Hamas Traps Israel between Two Options: War or War of Attrition

On Day 6 of the brutal Palestinian factional war and Day 4 of the Hamas missile offensive against southern Israel, two ruthless figures have emerged as the dominant factors in both conflicts: Ahmad Jabari, commander of Hamas Executive Forces, and Jamal Jarah, better known as Abu Obeida, spokesman of Hamas’ military wing.
They are jerking the strings which activate the Palestinian Authority, Israel and Egypt.
Jabari has ousted Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh and refuses to defer even to Hamas supreme leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus. He has taken matters in his own hands, certain he can count on political, military and financial backing from Tehran and Damascus.
It is he and Abu Obeida who have escalated the violence in both sectors to unprecedented levels, to the point that it threatens to spill out of the Gaza Strip to Israel’s other borders.
A senior Israeli officer commented Thursday: “The fire burning in Sderot and Gaza could spread suddenly to Lebanon or Syria.”
debkafile‘s sources report that Egypt’s intelligence minister, Gen. Omar Suleiman, has given up on his efforts to broker a ceasefire in the Hamas-Fatah hostilities in Gaza after the collapse of five attempts. He has informed concerned contacts in Washington that he is at his wits’ end since the convoy carrying Palestinian Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and members of the Egyptian mission in Gaza was attacked Sunday, May 13, on its way to supervise a truce.
It turns out now that Egyptian general Aly Sharif, who was injured in the attack, did not just suffer a slight hand wound as reported, but was seriously hurt and hospitalized.
Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert grasped the full seriousness of the crisis facing the country when he visited missile-battered Sderot Thursday, May 17.
Israel is confronted across the Gazan border by an implacable enemy, who has determined that the only way to win its way to the top is to wage a mortal, suicidal war on two fronts: against Israel and the Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority which he heads.
Jabari and Abu Obeida have said out loud to Israel that their missile offensive will be intensified. And if Israeli ground forces enter the Gaza Strip, they will face full-scale combat and the unleashing of suicide bombers against civilian populations.
Hamas’ military chiefs are equally blunt with Washington. They have warned President Bush’s Palestinian security coordinator, General Keith Dayton, that his security plan and US assistance to Mahmoud Abbas’ forces in weapons, training and funds will be smashed to smithereens unless they are withdrawn.
They tell Cairo: Don’t interfere.
For Abbas, Jarah and Abu Obeida have a special message: Accept our terms or we will crush you and Palestinian Authority forces in Gaza.
debkafile‘s military sources report that Hamas is ready to fight to the last man for its goals, whereas the opposite sides – the IDF and Abbas’ Presidential Guard – are being held back for the moment by the hesitant Olmert and Abbas, even though time is not on their side. If they don’t act soon, it will be too late and Hamas will have prevailed.
These are the terms Hamas has dictated to Abbas:
1. Bring Hani Kawasmeh back into the Palestinian government. This friend of Hamas resigned as interior minister after being denied authority over a unified Palestinian security forces. Unification would entail firing the Fatah commander of the Preventive Security Service in Gaza, Rashid Abu Shbak, who is the mainstay of Abbas’ partner Mohammed Dahlan in the territory.
2. Reject the US security plan presented by secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.
3. Force the Americans, the Europeans and the Israelis to lift their economic and diplomatic boycott against the Hamas-led government forthwith. The arrangement whereby overseas and Israeli funds are funneled through a special bank account in which finance minister Salim Fayad is the sole signatory is unacceptable.
Jarah and Abu Obeida don’t need to spell this out, but both are fully capable of embarking on a targeted assassination campaign against the officials involved in this arrangement.
In sum, the two heads of Hamas’ military wing are determined to topple by force of arms and hundreds of Qassam missiles the Palestinian strategies pursued by the US, Europe, Saudi Arabia, the Middle East Quartet and Israel.
The two Hamas hardliners maintain that nothing is achieved in today’s world without spilling blood. Abbas, aka Abu Mazen understands the full scale of the peril. Although Washington is pressing him to let his presidential guard stand up to Hamas, he is holding them back for fear of plunging the Gaza Strip into a full-scale fraternal war.
His refusal confronts Israel with a serious dilemma.
If Abbas’ forces, in which the US has invested hundreds of millions of dollars and high hopes for a Palestinian future, were to go into battle, the IDF could strike Hamas from the rear to halt the missile offensive on its own account, without becoming a party to the factional conflict. But as long as Abu Mazen keeps his men on the sidelines, Israeli leaders are stuck with their second decision in 11 months about whether or not to go to war against an aggressor.
In the hope of luring Abbas’ men into battle against Hamas, the Israeli Air Force was ordered early Friday, May 18, to help the Palestinian Presidential Guard’s 4th Battalion guarding the Karni goods crossing from Israel by striking a Hamas unit poised to seize the border facility. This was the first time Israel stepped into the Hamas-Fatah conflict. If it fails to draw Abbas’ men into the fray, Israel could risk being forced to challenge the Hamas missile masterminds alone – and be unwillingly drawn into the factional dispute Abu Mazen’s behalf.
That is not the only dilemma facing Olmert.
If he holds the army back from a direct confrontation with Hamas, the missile offensive will develop into a war of attrition on Israel’s southwestern border. Hamas has threatened to expand its offensive to towns which are larger and more distant from Gaza’s borders than Sderot. If, on the other hand, Israel goes ahead and clobbers Hamas, it faces the multiple threats of renewed suicidal terror in its main cities and of Hizballah and Syria joining in to support Hamas.
It looks therefore as though the widely predicted Summer 2007War is already upon Israel – and it won’t be an easy one.

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