Recapture of the Philadelphi Route Is Proposed to stop the Hamas Horror Show from Moving forward

More and more Israeli commentators are frankly admitting that Israel’s pull-out from Gaza in the summer of 2005 was an open invitation to the forces of radical Islam to set up house in the defenseless territory. Now, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, foreign minister Tzipi Livni and the rest of their Kadima party who presided over that withdrawal are building new castles in the sky to vindicate that error.
Hamas has not triumphed, they say, but offered Israel the chance of a fresh start to separate Gaza, a mere “terrorist entity,” from the West Bank. There, a Hamas-free regime led by Abbas is a fit partner for peace diplomacy.
With this fallacious thesis, Olmert is on his way to a three-day visit to the United States including talks with President George W. Bush as the White House Tuesday, June 17.
It was this thinking that led him to heed the advice, which debkafile‘s military sources report came from chief of staff Lt. Gen Gaby Ashkenazi – and was opposed by the OC Southern Command Brig. Gen Yoav Galant – to refrain from interfering in the Hamas takeover. His predecessor, Dan Halutz, likewise played down the Hizballah threat from Lebanon until it was too late.
Rather than getting to grips with the Gaza crisis, Olmert shored up his cabinet and political strength by designating the newly-elected Labor leader Ehud Barak defense minister to mind the store in his absence. The onus is now on the new minister, a former prime minister, to come up with an ingenious remedy for restoring Israel’s security initiative and deterrence, however belatedly.
A former Israeli national security adviser Gen (ret.) Giora Eiland argues now that the influx of tons of smuggled weapons and explosives into Gaza Strip must be halted at any price. There is a real danger of Hamas importing reinforcements from Syria and Lebanon for its next offensive. Egypt will, as usual, stand aside.
Eiland was the only defense official at the time to oppose disengagement as a recipe for bringing Iran and al Qaeda to Israel’s borders. Having been proved correct, he now proposes to limit the damage by recapturing the Philadelphi route and the southern outskirts of Palestinian Rafah, flatten the houses there and evict 15,000-20,000 people.
Gaza must be cut off from Israel to block Hamas and its Iranian and Syrian sponsors’ path to a second victory on the West Bank.
The cutoff would apply to humanitarian aid. Let the Arab world deal this time with Gaza’s distress and pump aid to the Rafah crossing via Egypt.
Eiland allows for an international outcry, argues Israel is left with no choice at this late date but to break some eggs. This option would give Israel the chance to start combating Hamas at a point from which the IDF enjoys a position of strength. The Philadelphi route offers that point.
Olmert is meanwhile pursuing other plans.
One is for an international force to police Gaza’s Philadelphi border route with. Egypt must play its part by halting arms smuggling. This is a non-starter. No sane government would expose its soldiers to the unbridled violence in the Gaza Strip, even if Hamas agreed. And Egypt has never lifted a finger to stop arms smuggling through Sinai and is not about to change its spots.
Still, Olmert will discuss this and other knee-jerk remedies with President Bush, including the tightening of the financial squeeze by Western powers and Arab governments on Hamas and placing Gaza under siege. Olmert can expect a sympathetic hearing from a president who is grappling with his own reverses in Iraq and now in Lebanon. He will no doubt follow Washington’s lead in releasing frozen funds withheld from the Hamas-led Palestinian government in the past to Abbas and his No. 2, Mohammed Dahlan, who made sure of arriving in Ramallah only after the Gaza debacle was over.
But that does not mean the makeshift strategy Olmert & Co. have cooked up can be made to work any better than their previous, largely passive, policies.
debkafile‘s Middle East analysts point to six fallacies in their thinking:
1. Hamas is not short of cash. The people of Gaza are in deep distress because that cash is not spent on feeding them or creating jobs but on the tools of war for Hamas’ Executive Force. The Islamist group is subsidized by Iran, Damascus and other Arab and Muslim states. Suitcases full of banknotes pass through the Rafah crossing. The Islamist lords of Gaza will no more be starved into submission than Iran is cowed by sanctions to give up its nuclear ambitions (another item on Olmert’s White House agenda).
Hamas’ masked gunmen can be seen every day smartly outfitted in clean black uniforms, brandishing new weapons with no shortage of ammunition and carrying personal gear in top condition. These sinister fighters are professional and disciplined. None look underfed.
2. Pouring US and Israeli hopes and investments into the Abbas-Dahlan outfit ended in disaster in Gaza. The Fatah-forces built and trained under the supervision of an American general were utterly humiliated in Gaza. Any hope of their coming up to scratch in a second round on the West Bank, which is bound to follow, is a pipe dream.
3. Not only Iran and Syria, but six Arab governments, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, refuse to cut their ties with the Hamas regime or hold back funds. So forget about an Arab boycott of Hamas. Forget also about a siege; it never works.
For Abbas, the unkindest cut of all was Qatar’s announcement at the Arab League foreign ministers’ meeting in Cairo Friday, that it would not recognize the emergency government Mahmoud Abbas is installing in Ramallah with Salim Fayyad at its head. Abbas’ main base of residence and personal business is located in Doha.
The Arab League’s resolution carried Friday contained another painful barb: The Palestinians were called on to respect the legitimacy of Abbas’ leadership but also of the Legislative Council where Hamas holds a majority. This cut the ground from under Abbas’ emergency administration. To gain legitimacy and Arab recognition, Ismail Haniyeh’s Gaza government needs only to wield its majority in the Legislative Council.
4. The premise that Fatah forces are strong on the West Bank compared with their weakness in Gaza is another illusion floated to corroborate Olmert’s reading of the Palestinian crisis. After losing the Gaza Strip, masked Fatah gunmen seized several hundred Hamas officials and stormed Hamas-controlled parliament, government and local council premises across the West Bank. But they do not have the popular leverage for purging Hamas’ influence in the key West Bank towns of Greater Nablus, Tulkarm, Qaiqilya, Ramallah, Hebron and East Jerusalem. There, Hamas is not only popular, but works hand in glove with radical factions of Abbas’ own Fatah al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, who like Hamas are in the pay of Iran, Syria and Hizballah.
One Israeli parliamentarian said Abbas had been reduced to being “mayor of Ramallah.”
5. Neither Hamas nor its generous sponsors in Tehran and Damascus intend to stop at the Gazan border. When the moment is opportune, they will go for the West Bank too and unite both under fundamentalist Islamic rule which will then be armed for its next target, Israel.
6. Mahmoud Abbas faces criticism in his own party for spurning hardline Hamas politburo leader Khaled Meshaal’s overtures. The influential terrorist lifer, Marwan Barghouti, and the former Preventive Intelligence chief, Jibril Rajoub, urge him to reach an understanding with Hamas leaders in Gaza and Damascus.
Abbas was never one for a clear course of action and is therefore unpredictable. But both he and his Hamas rival Meshaal seem to be saying in the last 24 hours that a straight divorce of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank is undesirable. Therefore some give and take is on the cards.
By the time the Israeli prime minister reaches the White House, therefore, he may have been overtaken by events and the separation of Palestinian territories he hailed as a fresh start may have evaporated as a working hypothesis.

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