Israel’s Reluctant Journey from Hostage Crisis to War Confrontation in Gaza

The ball landed squarely in the Israeli court Saturday night, July 1, after Cairo admitted its bid to negotiate an end to the Gideon Shalit hostage crisis had ended in fiasco six days after his capture. The IDF, whose armored forces are standing 3 km inside the southern Gaza Strip since Wednesday, June 28, and camped on the fringes of its northern sector, are awaiting their next orders. It is up to prime minister Ehud Olmert to tell the troops how to complete their incursion of the territory and approach their confrontation with Hamas.
He is holding emergency conferences with security and military chiefs Saturday night on whether to approach the inevitable clash at once, or in stages; incrementally, or by a blitz operation entailing the reoccupation of all or most of the Gaza Strip.
Casualties on both sides are unavoidable.
Hamas is gearing up for action. Seven Fatah-al Aqsa Brigades factions have rallied to Hamas and are pledged to fight – not with RPGs or roadside bombs but by hurling themselves bodily against incoming Israeli tanks as martyrs.
The signal for war came Saturday night from Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas. He was urged by the Egyptians to state that diplomacy had run out of steam in the absence of a Hamas partner for dialogue on the fate of Gideon Shalit.
debkafile‘s sources disclose that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his aides derailed their own mediation effort out of hubris, while Mahmoud Abbas is picking up the pieces in the hope of maneuvering Israel into doing his dirty work and toppling the Hamas regime.
In an interview Friday, June 30, to the Cairo daily al Ahram, Hosni Mubarak boasted he had brokered a deal with Hamas leaders on terms for the Israeli hostage’s release, but accused Israel of rejecting them. This was the reverse of the real situation. Mubarak had no clearance from Hamas before he went public, but Olmert was willing to listen. Egypt’s intelligence chief Omar Suleiman was supposed to travel to Jerusalem Saturday, July 1, to present the deal in detail.
debkafile disclosed those terms that same day:
1. Gilead Shalit will be freed and handed to the IDF.
2. Israel will then pull its troops back from the Gaza Strip.
3. The 87 Hamas leaders Israel detained on the West Bank last Thursday, June 29, will be released.
4. Olmert will give Mubarak his personal guarantee to free groups of Palestinian prisoners at a suitable future opportunity as a gesture of goodwill.
After reading Mubarak’s al Ahram interview, Hamas leaders in Damascus and Gaza blew up. The Damascus-based Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, ordered the special emissary he sent to Cairo last week (as reported earlier by debkafile) to notify the Egyptian president that Hamas utterly disowns his proposals for a hostage deal.
The Israeli corporal’s captors, a coalition of three terrorist groups, thereupon posted their new demand for the release of another 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, on top of the 450 demanded earlier. There was no offer to free Gilead Shalit. This reverse thoroughly confused the situation as presented in the media.
Olmert and Mubarak then found out from their intelligence agencies that Hamas had not let the grass grow under its feet. Taking advantage of the time gained by the hold-up in Israel’s advance into Gaza and Egypt’s mediation bid, Hamas used last week to recruit the seven armed Fatah suicide squads in the Gaza Strip and build a new alliance called “The National General Command of Asifa Palestine.”
The new grouping passed two resolutions.
1. Its members no longer recognize Mahmoud Abbas’s authority.
2. A concerted effort by all the allied factions will be mounted to fight Israeli forces if they deepen their incursion of the Gaza Strip.
Saturday night, July 1, the NGCAP announced its principle weapon would be suicide fighters. Israel military sources believe Fatah will have no difficulty in rounding up large numbers of recruits for a mass suicide assault.
In an effort to save his face, the Egyptian president made Abbas publicly state that night that the failure of Cairo’s mediation bid to free the Israeli hostage was not the fault of Egypt or Israel, but the lack of a responsible Hamas party to address.
debkafile‘s Palestinian sources report that Abu Mazen has calculated cynically that Olmert is in a fix: he can hardly keep on dragging out Operation Summer Rain any longer, and he will end up destroying the Hamas government on behalf of the Palestinian leader. This will not of course prevent Abbas from calling on the world to intervene and rescue the innocent Palestinian people from the Israeli armed forces.
Our political sources note that Israel’s leaders fell into the disastrous error of putting their trust in the Egyptian ruler instead of entrusting the IDF with a swift, comprehensive offensive to vanquish Hamas. The result of their dilly-dallying is that Israel is being dragged against its will into a far broader and more costly conflict whose outcome is incalculable against an enemy which has used the time gained to prepare for the fray.
Saturday too the Lebanese Hizballah placed its forces on the ready. Hassan Nasrallah, the terrorist group’s leader, explained that when the IDF attacks Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian organizations in Lebanon will be set loose against Israel’s northern border.

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