Hamas Issue Ties Olmert Government in Knots

Acting prime minister Ehud Olmert held a brainstorming session of Israel’s top political, military and intelligence minds Sunday, Jan. 22, on ideas for handling a Hamas victory in Wednesday’s Palestinian election. He designated the meeting classified to prevent leaks. Let Israel not be seen to be interfering in the highly-charged Palestinian legislative poll, he advised. He delayed a serious evaluation until after the election when the results are known.
In fact, Olmert ducked the first major challenge of his tenure as stand-in for Ariel Sharon.
His foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who doubles as justice minister, opted out all the way. In a TV interview Sunday, Jan 22, she dumped the Hamas problem together with the other poser, the Iranian nuclear threat, in the laps of “the international community.” Heedless of the Iranian president’s virulent ant-Israel posture, she argued that the threat of an Iranian bomb “did not pinpoint Israel” but the entire West. It was therefore a matter for the UN Security Council.
On Hamas, minister Livni seemed to be satisfied with the Bush administration’s promise to withhold recognition from a Palestinian government with Hamas participation, as delivered by senior US envoys. A similar undertaking came from the European Union’s foreign policy executive Javier Solana.
The trouble is that on the Palestinian Hamas, Olmert, like the rest of Sharon’s stalwarts in the government and Kadima party, are caught in a dilemma of their own making. Since they executed Israel’s pull-out from the Gaza Strip, Hamas has gone from strength to strength – militarily and politically – and expects a third-share at least of the Jan. 25 vote for the 123-strong Palestinian legislative council. The prospects of Abu Mazen and his feud-ridden Fatah have dipped correspondingly.
As former chief of staff Lt.-Gen (Res) Moshe Ayalon told the Herzliya institute’s annual conference Monday, Jan. 23, the unilateral disengagement for no return cost Israel dear in impaired deterrent strength. The Gaza Strip has since deteriorated into “a Hamas-stan, Hizballahstan and al Qaedastan.”
The empowerment of these terror groups, said Yaalon, means that in the foreseeable future, the pre-1967 borders will be neither secure nor defensible. The surge of Palestinian Qassam missiles from Gaza has already been demonstrated the truth of this assessment.
But most of acting prime minister Olmert’s advisers and colleagues enthusiastically executed the withdrawal that enabled an Islamic terrorist group dedicated to Israel’s destruction to leap into Palestinian government. They are moreover heading for its continuation on the West Bank. Because of this self-programming, Olmert and Kadima failed to heed the warning given last November and December by Shin Beit director Yuval Diskin (and debkafile) that a strong Hamas showing at the ballot box would be disastrous for Israel. Now, it is too late to start fashioning a policy to hold back the rushing Hamas tide.
Even the last-ditch maneuver of permitting the terrorist lifer, Fatah’s No. 1 Marwan Barghouti, to broadcast an appeal to Fatah followers from his cell, will not stop the Hamas in its tracks.
The prospect of a Hamas installed in Ramallah saddles the acting PM with a formidable problem for which he is unready:
1. On the backs of Hamas, Egypt’s radical Muslim Brotherhood, the group’s parent-organization, and Tehran will ride straight into positions of influence in Palestinian government in Ramallah.
Only last Friday, Jan. 20, Hamas’s Damascus-based leader Khaled Mashaali had a good conversation with visiting Iranian president Ahmadinejad in the Syrian capital.
2. Hamas in government broadens the scope of the Israel-Palestinian dispute to involve the most belligerent Muslim Sunni and Shiite sects. In this sense alone, Sharon and his clique/successors performed a strategic misstep of monumental proportions.
3. Al Qaeda is not surprisingly poised to press its advantage and is racing its radical Muslim rivals in the effort to attack Israel.
4. In the aftermath of Sharon’s unilateral disengagement, every single accord – from the Middle East road map to the pre-withdrawal security and diplomatic accords the United States and Europe brokered between Israel, the Palestinians and Egypt – has unraveled. The resulting security vacuum and diplomatic blind alley were graphically described by Gen. Yaalon.
Yet officials in Jerusalem persist in their flights of fancy. They echo the ludicrous demand for Abu Mazen, who has lost control of his own Fatah, to disarm the puissant Hamas, and insist that Hamas must change its spots or else the world will ostracize the Palestinians government. What world? What about the Saudis, the Russians, the North Africans, the Malaysians, and the Indonesians, to mention a few. And even supposing the US and Europe freeze donations to a Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority, as elder statesman Shimon Peres seems to believe, the Muslim world can easily afford to make up the difference from its abundant petrodollars.
The only positive outcome perceived by debkafile‘s counter-terror and radical Muslim experts from Hamas gaining a share in Palestinian government is a temporary one: The group may opt to continue for a while the partial ceasefire of the past six months. This does not mean the organization is changing its ways or disarming, any more than Lebanon’s Hizballah, only that it will welcome a breather to promote its long-term goals.
The Islamist radicals will need time to consolidate their grip on power and build a powerful military force. The price Israel will pay for this truce will be high. It is Hamas’s unopposed takeover of the Palestinian Authority’s security apparatus and its buildup with the help of Iran, Syria and the Hizballah, into an organized military force able to confront the Israeli army.
By failing to stop the Hamas in time, the Israeli government is now condemned to being dragged willy-nilly into playing ball with the long-term strategic goals of a radical Islamic group committed to wiping out the Jewish state.
It is hard to see how the Olmert team can do anything tangible to arrest the slide at this late date.

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