Israel and Hamas near a Spring war

After nearly two months of rising tension, Israel and Hamas have taken a step towards a full-blown military confrontation: Before dawn Saturday, April 2, an Israeli air strike killed three senior Hamas Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades gunmen in the Gaza Strip in an operation described by an Israeli army spokesman as pre-empting a major Palestinian terror-cum-kidnap campaign scheduled for Passover. A fourth Palestinian was seriously injured by the airborne missile which struck their car between Khan Younes and Deir el Balakh.

The Hamas Brigades warned Israel its "dangerous escalation" would have "consequences."

debkafile's military and intelligence sources predict that the war confrontation which Saturday brought closer to realization will be unlike any previous Israel-Palestinian showdowns in the sense that it will be less the product of the old Middle East order and fall more under the influence of the radical elements rising out of the current Arab unrest, especially in Cairo, amid the decline of Western influence. Hamas may also resort to jihad against  "the Israeli enemy" as a distraction from the rising disaffection of the Gazan population against its increasingly repressive methods of enforcing ever stricter Islamic decrees.

Saturday, after nearly two months of heightened Palestinian terrorist activity and low-key Israeli reprisals, both sides dropped their long pretense of seeking calm.

Ever since the massacre of five members of an Israeli family at Itamar on Feb. 11, Israeli government leaders have tried to sell the line that Hamas was not really seeking to raise the level of violence. They continued to play down Hamas' motives through a 50-round mortar barrage in a single day (March 19) on Israeli civilian locations abutting the Gaza Strip, several Grad missiles fired at the towns  Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheba and Netivot and a bombing attack in Jerusalem on March 23, which killed a tourist and injured 65 after two relatively terror-free years.

In between major attacks, the Palestinians have maintained up until the present a steady trickle of Qassam and mortar fire against Israeli civilians.
While intensifying its attacks, Hamas picked up the convenient Israeli mantra which claimed that the terrorist-rulers of Gaza wanted nothing but a ceasefire which would also embrace all the smaller terrorist organizations taking part on the shooting as well.

The Israeli army statement after the pre-dawn air strike over Gaza Saturday abruptly broke that pose by exposing Hamas's true intentions for the first time. He admitted that the Palestinian radicals had set up a major murder-cum-kidnap campaign for striking terror across the Green Line and favorite Israeli vacationing spots in Sinai, to be launched during the eight-day Passover holiday April 18-28,
debkafile's counter-terror sources add that the three gunmen killed were only one tentacle of the network Hamas has put in place in Sinai, Jordan and on both sides of the Israel-West Bank border.

During the months that Israeli military leaders insisted that Hamas did not seek escalation, special Palestinian military wing squads were undergoing extensive training in methods of abduction so as to add more Israeli captives to Gilead Shalit, the Israeli soldier snatched in 2006 and held since in inhuman conditions.
The difference between the present and past conflicts is that Hamas is now drawing encouragement not just from Tehran but also from the new Egyptian regime. If the head of the military council Field Marshall Mohammed Tantawi wanted to, he could put a stop to Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elarabi's active policy of rapprochement with Tehran and reconciliation with Hamas leaders in Damascus and Gaza.

See debkafile's March 19 article (Hamas wins Cairo's recognition)  

It is Elaraby's ambition to transfer Hamas's political center headed by Khaled Meshaal from Damascus to Cairo, lift the Egyptian embargo against Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip for the free movement of people and goods and transform the enclave into Egypt's launching pad for an anti-Israeli policy harking back to the hostility predating the epic peace relations President Anwar Sadat forged with Israel in 1979.

The new rulers are also distancing themselves from the close alliance the deposed Hosni Mubarak maintained with Saudi Arabia. While Riyadh fights Iranian-backed insurgents in Bahrain and slams the door on further encroachments in the Arab world, Cairo is opening it wide to give the Islamic Republic a foothold both in Cairo and in Gaza. Hamas is encouraged to spread its sphere of aggression from the half million Israeli civilians within missile range to far broader regions.
When US Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Cairo on March 24, he tried to warn the military rulers that their indulgence of Hamas was bound to end badly in an Israeli military campaign to cut short its belligerent behavior. But three days later, when he was in Israel, he had to admit to his hosts that his warning fell on deaf ears.


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