormant, as opposed to their West Bank counterparts that were retrained and resupplied by U.S. military advisors under General Dayton.55

Salam Fayyad's Palestinian National Security Forces

The Palestinian National Security Forces that are funded by and report to the office of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are the most likely security command that could be deployed to Gaza in the framework of a cease-fire agreement. The NSF was restructured following the 2007 defeat by Hamas. Secretary of State Rice worked closely with General Dayton and Fayyad to retrofit a verifiably reformed Palestinian force in line with the Annapolis peace process framework of a shelf agreement between Israel and the PA that would come to fruition if and when the PA would be capable of fulfilling its security requirements under the first stage of the Quartet Roadmap. The U.S. provided $86 million in July 2007 to train 1,100 recruits, while another $75 million was earmarked for a national security installation under construction near Jericho.56

The NSF's motivation to succeed stems from the Fatah leadership's fear of a Hamas takeover in the West Bank. The NSF's initial successes in several West Bank cities, including Jenin, Nablus, Hebron and Bethlehem, have restored a certain sense of public security to local residents, as well as attracting thousands of Israeli Arabs to shop in Jenin and Nablus which has helped jumpstart the West Bank economy.

Since its first deployment in May 2008, the NSF - which Hamas has branded "the Dayton forces" - has forcefully confronted Hamas supporters in the West Bank. The NSF has also closed down some Hamas charities in public displays of force, while redirecting Hamas charity money to PA coffers. PA security forces have also arrested Hamas activists and have reduced threatening activity in Hamas-controlled mosques. The readiness of the NSF to confront Hamas publicly is unprecedented; Arafat had avoided confronting Hamas, while Fayyad is doing so.

Despite intensive U.S. and Palestinian efforts to maximize performance, there still remains a large question mark over whether these forces possess the ability and will to take more aggressive action against terror groups and armed gangs in the West Bank, and whether they stand a chance of successfully redeploying to Gaza. General Dayton admitted in a December 2008 interview that the NSF "is not the Israel Defense Forces. They are orienting their efforts totally on the lawless elements within Palestinian society... so that Palestinian families can walk down the streets at night and not be intimidated or threatened by either criminals or men with guns."57

Some Israel Defense Forces senior commanders agree with Dayton. In fact, IDF Central Command has been highly critical of the U.S.-backed PA forces, insisting that PA forces in the West Bank cities are not combating terrorists, while warning that "terrorist organizations in Nablus, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, were cooperating in their attempts to perpetrate terror attacks against Israel, and building an underground tunnel system in Nablus."58 According to a senior IDF official, "There is no doubt that the moment the IDF leaves this territory, the Palestinians will have a rocket capability in the West Bank."59

Fatah's Rejection of Fayyad: A Roadblock to Gaza

The PA's NSF is funded by and reports to the office of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. His office and the PA Interior Ministry vet candidates and pay salaries, while Mahmoud Abbas is not directly involved with the NSF. This is significant because U.S. and European efforts to implement a Gaza cease-fire have included discussion of the return of PA security forces to Gaza that are "loyal to Abbas." Yet the U.S.-backed post-Gaza security reform concept was to create a non-Fatah professional army. However, other than an initial round of recruited commanders who were not from Fatah, subsequent officer recruits were mostly affiliated with Fatah. This reflects Fayyad's own problematic political status in the PA areas. He is not a Fatah member and receives no political backing from the Fatah power structure.

Moreover, Fayyad's lack of grassroots support handicaps his ability to maintain control and loyalty of commanders and forces in the field, which would only be exacerbated should Fatah seek a return to Gaza. This is significant because Fayyad's close cooperation with the United States, the West, and Israel must also translate to implementation on the ground. While Fayyad is probably the most impressive professional Palestinian statesman the U.S. and the West have ever worked with, Palestinian elites and the public essentially view Fayyad as a de facto American agent. While Abbas has also cooperated closely with Israel, the U.S., and the West, and has also received death threats on Hamas and Fatah terror group websites, his status as Fatah royalty protects him from opponents and maintains his political base.

Senior Fatah advisors and former ministers close to Abbas have been critical of the U.S. decision to place the PA's major security force in the hands of Fayyad. The Fatah central committee even voted in Ramallah in November 2008 to compel Abbas to remove Fayyad from being in charge of the NSF and to replace with him with a Fatah member. In late January 2009, Fayyad offered to resign his post following accusations by Fatah that Fayyad was an obstacle to reconciliation with Hamas.60

Dormant Terror Groups: The Hidden Threat to the West Bank and Gaza

Hamas is not the only major threat to Fayyad's forces in the West Bank. There are multiple armed terror groups and militias that have temporarily kept a low profile. However, they are capable of undermining the entire PA security regime. Despite reports in early 2008 by Fayyad's office that militias such as the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades and Islamic Jihad in the West Bank had been dismantled, it turned out that Fayyad had essentially agreed to a mutually advantageous modus vivendi with these groups. Gunmen have agreed to hide their weapons, and Fayyad has agreed to "hide" operatives on Israel's target list in PA jails under a "revolving door" policy allowing freedom of entry and exit, which had created serious concern among senior IDF commanders.61 Fayyad also reached agreement with Israel on a general clemency program for some militia members in exchange for their commitment to cease all terror activity against Israel.62 However, senior IDF commanders have also expressed related concerns that since the NSF deployment, "weapons provided by the U.S. to the PA are finding their way to Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists in Jenin as well as in Nablus."63 Abbas also had expended great efforts to incorporate the Islamic terrorist organizations into the Palestinian government.64

Another major concern of the IDF senior command has been that local terror militias, such as the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the West Bank, have also been integrated into local NSF units. Such militia leaders include Abu Jaber, an infamous local gang leader in Nablus who is also a NSF commander, who regularly extorts Nablus business owners for protection money.65

Gaza: From "Hamastan" to "Fatahland"

While the West sees the PA's Abbas and Fayyad as the only legitimate Palestinian address, the issue is far more complex within the Palestinian political discussion. Abbas is seen by the Palestinian street as "done," incapable of delivering peace or anything of value to the Palestinians.66 Despite Palestinian anger at Hamas for causing the recent IDF incursion, many Palestinians, including elites and even traditional Fatah allies, still see Hamas as democratically legitimate since it won the 2006 parliamentary elections. Hamas appears to be more popular than ever among the Palestinians residents of Gaza. In mid-December 2008, some 250,000 Palestinians took to the streets to celebrate Hamas' 21st anniversary.67

Abbas is likely to face substantial roadblocks to reestablishing Fatah control or coming to a modus vivendi with Hamas. Fatah-Hamas tensions are at a high point. Hamas and much of the Gazan public are convinced that Abbas supplied Israel with intelligence and other operational information to use to destroy the Hamas terror infrastructure. As Palestinian analyst Mohammed Yaghi noted, "Hamas even accused Nimir Hamad, Abbas' political adviser, of calling Israeli defense official Amos Gilad and advising him to target Hamas operators and installations only."68 In fact, since the outset of Israel's military operation in Gaza, Fatah members there have been rounded up and brutally tortured by Hamas operatives, who have turned school buildings and hospitals into make-shift interrogation centers.69 Hamas also renewed house arrest orders against Fatah officials and activists in Gaza shortly after the military operation started. Since the cease-fire, Hamas has stolen international relief shipments, even hijacking international aid trucks to prevent Fatah from taking any credit in the eyes of the Palestinians.

Hamas no longer recognizes the presidential authority of Mahmoud Abbas after his four-year term ended on January 9, 2009, although Abbas has decided to remain in office, based on his reading of Palestinian law.70 More importantly, the Hamas leadership is still intact. The IDF estimates that 400 to 700 Hamas operatives were killed in the Gaza operation.71 That leaves most of Hamas' 15,000-man army and 10,000-man police force in place, including Izaddine al-Kassam, the Hamas Executive Force, and internal security forces. A significant quantity of Hamas weapons and ammunition remains hidden. Furthermore, during and after the IDF operation, Hamas continued to smuggle weapons and contraband via underground tunnels from Sinai to Gaza.

Hamas is not concerned about a tactical reconciliation with Fatah. Several scenarios can serve Hamas interests. Hamas may agree to a Fatah-Hamas national "reconciliation" government for tactical reasons, as it did in 2007, to gain international recognition, benefit from the billions of dollars of international aid, and rebuild their offensive capabilities against Israel using the Fatah-led PA as a fig leaf. At the same time, Hamas will again subvert Fatah control on the ground.

Alternatively, Hamas may return to its more natural role as the agent of muqawama (Islamic armed resistance) while reengaging Fatah forces in another round of civil war, which has killed hundreds of Palestinians since Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in September 2005. The armed strife intensified after the Palestinian national unity government was brokered in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in February 2007 and lasted until the Hamas takeover in June of that year.

Hamas is not the only opposition force that Abbas will face. Fatah's armed wing, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, announced on January 19, 2009, that its men in Gaza fought against Israel alongside Hamas, together with Islamic Jihad's Al-Quds Battalions. The Al Aksa Brigades said they fired 102 rockets and 35 mortars, and detonated explosive devices that wounded a number of IDF soldiers.72

The U.S. and European Role in Securing and Rebuilding Gaza

Frenetic Western diplomatic efforts have been focused on rebuilding Gaza under the control of the PA's West Bank leadership as a prelude to a final settlement. Washington and European powers have already committed several billion dollars to Gaza's reconstruction. They are anxious for a final settlement, and European leaders led by French President Nicholas Sarkozy are reportedly even willing to recognize Hamas in the context of a Fatah-Hamas unity government.73 Special UN envoy Tony Blair has also expressed his support for the idea.74 However, the current realities in Gaza may frustrate Western diplomatic plans.

It is far from clear that under current conditions any constellation of Fatah forces could successfully restore stability in Gaza, hope for Gazans, and long-term security for Israel. Despite the important yet limited security and economic reforms PA Prime Minister Fayyad has undertaken in the West Bank, the Palestinian public, both in Gaza and the West Bank, are far from confident that Fatah is anything but an incorrigibly corrupt and brutal regime that continues to be rewarded with billions of dollars from the U.S., Europe, and Israel. Since the cease-fire, some senior Fatah leaders have allegedly moved quickly to set up "straw" construction and contracting firms in the hope that the estimated $2.5 billion earmarked for rebuilding Gaza will be funneled through the PA and its privileged elites in Ramallah.75 Indeed, the Fatah-led P.A. will need to do much confidence-building to earn the trust of the Palestinian public.

The United States and the West must avoid the temptation of once again blindly relying on Fatah as the sole security and reconstruction subcontractor for Gaza. The Obama administration must implement tough and verifiable directives to facilitate internal Palestinian housecleaning: no militias, good governance, complete accountability, full transparency, effectiveness, and zero tolerance for corruption, gangsterism, and terror within PA ranks in Gaza and the West Bank. These steps are critical for the future of the Palestinian project and take immediate precedence over current negotiations with Israel.76

At the same time, U.S.-backed security efforts in the West Bank will need to be upgraded to ensure the complete cessation of all direct and indirect militia involvement on the ground or as part of the current NSF security regime. Only a decision to uproot the active and dormant militias and armed groups will ensure stability and enable the socioeconomic, "bottom-up" infrastructure-building that special envoy Tony Blair has worked diligently to develop in advance of renewed diplomacy.77

Any new Fatah-related security regime and government in Gaza that receives U.S. and Western financial support must also be required to submit to unprecedented oversight of rebuilding efforts, in order to implement missing financial controls and adopt "best-practice" standards. Corrupt and brutal warlords, gangs, and militias must no longer be allowed to undermine the Palestinian national project while they remain protected, privileged and empowered by the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority.




2. Fatah officials in the West Bank are also demoralized. Nasser Juma'a, a Palestinian Legislative Council member from Nablus, told a British reporter that the "Hamas are insects" and noted that the Palestinians would likely not see a Palestinian state in his lifetime. Qadura Fares, a senior Fatah official, said that the PA would not succeed either in the West Bank or Gaza without "tackling the privileges of the Fatah elite, who, he said, "have become like princes" with regard to personal wealth, referring to rampant Fatah corruption. David Rose, "In the Smart West Bank Health Club, Between Jogging and Swimming Laps, People Were Screaming 'Death to Israel'," Mail on Sunday, January 17, 2009.

3. French President Nicholas Sarkozy said: "We have pledged to help Israel and Egypt with all the technical, military, naval and diplomatic ways to help end the smuggling of weapons into Gaza," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown also offered to send British naval vessels to battle smuggling,

4. Mona Salem, "Egypt Rejects Calls to Open Border with War-Battered Gaza," AFP, December 30, 2008,

5. For the full text of UNSC Resolution 1860, see:

6. Barak Ravid, "Egypt's Truce Plan: Cease-fire Followed by Border Security Talks," Ha'aretz, January 7, 2009.

7. Khaled Abu Toameh, "PA Ready to Take Gaza if Hamas Ousted," Jerusalem Post, December 28, 2008.

President Bush also called for international monitors in a radio speech on January 2, 2009,

9. Natasha Mozgovaya, "Obama.: We will Aggressively Seek Middle East Peace," Ha'aretz, January 23, 2009. See also Roni Sofer, "Obama Calls Abbas, Olmert on First Day," Ynet, January 21, 2009,,7340,L-3659961,00.html.

10. Khaled Abu Toameh and Dan Diker, "What Happened to Reform of the Palestinian Authority?," Jerusalem Issue Brief, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, March 3, 2004,

11. David Horowitz, "This Time It Will Be Different," Interview with U.S. Security Coordinator General Keith Dayton, Jerusalem Post, December 11, 2008,

12. Senior officials close to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas confirmed the lack of a Palestinian chief of staff and a disciplined, centralized command structure in several meetings with author Dan Diker in 2008, most recently in Tel Aviv, December 8, 2008. Also, the authors draw a distinction between the Palestinian National Security Forces' success in confronting Hamas activists in Ramallah and closing down Hamas charities, and the PA security forces' lack of will to uproot Hamas and other terror groups. This has been common to PA control in Gaza and the West Bank and had characterized PA security force failures in the 1990s. Other less active, yet competing, Fatah militias include PA Preventative Security under the command of Ziad Hab al-Rih, a Fatah operative and former colleague of former West Bank Fatah strongman Jibril Rajoub. There are also other smaller Fatah-affiliated armed groups.

13. Pinchas Inbari and Dan Diker, "The Murder of Musa Arafat and the Battle for the Spoils of Gaza," Jerusalem Issue Brief, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, October 10, 2005,

14. Patrick Devenny, "Training Our Enemies," Front Page Magazine, October 18, 2005. In a more recent example, local Nablus warlord Abu Jabber was integrated in Fayyad's National Security Forces in 2008 as a mid-level commander, but this did not stop his local militia from continuing to extort local business owners for protection money. One local real estate developer related to the authors that Abu Jabber had demanded an apartment for free in exchange for his militias' forced protection services. This same phenomenon - national security by day and mafia member by night - has characterized the PA Fatah forces in the West Bank from Arafat's entry into the territories in 1994 until today under the Dayton reform plan outlined at Annapolis. American security programs under the Clinton administration had ended up training numerous PA terror operatives such as Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades terrorist Khaled Abu Nijmeh, who had used his CIA training to supervise multiple suicide bombings in Bethlehem in 2001 and 2002. A July 2005 report compiled by the security consulting firm Strategic Assessments Initiative (SAI) on behalf of the U.S. government found that, "even with millions of American dollars and years of CIA training, the PA police were wholly ineffective, wracked with divided loyalties and inferior equipment." SAI charged that "many of the PA officers were active or complicit in terrorist attacks or organized crime rings." See Devenny, "Training Our Enemies."


16. For example, Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades websites have called for the murder of Fayyad since 2003, while Hamas' Izaddine al-Kassam Brigades website called Abbas "a murderer" for his actions against Hamas operatives and "justified exercising the use of divine justice against him, relying on religious decrees that permit the killing of a Muslim who collaborates in a crime against another Muslim." See Lt.-Col. (res.) Jonathan D. Halevi, "The Hamas Regime in the Gaza Strip: An Iranian Satellite that Threatens Regional Stability," in Iran's Race for Regional Supremacy, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2008, p.76.

17. Reports from Gaza indicate that hundreds of Fatah members were killed and tortured by Hamas during and after Israel's military campaign in Gaza. See Khaled Abu Toameh, "Hamas Rounding Up, Torturing Fatah Members in the Gaza Strip," January 19, 2009. Fatah and Hamas websites reveal the bitter hatred and enmity between the groups that will not be solved if the groups agree for tactical reasons to enter into a national unity government. This is frequently misunderstood in the West, which believes that a Fatah-Hamas "reconciliation" - like the one brokered in Mecca in 2007 and which resulted in more deaths between Fatah and Hamas than in previous years - would be a pretext for advancing the peace process. A senior advisor to French President Nicholas Sarkozy told Ha'aretz that a Fatah-Hamas national unity government would trigger EU acceptance of Hamas as a governmental partner to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

18. Dan Diker, "A Deterrent Restored," Powerlineblog, January 9, 2009,

19. Khaled Abu Toameh Hamas: Abbas' Spies Led Israel to Siam," Jerusalem Post, January 17, 2009,

20. A high-ranking official at a senior Palestinian ministry confirmed PA monthly salary payments to Hamas' Executive Force in Gaza and the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades in the West Bank, in a meeting with the authors in Jerusalem, December 7, 2008.

21. Khaled Abu Toameh, "Palestinian Straw Firms Said Aiming to 'Steal' Gaza Funds," Jerusalem Post, January 26, 2009.

22. Amir Mizroch, "Hamas Salaries Paid at Shifa Hospital," Jerusalem Post, January 12, 2009.

23. See the strategic assessment by former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon on the error of Israeli and Western backing of "strong" and "weak" Palestinian leaders in "Israel and the Palestinians; a New Strategy," op. cit.

24. "French Envoy, Palestinians Given $3B in Foreign Aid in 2008," AP/Ha'aretz, December 23, 2008.

25. Elaine Sciolino, "$7.4 Billion Pledged for Palestinians," New York Times, December 18, 2007, as cited in Yaalon, "Israel and the Palestinians."

26. According to a conversation with a senior Israeli security official, January 13, 2009.

27. Khaled Abu Toameh, "Hamas Shuns Bid to Give Rafah to PA," Jerusalem Post, January 8, 2009. Dahlan's candidacy to reassert Fatah control in Gaza was confirmed by senior PA officials in a meeting with author Dan Diker on December 8, 2009. Two Arab diplomats familiar with negotiations over an Israeli-Hamas cease-fire also confirmed his candidacy in separate conversations with Diker on January 6 and January 11, 2009. Hamas leaders have also pointed to Dahlan's possible return. A Hamas official in Gaza City claimed that former Fatah security commanders who fled Gaza during the Hamas takeover in June 2007, including Mohammed Dahlan and his deputy Rashid Abu Shabak, "were holding meetings in Cairo and Ramallah to discuss returning home." See Khaled Abu Toameh, "Hamas: PA Conspiring with Israel," Jerusalem Post, December 31, 2008.

28.According to a senior source in the Bureau of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, January 12, 2009.

29. Mohammed Dahlan interview, Egyptian State Television, January 21, 2009.

30. David Rose, "The Gaza Bombshell," Vanity Fair, April 2008.

31. Pinchas Inbari and Dan Diker, "The Murder of Musa Arafat," op. cit. Dahlan was believed to be a local partner in the UK Portland Trust plan to develop hundreds of low-cost housing units in post-disengagement Gaza.

32. Khaled Abu Toameh, "Analysis: A Viable Successor to Hamas Is Hard to Find," Jerusalem Post, December 29, 2009. Ramadan Shallah, secretary-general of Islamic Jihad, warned that any Palestinian "who dares to return to the Gaza Strip aboard an Israeli tank would be condemned as a traitor." Senior Arab diplomats told author Dan Diker on January 9, 2009, that Dahlan is not concerned with Palestinian threats against him.

33. Yaalon, "Israel and the Palestinians: A New Strategy."

34. Patrick Devenny, "Training Our Enemies."

35. David Rose, "The Gaza Bombshell."

36. A senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee told author Dan Diker that Dahlan was "very charming" at a meeting on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., June 2005.

37. David Rose, "The Gaza Bombshell."

38. Ibid.

39. Ibid. A former State Department employee familiar with the concept and planning of what was called "Plan B" to replace Hamas with Dahlan's forces confirmed the plan to the author in an off-the-record interview, Washington, D.C., July 1, 2008. See also David Horowitz, "This Time, It Will Be Different," op. cit.

40. Horowitz, "This Time, It Will Be Different."

41. See a copy of the note reportedly left in a meeting in Ramallah between PA and U.S. officials, See a copy of the pre-"Plan B" U.S. security plan from 2006 left behind at a meeting between U.S. and Palestinian officials in Ramallah,

42. David Rose, "The Gaza Bombshell." See also David Horowitz, "This Time, It Will Be Different."

43. Former PA Interior Minister and senior Abbas advisor Hanni al-Hassan shared his sharp criticism of the plan with the author in a meeting several days after the coup on June 17, 2007.

44. Aluf Benn, "Top U.S. General Lays Foundation for Palestinian State," Ha'aretz, August 14, 2008,

45. "Remarks by U.S. Security Coordinator, LTG Keith Dayton, Update on the Israeli-Palestinian Situation and Palestinian Assistance Programs," House Foreign Affairs, Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee, May 23, 2007,

46. Yaakov Katz, "Israeli Official: Dayton Failed," Jerusalem Post, June 17, 2007.

47. According to Hanni al-Hassan, former senior advisor to Mahmoud Abbas, in a meeting with the author, June 17, 2007. Hani al-Hassan, former senior political advisor and member of Fatah's central committee, said in an Al-Jazeera TV interview on June 27, 2007, that what was happening in Gaza was not a Hamas defeat of Fatah but defeat of plans of American Major General Keith Dayton, Mohammed Dahlan and his Fatah followers. See,7340,L-3418486,00.html. See the Al-Jazeera interview at David Wurmser, former Middle East Advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney, would later note, "It looks to me that what happened wasn't so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen." See David Rose, "Gaza Bombshell."

48. Pinchas Inbari and Dan Diker, "The Murder of Musa Arafat."

49. Glenn Kessler, The Confidante, Condoleezza Rice and the Bush Legacy (New York: St. Martins Press, 2007), p. 133.

50. Erica Silverman, "Two Steps Back," Al-Ahram Weekly, December 8-14, 2005.

51. Dan Diker meeting with former senior World Bank official, Jerusalem, July 2005.

52. David Rose, "Gaza Bombshell."

53. Pinchas Inbari and Dan Diker, "The Murder of Musa Arafat."

54. According to Haggai Huberman writing in Hatzofe, the former Sharon government had been provided a secret CIA tape recording of Dahlan ordering the attack.

55. For many months in 2008 Abbas and Fayyad did not speak, coordinate positions, or cooperate. More recent reports indicate that their working relationship has slightly improved. They are essentially leaders of two separate Palestinian Authorities. Fayyad is the U.S. contact, while Abbas is the leader of the Fatah establishment and has been a source of disappointment to the Bush administration. See Glenn Kessler, The Confidante, p. 130. This point was also reiterated at a series of meetings in 2008 with a senior advisor to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas based in Ramallah.

56. Aluf Benn, "Top U.S. General Lays Foundation for Palestinian State."

57. David Horowitz, "This Time It Will Be Different."

58. Yaakov Katz, "IDF: Jenin Forces Not Fighting Terror," Jerusalem Post, June 15, 2008,

59. Ibid.

60. Mohammed Abu Khadair, "Dr. Fayyad Places His Government at the Disposal of the President to Pave the Way for National Reconciliation," Al Quds, January 23, 2009.

61. Yaakov Katz, "IDF: Jenin Forces Not Fighting Terror."

62. Isabel Kirshner, "Volatile City Tests Palestinian Police and Peace Hopes," International Herald Tribune, November 13, 2007,

63. Yaakov Katz, "IDF: Jenin Forces Not Fighting Terror."

64. Moshe Yaalon, "Israel and the Palestinians: A New Strategy."

65. A Nablus businessman told author Dan Diker of the direct threats made against him by local Nablus Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades commander Abu Jabber, in a meeting in Rome, December 9, 2009.

66. Steve Erlanger, "On Palestinian Question, Tough Choices for Obama," New York Times, January 22, 2009.

67. Khaled Abu Toameh, "Hamas and the Palestinians," Hudson New York, January 2, 2009.

68. Mohammed Yaghi, "The Impact of the Gaza Conflict on Palestinian Politics," Policy Watch, No. 1446, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, December 31, 2008,

69. Khaled Abu Toameh, "Hamas Rounding Up, Torturing Fatah Members in the Gaza Strip," Jerusalem Post, January 19, 2009.

70. Khaled Abu Toameh, "Hamas: Abbas No Longer Heads PA," Jerusalem Post, January 9, 2009.

71. Tova Lazeroff and Yaakov Katz, "Israel Disputes Gaza Death Toll," Jerusalem Post, January 22, 2009.

72. Khaled Abu Toameh, "Al Aksa: We Also Fought IDF in Gaza," Jerusalem Post, January 19, 2009.

73. Akiva Eldar, "Report: EU to Lift Sanctions on Hamas if Palestinian Unity Government Formed," Ha'aretz, January 19, 2009.


75. Khaled Abu Toameh, "Palestinian Straw Firms Said Aiming to 'Steal' Gaza Funds."

76. Robert Satloff, "In the Wake of the Hamas Coup: Rethinking America's 'Grand Strategy' for the New Palestinian Authority," Policy Watch, No. 1252, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, June 26, 2007.

77. The notion of "bottom-up" peace-making based on broad Palestinian reform was coined by former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon, and alluded to as a point of reference by Special Quartet Envoy Tony Blair. See Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also referred to "bottom-up" peace-making in concert with his program of "economic peace" for the West Bank. Dan Diker is Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, where he is also a senior foreign policy analyst. He is also an Adjunct Fellow of the Hudson Institute in Washington. Khaled Abu Toameh is Palestinian affairs correspondent and analyst for the Jerusalem Post and a number of foreign TV stations and newspapers. They are currently co-authoring a book on the Middle East peace process.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Analysis: The IDF War in Gaza

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"It Smells"

Still last night I had a bit of a "wait and see" attitude: We're still in Gaza, if Hamas hits us we may start again. Who knows.

Well, now we know. Hamas has just declared a cease-fire. Khaled Mashaal, politburo leader in Damascus, announced this on Syrian TV.

According to Khaled Abu Toameh in the Post, sources close to Hamas say the group had no choice but to declare the cease-fire: "Hamas needs the lull. They have been hit hard... "

Great, we're giving Hamas a lull.


Abu Toameh says the two cease-fires were apparently declared independently and are not coordinated. We had declared that we would remain in Gaza until we were certain that there would be quiet. Mashaal is demanding we leave in a week. Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas has said, additionally, that this quiet is predicated on our opening of all crossings and the lifting of the blockade.

We had better not be in a rush to open all crossings. And if we do it at all before securing the release of Shalit, things will smell even worse than they do now.

According to Abu Toameh, we have said that we would not open any crossings until all hostilities have ceased. That may have been the original offer, which was rejected by Hamas. But as we ostensibly withdrew unilaterally (was it unilateral?), we should have no commitments in this regard at all.

And in any event, how long do we wait before we know all hostilities have ceased? A Grad Katyusha was launched after the Hamas announcement of a cease-fire.


Hamas has said it will resist all efforts at disarmament and all attempts to return the PA to Gaza.

Hamas is particularly incensed with the PA at the moment because its leaders are convinced that Mahmoud Abbas and company provided intelligence that allowed us to get to Hamas interior minister Said Siam. This is entirely credible, as Siam was a major architect of the Hamas take-over of Gaza and responsible for the deaths of dozens of Fatah people. After he was killed in our airstrike, Fatah-controlled websites carried comments from people who thanked Ehud Barak.

Hamas is demanding that Egypt open the Rafah crossing and I want to see how this will play out; Egypt's condition was the return of the PA there. Mubarak is demanding we open crossings. Will he keep his crossing closed?


This is my considered opinion, for what it is worth:

Taking down Hamas entirely -- even if it might have been a desirable goal (which is itself questionable because of what might have come next) -- was probably impossible for us. For there is a way that Hamas, an a-moral fighting force, bests us, the most moral and humane of nations.

We were not guilty of disproportionate military actions and certainly not of war crimes. What we did in self-defense can be justified totally within international law. We knew we were right.

But the killing is not palatable to us. It doesn't happen easily, and we're not glib about it. We were sad that there was collateral damage that caused deaths even of women and children on some occasions -- in spite of our warnings and our extreme caution in doing pin-point operations.

What we came up against is that Arab jihadist statement: "We will win, because just as they love life, we love death." Hamas does not care how many of its own people die. And so, for example, we knew which hospital many of the Hamas leaders were hiding in, but we would never hit a hospital, and they were well aware of this.

Makes total defeat tough.


There are analysts who believe we must content ourselves with partial victories. This is the opinion, for example, of Yoram Kaniuk, who wrote, "Lower Your Expectations," in YNet the other day:

"No state has been able to defeat zealous Islamic terrorists thus far... There is no way to defeat zealous ideologies, because their leaders are willing to hide behind their children.

"The Russians butchered half of Chechnya, yet the other half is patiently waiting...

"... It is only possible to secure tactical wins, and a ceasefire that everyone knows will be temporary."

Unpalatable in the extreme, but perhaps there's a certain truth there.

If so, what's important is that we keep hammering away, and keep securing those tactical wins, until the day comes when we do have the upper hand.


This is where the whole issue of deterrence comes in. It is what Brig.-General (res) Yossie Kupervasser, formerly with IDF Intelligence, whom I've cited so many times now, was basically referring to in his recent presentation: hitting hard enough, not so that they're totally defeated, but so that they decide it isn't worth it right now to keep trying to destroy us and table that goal for a distant future.

Then the question becomes one of whether we hit hard enough before quitting. And the answer is in the negative.

I don't think it was all wasted, and for nothing. We did give Hamas a good wallop, although we could have and should have given better. The truth of this will emerge as we see how quickly Hamas recuperates and how reticent, or not, to start with us again.

Yuval Diskin, head of Shin Bet, in his report to the Cabinet this morning, confirms that Hamas took a beating. They did not expect us to come into Gaza right before an election, and we left them in a difficult position.


I quote here a soldier who was serving in Gaza -- referred to only as Aryeh -- a member of the reserves and a former hesder yeshiva student (which combines religious study with military service). He was interviewed on Israel National Radio last week:

"No one likes fighting; people want to be with their families... but at the same time, no one wants to leave now. Of all sectors, it's the soldiers who do not want a ceasefire, not because we want to fight but because we know the job is not finished yet. We don't want to have to go back again in a year or two or three. The soldiers want to stay and finish the job, they really do... I think there has to be a hard push against Hamas, even harder than we have done until now; this will take a real sacrifice, we know - but to think that we might leave and the rockets will still fall, what did we do??! Killing 900 terrorists out of 20,000 is just not enough, we have to really decimate their ranks in order that they should know that they should leave us alone...

"True, Gaza is now largely in ruins, but they'll get lots of money to rebuild, and they'll use a lot of the money to get more weapons as well. We gave to go deeper and stronger, and make them understand that it's just not worth it. In addition, I think we can't leave without Gilad Shalit; it would be terrible if not."

What can be added to this?


But there are yet other factors that must be examined, palatable or not. One of these is the matter of international pressure.

Many is the time that my blood pressure has gone up when watching the Israeli government cave under international pressure when I thought we should hold tight. When I thought what we needed was a government that was not into appeasement. A prime example is Condoleezza Rice's demand that we leave Rafah in 2005, even though we had an agreement -- all the way from Oslo -- that said we could stay. We caved, and we should not have, because our security people knew quite well that this was going to be trouble (as indeed it was).

But I see the current international pressure as being considerably heavier than this. The international community loves to see Israel in the wrong, and the number of civilian casualties in Gaza must have had members of the community salivating with the opportunity to come down hard on us.


What is more, the UN was involved. The first resolution regarding our operation in Gaza was not passed under Chapter VII, which meant there was no mechanism for applying military force to enforce its terms. But that doesn't mean there might not have been a subsequent resolution under Chapter VII. With the resolution that did pass, the US merely abstained and declining to veto it. This was already recognized as a betrayal of Israel. And that was with Bush as president. Tuesday, a new, and considerably less friendly, US president is being sworn in. (About whom I'll have plenty to say.)

I believe that all of this was factored into the decision of Olmert to cut our losses in Gaza now. I think he may have felt it was better if we appeared to have been victorious, and left of our own volition.


The rush to leave, however, was precipitous, and essentially dishonest.

Olmert said last night:

"We formulated understandings with the Egyptian government with regard to a number of central issues, the realization of which will bring about a significant reduction in weapons smuggling from Iran and Syria to the Gaza Strip."

Part of our goal, as stated by him in the beginning, was making sure that Hamas could not re-arm. And so, he could not pull out without making it appear that a mechanism for preventing this was in place.

I spent part of my day today trying to find out exactly what understandings with Egypt would allow Olmert to say that smuggling was less likely -- say so, even if he knew it not to be the case. I could learn of no such understanding.

In fact, one Arabic-speaking contact told me forthrightly, "There is no agreement with Egypt."

This, my friends, is what smells most of all. This is the betrayal of what we were supposed to be doing.


In fact, I would suggest that Olmert knows that there can be no effective mechanism at the border between Gaza and Egypt to stop smuggling as long as we are not there.

The appeasement here is of Egypt, which is not confronted with the facts regarding the way in which it has tacitly permitted smuggling to continue, and even abetted that smuggling.

Please, see Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz's startling piece on the issue of Egyptian complicity in smuggling:

And the failure is our refusal to move back into the Philadelphi Corridor.


I cited Professor Eyal Zisser yesterday, who explained how difficult it would be for the international community to stop rockets from getting into Egypt -- as even Somali fisherman would be willing to carry them in their boats -- and why the key to stopping smuggling lies with Egypt.

Today, Dr. Aaron Lerner, director of IMRA has made it even simpler and more clear. Aaron has discovered that "Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines offers weekly container service from Bandar Abbas, Iran to Damietta, Egypt... Loads every Friday, arrival in Egypt two weeks later."

As long as Egypt will not honestly and diligently work to stop smuggling, it is clear that Hamas will be re-armed.

Yuval Diskin told the Cabinet today that Hamas would resume smuggling of weapons into Gaza in a few months, that they would rebuild the tunnels we destroyed.


This, my friends, is what we have to hammer at, as the election approaches. The government has to answer for this inexcusable failure.

Dr. Aaron Lerner, who has been right on top of this issue, the other day exposed the foolishness of defense envoy Amos Gilad, who said, in essence, that it's nobody's business what deal the government strikes with Egypt. We'll know if they are smuggling if they start launching rockets at us again. This is not acceptable.


At today's Cabinet meeting, Olmert declared, "The military forces in the Strip have their eyes wide open, are attentive to any rustle and ready for any order from their commanders,. The decision on the cease-fire leaves Israel the right to react and renew its military actions if the terror groups continue firing.

But already, the IDF is beginning to pull out. It would take something major from Hamas, not a couple of rockets, and not a rustle, to make Olmert reverse his decision.

There will be much more to say, but I'll end here today.


Posting: January 17, 2009

Motzei Shabbat (After Shabbat)

"And Now?"

Saw it coming. It was obvious this past week that we weren't going to go the whole route, bringing Hamas to its knees. Right now, that "qualified hero," Olmert, doesn't look like much of a hero.

It was announced tonight that the Security Cabinet -- which met this evening to discuss the latest Egyptian proposal carried by a returning Amos Gilad -- voted to declare a unilateral cease-fire in Gaza, as of 2 a.m.

There were two votes against: Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On (Kadima) and Industry Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai (Shas).


It's not entirely certain what happens next. Apparently we will remain in Gaza either for some days, or until it's clear that Hamas will stop. At the moment, Hamas is still launching rockets and we reserve the right to "return fire," which means to go after the site or the individuals who launched the rocket. This is not the same as a massive operation against Hamas.

But there is still something tentative about the announcement -- with Barak, who spoke after Olmert, saying we should be prepared for all eventualities, while Olmert made threats against Hamas and spoke of what they'll encounter from us if they continue.

Of course, there will be enormous international pressure on us to get out. But Hamas has said as long as we're in, they'll keep shooting. "Resistance against the occupation," you see. (Although when we're out of Gaza there's also "resistance against the occupation.")

So, what's the resolution?

There is, it seems to me, a great deal we don't know yet with regard to what Egyptian proposal Gilad carried from Cairo, and I feel as if we're waiting for the other shoe to drop.


Yesterday, Tzipi Livni went to Washington, and, after consultations with Condoleezza Rice, signed a Memorandum of Understanding Regarding Prevention of the Supply of Arms and Related Materiel to Terrorist Groups, which addresses the issue of stemming the flow of weapons and explosives into Gaza. The US is offering intelligence, technological help, and training, and the Memorandum speaks of both cooperative and parallel efforts. The idea is to catch smuggled weapons before they make it either into Gaza via the sea or into Egypt, whence they get to Gaza via tunnels. It alludes to different seas and countries of north Africa by which the weapons might make their way,

I am greatly dubious as to whether this will have any significant effect on the situation, and the wording of the Memorandum is too vague to provide true understanding of what might be anticipated.

One of the questions, to which I have no answer at present, is how binding this MOU will be on the new administration, which takes over in three short days.


What am I seeing? This is the same old Tzipi who promoted Resolution 1701, which was supposed to prevent Hezbollah from re-arming. This is Tzipi relying on international guarantees as a rationale for stopping the fight and not doing the full job ourselves.

It's instructive to see what US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said in response to a question at a press conference yesterday after the MOU was signed:

"Well... we are not responsible for, you know, smuggling happening or not. We are able to participate in robust ways to assist others as well in making sure that smuggling, resupply of Hamas, does not take place.

"There are a lot of different moving parts to this problem. And we have been engaged on this problem for a while. I think all of you understand that we sent a team to Egypt - Army Corps of Engineers - to look specifically at tunnels. There are other aspects to this: the air aspect, the sea aspect to this. But we think we have the beginnings of that."

This is, to me, a sure tip-off that we should not hold our collective breath.


A first analysis of possibilities for the assistance offered now by the US to be useful are provided here. It presents a picture of how complex this whole venture is.

Says Eyal Zisser, a professor of Middle East history and a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University's Dayan Center quoted in this article, "How many of these rockets have been fired into Israel? One hundred? Two hundred? [Note: that would be in the very short term only -- it's thousands that have been launched over a period of years.] We're not talking about smuggling 100 tanks across the border. These rockets can be smuggled so easily through Sudan or other countries like it. Trying to intercept them on an international level would be a waste of time and effort."

Zisser suggests that efforts to block Hamas from acquiring weapons should focus on the Egyptian border and not on broad-based intelligence efforts.

"It's not that I'm against doing everything we can do on other levels to stop the smuggling,. It's just that it's not particularly difficult for these rockets to be smuggled to Egypt, and I doubt that any effort could make it more difficult. Take a country like Sudan or Somalia, where half of the population is unemployed, and all it takes is one fisherman's boat to bring 10 or 20 of these rockets to shore. There's no shortage of people who are willing to do that, and I don't see how an international force could infiltrate such a vast network."

In addition, according to Zisser, Iranian ships transporting rockets are also carrying other items: "They're hidden away among other cargo. So who is going to inspect every Iranian ship, or Syrian ship, or Lebanese ship that arrives in their port? These days, the rockets could even arrive on a ship from Venezuela."


And Egypt remains the weak (or non-existent) link in the chain of response. The Egyptian foreign minister has already announced that Egypt has nothing to do with the agreement just signed between Israel and the US. What Ahmed Aboul Gheit said was that, "We have no commitment towards this memo whatsoever."

For me, this is Egypt revealing its true face.

Our prime minister has declared there's been a lot of progress in negotiations with Egypt with regard to smuggling.

Unless we've got a presence on the scene, it will all amount to nothing.


Earlier today, Barak said that we had almost achieved our goals in Gaza. Chief of Staff Ashkenazi went on record as saying he didn't think we should pursue the fighting any further.

Then Olmert, in announcing the Security Cabinet decision, said we HAD achieved our goals "in full." How we went from "almost" to "fully" in a matter of a couple of hours is not clear.

What is clear is that these goals have not been reached. Olmert had originally said we would not stop fighting until Hamas stopped attacking our south. Today there were something like 25 rocket launchings. Hamas still has capacity and the will to hit us.

Olmert said tonight that we've reduced their rocket fire (this certainly seems true) and taken out most of their long-range rockets (I hope so). He also said we're controlling most of their launching sites. But this is for now -- this implies nothing about the future.


Hamas is weakened, Olmert says weakened a great deal. We've taken out control and training centers, a good many (but not all) tunnels, perhaps 800 or 1,000 of their 15,000 or 20,000 troops (most of whom remained hidden), a handful of their leaders. But they're motivated by their radical ideology to keep going.


Olmert has announced that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have all offered help in stopping arms smuggling. My only comment here -- other than to indicate that none of this is a substitute for what we need to do relying on ourselves -- is that this has more substance than anything under UN auspices, which is worthless.


One important point that Olmert made tonight was this:

"This is not a ceasefire with Hamas. These are understanding with elements in the international community which Hamas, as an illegitimate entity, has no place to be involved in."

This was Livni's original stance. And it came to be the government position, I am reasonably certain, after Hamas, at an Arab summit in Doha, Qatar, yesterday rejected our conditions for a cease-fire.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt boycotted this gathering, at which Mashaal called for Arab nations to cut ties with Israel, and Ahmadinejad made a surprise appearance.

What this means, at this point, from our perspective, is that we have no commitments toward Hamas -- no promise to open crossings or to refrain from firing. Everything, presumably, is at our option and we are in control. And we've given them no legitimacy.


By last week I was feeling uneasy about Hamas demands that we refrain from all actions inside Gaza for the year of the proposed ceasefire; I could anticipate situations in which response would be required for self-defensive reasons because of Hamas behavior inside of Gaza even if it wasn't directly shooting at us. And yet, as this was proposed, it would mean we and not they had broken the cease-fire.

(Remember, the beginning of the breakdown of the six month tahadiyah came with a brief IDF action in Gaza in response to a tunnel being constructed that would have led into Israel.)


And so, my concern remains one of what -- if anything -- comes next in terms of what Egypt is discussing with us.

Hamas's over-riding desire is to have the crossings opened permanently. This gives them legitimacy and a measure of normalcy -- this permits commerce, not just relief. Are we, as I suspect, headed down this road in short order and will Hamas broadcast this as a "victory"?


And then there is the whole issue of bringing back Gilad Shalit. We were assured tonight that this is being worked on, and rumors abound. But we have stopped fighting and there is nothing definitive. Does this come with the next stage of the deal? Or will it not come?


Lastly, I want to mention Olmert's reference to the PA: Israel, he said, considers Gaza to be part of a future Palestinian state (implying under PA auspices). No, definitely not my hero now.

There must be no Palestinian state.


I wonder about how much we will ever know about the various discussions held regarding the cease-fire: what we demanded, what Hamas insisted upon. There are so many rumors floating. There may even be matters that are agreed to by us that do not come clear, at least in the short term. (That's the old cynical me talking.)

One version of what Hamas ostensibly agreed to -- which Mashaal has refuted -- is that it would resume negotiations with the PA for a unity government. I know that this is what Egypt is pushing.


Posting: January 15, 2009

"The Crunch"

Please know: After this posting there is not likely to be another until after Shabbat, unless something of major significance transpires by early tomorrow.


It's going down to the wire soon, and I'm feeling enormous unease as to how things will finish.

Hamas has not been taken down nearly enough yet, in spite of all we've done, which has been considerable. This is obvious on the face of things because they are making demands. A vanquished party doesn't do that.


But beyond the matter of their demands is another issue of considerable significance

Many terms and concepts are being bandied about in the media. It's important to be more specific as we look at our expectations for resolution of this war.

We are definitely not working towards a permanent truce with Hamas -- a permanent cessation of hostilities. Would that this could be the case! But to achieve this we would have to reach the point of unconditional surrender, as reader Don Salem has pointed out. They would have to cry "uncle!" as Japan did after WWII. Or, in the terms of General Kupervasser, be defeated sufficiently to abandon notions of destroying us -- relegating this goal to a hypothetical far distant future. Not only are we not there, we're not going to get there.

So, we're looking at something temporary. Preferably, long-term temporary. Egypt, as I had recently mentioned, was seeking something like 10 years. Hamas is talking about something much shorter term. This we know.

But exactly what does Hamas have in mind? There are two Arabic terms for temporary cessations of hostilities.

One is hudna. This is a more formal agreement that has distinct Islamic religious connotations, as Mohammad had a hudna with the Quraysh tribe. Hamas is an Islamic organization -- they all know this and take it seriously. While Mohammad was observing the hudna, he did no attacking -- although he was garnering strength. And, of course, it didn't last forever. Ultimately Mohammad attacked.

The other is a tahadiyah. This is a less formal arrangement that is devoid of religious connotation. Because it has no religious connection, there is more of a sense that some attacking -- some launching of rockets -- is acceptable even during this period. From June through December last year, we had a tahadiyah with Hamas, and they continued to launch rockets, but fewer. We didn't have quiet, but, rather, "relative" quiet.

There is an Islamic term -- Sulkh, I believe -- for a permanent cessation of hostilities. But it is not relevant in this context.


Today I spoke with an Arabic- speaking researcher at MEMRI -- the Middle East Media Research Institute, which monitors what Arabs are saying in Arabic and provides translations; his jurisdiction is Egyptian media. He told me that in the Egyptian media, in reports about Egyptian mediation with Hamas for ceasing fire, they are using the term tahadiyah. Only tahadiyah? I asked. Only tahadiyah, he responded.

This tells us, unequivocally, that we must bring Hamas down a great deal more.


I also spoke today with an Arabic speaker with Intelligence connections. This is what he told me:

Even if Egypt were sincere and truly wanted to stop the smuggling, they couldn't. The Egyptian government is weak, he told me. The Sinai (which is adjacent to the Philadelphi Corridor) is run by the Bedouin, who do the smuggling, and the Egyptian army cannot control the Bedouin.

This tells us, unequivocally, that we can stop the smuggling only if we do it ourselves.


These, then, are the parameters for a truly successful conclusion to the war. The international community is breathing down our necks, and the government is not of one mind on the issues. (More about this below.)

At the moment we are still fighting hard, pushing deeper into Gaza City and attacking with more strength. We are in the heart of the city now and have taken three neighborhoods.

Is this the third stage of the war? Is there more to come?

I very much fear that we will end short of where we need to be.


In my wildest dreams I never imagined I would say what I am about to say now:

At the moment, Ehud Olmert is a champion in my eyes. He is holding fast to continue fighting, even as the other members of the "triumvirate" are ready to call it quits. We will not, he has declared, end up as we did after the Lebanon war, when Hezbollah was able to regain strength. We haven't fought to end up no better than this.

So, call him a tentative hero, a qualified hero, but bravo to him. I cannot see into the head of this man, who not so long ago informed us that we must divide Jerusalem. There are those who say he's acting as he is because his political career is over, and he has nothing to lose (while Barak and Livni are campaigning). May be, but still it means that when he has nothing to lose he sees this as the right thing to do. It means there is a strong Zionist conviction in him, when truth is told. (A Zionist conviction that he betrayed for so long, for whatever perverse reasons.)

In any event, I'm so very glad he's holding fast and give him the credit that is due him. And we'll take each day as it goes. (Please, my good friends, don't deluge me with comments about him. This is how I see it now. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.)


According to reports that have leaked, it is Barak that Olmert is battling with most directly. He is particularly furious with him because Barak floated the idea of the two-week humanitarian cease-fire.

As one government official explained it:

"The irresponsibility of ministers - regardless of how senior they are - in leading private initiatives is unfortunate. [The publication of proposed plans] gives encouragement to Hamas, gives a shot in the arm to their backers, and has an immediate effect of the fate of a million Israelis in the south and thousands of IDF soldiers carrying out operations inside Gaza."

There is also an unconfirmed report that Livni wanted to go to Washington to ask the US to help with arms smuggling. The prime minister's office has denied this.


Several readers have asked me about Gilad Shalit and whether he will be part of any final cease-fire deal with Hamas. He certainly should be.

The only one in the government I've seen mention this forthrightly is Justice Minister Daniel Friedman, earlier this week.

Yesterday, hundreds of young people rallied in Tel Aviv, at Museum Plaza, demanding that any cease-fire settlement include Shalit's release. Said a boyhood friend of Shalit: "[His release] has to be a clear-cut goal. We will not let the government agree on a ceasefire with Hamas otherwise. Olmert, Barak, Livni - we will not let you do this. There can be no agreement without Gilad."

And today, Livni met with Red Cross President Jacob Kellenberger and demanded that he push his people to make an effort to visit Shalit. Said she: [The issue of Shalit] "is a pivotal part of the Gaza [campaign]. The Red Cross has access to every prisoner around the world, but here there is a terror organization which is denying this access." This is, perhaps, on the way to, but not yet saying, that we won't stop until we have Shalit. What is suggested by "a pivotal part" is unclear.


Tonight there are reports that we may strike a deal that we will open the crossing at the end of the war in exchange for reduced demands by Hamas for Shalit.

I want Shalit released as much as the next Israeli does. But if this is true it is deeply unsettling. Insulting. This implies that instead of releasing 1,000 terrorists, some with blood on their hands, we'd just have to release maybe a few hundred. But why release any? If they are getting crossings opened, let them release Shalit! No Shalit, no opened crossings. Simple.

So many rumors; I hope this is not accurate.


Today was a tough day. UN Secretary-General Ban is in town, and he must be counted as an enemy. I am, quite honestly, proud of how our government responded to him.

Everything is in place for a cease-fire, Ban said. Whether it happens or not depends on the will of Israel. Excuse me?

He was informed that we were fighting in self-defense.


Today we hit an UNRWA compound in Gaza City because gun shots and anti-tank missiles were fired at our troops from the building. This is according to senior defense officials. We fired artillery shells in the direction from which the shooting had come, in the process wounding three and setting a wing of the building on fire. We then brought in five fire trucks to put out the fire.

Ban expressed outrage, and Olmert replied, "... this is a sad incident and I regret it, but our forces were attacked from there and our response was harsh."


The most prominent military action of the day today was the killing during an air strike in Gaza City of Said Siam, Hamas interior minister. Head of several security apparatuses of Hamas, he served also as its liaison between the political and military wings. And he was one of the masterminds of the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007.

Siam is the most senior member of Hamas to be killed so far.

Killed along with him were Salah Abu Shrakh, the head of the Hamas general security service, Mahmoud Watfa, one of the commanders of the Hamas military wing, and his brother and son.


Amos Gilad has returned from his consultations with the Egyptians, and is reporting to key members of the government.

Last we heard, Hamas had "agreed in principle" to a cease-fire, but had stipulations. Now Egyptian media is saying Israel has "agreed in principle," but has reservations.

This evening Khaled Mashaal, in Damascus, insisted that Hamas was holding to its demands (demands??) for a ceasefire:

"We have informed all those exerting efforts... for a truce that we have specific demands. First, the aggression must stop; second, the [Israeli] forces must withdraw from Gaza... immediately, of course; thirdly, the siege must be lifted and fourth we want all crossing-points [into Gaza] reopened, first of which Rafah.

"We will not accept any political movement that doesn't satisfy these demands."


The Security Cabinet will meet tomorrow to decide whether to accept Cairo's proposal or continue fighting.

We don't know, of course, how closely what Cairo offered to Gilad resembles what Mashaal, sitting in Damascus, is demanding. The terms of the Gaza contingent of Hamas might have been different. But there is an arrogance coming from Hamas, yet, an expectation that they can set terms, that seems to make it unlikely that we'll accept.

What is more, the "security arrangements" for stopping smuggling are not in place. To stop now would be to fall terribly short of what we intend to accomplish.

But I don't know what will happen... My sense of it is that it will be soon, but not yet.

According to Amos Harel in Haaretz, Cairo is demanding the return of the PA to the Rafah Crossing as a condition for it being opened. That's been Egypt's position. Would Hamas accept this, when the PA in Gaza is anathema to them?

I'm hearing about a year of quiet being offered. Only a year. In what terms, at what price?


Obama has broken his silence and says he'll work from day one to stop hostilities between Israel and Hamas.

In an interview on CBS yesterday, he reportedly said, "... we are going to take a regional approach, we're going to have to involve Syria in discussions, we are going to have to engage Iran... "

Oh joy! Here it comes. Will this have an influence our government's decision regarding how long to keep fighting?


Posting: January 14, 2009


Closer, that is, to the end of the war. Or so it seems.

Egypt has been pushing hard on Hamas, telling them that Israel will do its third stage of the operation if they don't agree to a ceasefire, and then they will be fully crushed.

One issue is the length of the cease-fire. We would prefer it to be long term or indefinite; Hamas wanted a cease-fire of just a few months.

This is consistent with their whole hudna approach, which means stopping temporarily in order to regroup and start again. For the fact of the matter is that Hamas, no matter how badly hurt, has not been fully crushed, and hopes to come back to strength.

Egypt proposed a ceasefire of 10 to 15 years, according to a Haaretz report, and after this was rejected, then offered a one year -- renewable -- cease-fire. This, Hamas is said to be considering, with certain conditions. They want to know how quickly we'll pull out of Gaza and when crossings will be opened.

One year seems sorely insufficient, and I don't know if our government would accept this.


What Egypt is after at this point is a cessation of fighting, with the notion that particulars regarding withdrawal, end to smuggling, and opening of crossings can be worked out thereafter.

I would have been almost certain that we would not buy into this: that we would rely on our continued fighting to give us leverage. But there seems to be disagreement within the government on this issue (see more below).


With regard to smuggling, one suggestion being floated now is for a barrier to be erected that surrounds the Egyptian city of Rafah, with patrolling by Egyptian soldiers to prevent smugglers from entering the city. That barrier -- a double fence -- would extend the length of the Philadelphi Corridor, and there would be a single monitored road that led into the city.


I am highly dubious as to whether this will be put in place, and I have no reason to believe this would work -- that the Egyptians would monitor with sufficient diligence. And so I do not wish to belabor this plan unduly. But I want to be certain that the complex parameters are clear:

The border, running roughly nine miles, between Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai, is called the Philadelpi Corridor (only because this name was generated at random from a computer). Under this border, hundreds of smuggling tunnels had been dug, and are now being systematically destroyed by Israel. The task (it's something of a trick) is to make certain they are not re-dug and that smuggling via tunnels doesn't resume. To date, Egypt has been severely remiss in this regard.


But there is also the city of Rafah (in Hebrew, Rafiah) straddling the border. Two cities, actually, as one part of Rafah is on the Egyptian side and one in Gaza. The official crossing point for goods moving back and forth is via Rafah. And so, aside from the tunnels, there is the potential for smuggling to be done above ground through that crossing. Material can be hidden deep within, or even under, large trucks that are bringing merchandise into Gaza.

It's obvious then, that enormous vigilance and sincerity of purpose are required to prevent military equipment from entering Gaza.


With the disengagement, we left the corridor, but were still supposed to retain control at the Rafah crossing. We pulled out, however, in deference to the PA (which then controlled Gaza), at the insistence of Condoleezza Rice. A great deal was smuggled into Gaza when the PA was in control.

Until two weeks ago, Hamas was doing an enormous amount of smuggling via the tunnels. The Rafah crossing has been closed from the Egyptian side, generating much fury in Gaza. At least until now, Egypt -- refusing to deal with Hamas -- has insisted that it won't open the Rafah crossing until the PA is back at Rafah.


My own take on the situation, based on what I've concluded as well as on what experts I respect are saying, is that we really have only two options:

One is to truly defeat Hamas. There is much to be said for this, because it is likely that a Hamas undefeated will undermine agreements and do all in its power to regain strength. (What General Kupervasser, whom I've cited several times now, suggests is coming close to defeating Hamas, so that they're beaten down enough to halt attacks and smuggling.)

The downside to defeating Hamas is that this may lead to an international effort to reinstate the PA in Gaza. Whether this could actually happen is dubious, but it raises the specter of increased pressure being put upon us to negotiate a state with the PA. And then, if Hamas is defeated, and the PA is rejected by the people of Gaza, there is concern that another radical element, even Al-Qaida, would move in to fill the vacuum.

The other alternative would be for us to maintain a presence in Gaza, along the Philadelphi Corridor. We are the only ones we can trust with insuring that smuggling does not begin again. There are some thinkers who are coming to the conclusion that by default -- because there are no other truly viable options -- we may do this.


At any rate, Amos Gilad may return to Cairo tomorrow, if discussions between Hamas and Egypt have progressed sufficiently.


Olmert caused a considerable diplomatic firestorm with his comments, reported here yesterday, regarding his phone call to President Bush to get Rice not to vote for Resolution 1860. Rice came back with a scathing denial, a charge that this was 100% untrue. The White House then followed with a denial as well.

It's not politic to brag publicly about controlling the US Secretary of State and causing her embarrassment.

Of course, just because the US denies this, doesn't mean it didn't happen. YNet yesterday quoted PA Minister of Foreign Affairs Riad Malki, who had said one day after the vote, that, "We were told that the Americans were going to vote in favor... What happened in the last 10 or 15 minutes [before the vote was taken], what kind of pressure she received, from whom, this is really something that maybe we will know about later."

According to Malki, when Rice entered the Security Council chamber, she apologized to the Saudi foreign minister, explaining that she would be abstaining but would clarify that the US supported the effort.


One report I encountered said that Olmert opened his mouth in anger, because Livni had taken credit for the situation, claiming that it was her diplomatic effort that prevented Rice from voting for the resolution.


What we are seeing now is tension between Olmert, on one side, and Livni and Barak on the other.

Barak and Livni both want to stop fighting now. Barak wants to institute a week-long 'humanitarian" cease fire, keep our forces in place and reservists under arms, and then negotiate issues with Egypt. He has taken under advisement the view of Southern Command Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant that continued operations might end up with our deployment in Gaza over a period of time as long as a year. (Is this bad?) He also said to have his eye on Obama's inauguration next week.

Livni believes, as I have reported, that we don't need to negotiate with Hamas, but pull out and rely on our new deterrence power to restrain them. She thinks we've accomplished as much as we can.

I confess here my surprise that Livni is promoting a pull-out before Hamas is defeated, for it has been her express desire to reinstate the PA in Gaza.


Olmert believes we have not done enough yet. Certainly the fact that Hamas is agreeing to cease fire only under certain conditions indicates they are not yet sufficiently vanquished. (And Khaled Abu Toameh, among others, indicates that Hamas is not broken yet.)

In order to allow the fighting to continue, Olmert has refrained from calling meetings either of the "triumvirate" or the Security Cabinet, which might overrule him. Don't know how long this can go on. But right now he is forestalling a premature end to the fighting.


I mention here, just in passing, that while political discussion has been tabled in good measure until after the war, there are, obviously, considerable political ramifications to these various positions. We would be naive to imagine that these ramifications are not in the minds of the members of the "triumvirate" as they stake out their various positions


For the record, a clarification on the matter of SC Resolution 1860: It was not adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which provides for enforcement of resolutions. According to my UN source, "As it stands, the Resolution merely demonstrates the will of the international community to see a ceasefire enacted."


A charge against Israel has been shot down (excuse the deliberate pun). Human Rights Watch had accused Israel of firing phosphorus shells, which ignite on the skin and cause extreme burns.

Peter Herby, head of the mines-arms unit of the International Red Cross, has now told the Associated Press that "... it's not very unusual to use phosphorus to create smoke or illuminate a target. We have no evidence to suggest it's being used in any other way [such as burning down buildings or wounding people]." He said that using phosphorus to illuminate a target or create smoke is legitimate under international law.


Irwin Cotler, former justice minister of Canada and an expert on international law, visited our southern region adjacent to Gaza yesterday, and then made a statement to the effect that Hamas fighting tactics and ideology constitute a "case study par excellence" of a systematic violation of international humanitarian law.

Canadian MP Irwin Cotler.

Says Cotler, there is "almost no comparable example" in today's world of a group that so systematically violates international agreements related to armed conflict. He pinpointed six specific violations:

-- Deliberate targeting of civilians.

-- Attacks from within civilian areas and civilian structures. "Civilians are protected persons, and civilian areas are protected areas. Any use of a civilian infrastructure to launch bombs is itself a war crime."

-- "... the misuse and abuse of humanitarian symbols for purposes of launching attacks is called the perfidy principle. For example, using an ambulance to transport fighters or weapons or disguising oneself as a doctor in a hospital, or using a UN logo or flag, are war crimes."

-- "... the prohibition in the Fourth Geneva Convention and international jurisprudence of the direct and public incitement to genocide. The Hamas covenant itself is a standing incitement to genocide."

-- The scope of the attack on civilians constitutes a crime against humanity. "... when you deliberately hit civilians not infrequently but in a systematic, widespread attack, that's defined in the treaty of the International Criminal Court and international humanitarian law as a crime against humanity."

-- Recruitment of children into armed conflict (which I recently wrote about, citing PMW).

I called Professor Cotler after reading this description of Hamas violations in the Jerusalem Post, and asked him if international law applied to Hamas as it is neither a sovereign nation nor a signatory to various conventions. He said it didn't matter: international law applied to Hamas regardless. And this, he told me, was not just his opinion, but that of Alan Dershowitz as well.


Professor Cotler is concerned because the international community "has been minimizing the manner in which Hamas has engaged in consistent mass-violation of international humanitarian law." He sees it as important to delineate Hamas's violations the onus of responsibility for the civilian tragedy in Gaza would be placed where it belongs.

"... Clearly what is happening in Gaza is a tragedy. But there has to be moral and legal clarity as to responsibility."


According to the IDF spokesman, 104,000 liters of fuel and 111 humanitarian aid trucks were transferred into the Gaza strip via the Kerem Shalom crossing today.

Additionally, the IDF is looking to expand its humanitarian assistance by opening more crossings. The Karni crossing, for example, has a chute that permits a more speedy transfer of grains, and 23 truckloads of grain were sent in by that route on Monday. And Erez will be opened for cargo transfer.


A clarification is in order here: Crossings have been closed frequently because of intelligence we receive that they are about to be targeted by terrorists. We've had IDF troops lose their lives at these crossing. In fact, the Karni crossing had to be closed after Monday because a tunnel was discovered that was meant to be used for a mine attack. But I am assuming that our presence inside of Gaza makes the targeting of the crossings more difficult for Hamas, and makes it more possible for us to open them.

I have often pondered why the terrorists would interfere with transfer of aid to the Palestinian people by targeting the crossings. Only very recently did I find an answer: Hamas had been making money via the smuggling of goods through the tunnels, and was not eager to be undercut by goods distributed free of charge.

Such is the perversity of their mind-set.


An Apache helicopter pilot, who is not at liberty to reveal his full name or the details of his missions, gave an interview with AP in which he described missions he aborted to avoid civilian casualties. "The ones I remember are when I have locked in on a target and I fire and then at the last second I see a child in my cross hairs and I divert the missile," he said. "We work very hard to keep civilian casualties as low as possible,. Each missile we shoot is pinpointed to the very meter we want it to go."

He has called off airstrikes, even if it meant letting a rocket-launcher get away, out of fear of harming an innocent woman or a child. When he did this, he said, he was following both his military orders and his own conscience.


With all of this, EU aid commissioner Louis Michel declared this week that, "It is evident that Israel does not respect international humanitarian law." He drew this conclusion, he said, because of the number of civilian casualties and the difficulty of getting humanitarian aid to the needy.

With some people, you can't win.


Please see the following CAMERA article about a Norwegian doctor, Mads Gilbert, who is making libelous charges against Israel after volunteering in Gaza. Many media sources are representing him as an objective observer when in fact he is a Marxist who is so radical in his thinking that he supports the 9/11 terrorist attack.


Three Katyusha rockets were launched into northern Israel, near Kiryat Shmona, from Lebanon early today. The IDF fired a number of artillery shells towards the source of fire.


Once again I wish to close with a piece from Haaretz. This time, "It's not Israel's fault it has a strong, well run army," by Yoel Marcus:

"I feel sorry for the people of Gaza, but I feel even sorrier for the civilian population of southern Israel, which has been bombarded by rockets for the last eight years.

"I feel sorry for the kids who wet their beds at night. I feel sorry for the Color Red sirens that send our citizens on a mad dash for shelters, if there are any, in the hopes of finding cover within 15 seconds. I feel sorry about the homes that have been damaged, the cities that have been drained of their citizens and the schools hit by rockets that were miraculously empty at the time.

"In the beginning, nobody took Qassams seriously... But over time, this primitive rocket has morphed into a long-range missile. So we need to be thankful for the decision to launch Operation Cast Lead, if only because the offensive has exposed the strength of these babies and pulled the wraps off the huge arsenal of rockets they have over there in Gaza, capable of reaching Be'er Sheva. If Israel had not acted now, we would have woken up one morning to find missiles in Tel Aviv, special delivery from Iran via the Philadelphi tunnels.

"Operation Cast Lead is not a reprisal raid but a defensive war meant to clip Hamas' wings before it surprises us with a Palestinian version of the Yom Kippur War. It's not our fault we have a strong, well-run army and state-of-the-art weaponry. What did Hamas think? That we were going to sit around twiddling our thumbs forever?"