Steps before All-out War

Palestinian missile, mortar, rocket and shooting attacks on Israeli targets on both sides of the Gaza Strip border went into their third day Friday, May 20, placing the already leaky partial truce in terminal jeopardy. Instead of dying down, the violence is building up as the August date nears for Israel’s pullout from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank. It brings to mind the solemn pledge offered by prime minister Ariel Sharon that the withdrawal would not take place under fire. If the violence persists therefore it will bankrupt the political and security concepts actuating the unilateral withdrawal.
Neither Sharon nor defense minister Shaul Mofaz appears to know how to proceed in the light of this turn of events.
Palestinian security forces are sitting on their hands. Their police officers watch the violations from afar, ignoring complaints by Israeli officers on the spot. No dialogue with the Palestinians is possible. Ramallah has emptied out. Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas has made himself scarce junketing in the Far East and making sure the Israeli prime minister’s office cannot reach him. Furthermore, he has taken with him his entire team of close aides. Not a single competent official was left in Ramallah for contingencies.
When Sharon’s adviser Dov Weisglass demanded a meeting with a competent Palestinian official to complain about the truce violations, no one was willing to meet him but Said Erekat, whose relevance is nil since the death of Yasser Arafat. Mohammed Dahlan, civic affairs minister and Jibril Rajoub, national security adviser, decided to be unavailable so as not to reveal how little standing they and their boss, Abu Mazen, have with the Gaza Strip’s gunmen.
To avoid what the US state department spokesman this week called “escalatory action,” Sharon declares Israel will not stand for any more attacks. But in the same breath, he and his spokesmen insist the IDF will continue to uphold the tattered ceasefire. That is why Israel’s single significant military action in the current crisis failed to deter further Palestinian attacks.
Early Wednesday, May 18, a Hamas operative taking part in the string of shooting and rocket attacks on Israeli positions on the Philadelphi border, was killed when some explosive device detonated in his hands. The Palestinians responded with a heavy mortar and missile barrage across the Gaza Strip. They explained it was necessary to avenge the Hamas operative’s death by striking Israeli targets regardless of who was responsible. In other words, Israel is held guilty for any Palestinian death – even if self-inflicted in the course of a truce violation. Fighting back would count as an Israel violation of the ceasefire. This logic is familiar from classical anti-Semitic scapegoat ideology. The Palestinian version attaches blanket guilt to the Jewish state per se.
Later that day, as the shooting escalated, Israel finally reacted with its first aerial strike in many months. An IDF drone pinpointed a Hamas crew preparing to launch a Qassam missile against Neve Dekalim from the Khan Younes cemetery in the southern Gaza Strip. The drone operator asked for permission to activate the drone and foil the launch. To his surprise, he received an okay. He immediately pushed the button and blew up the launcher, the missile and the firing mechanism. One Palestinian crewman was critically injured.
debkafile‘s military sources note that in this single counter-attack, Israel revealed for the first time an unmanned aerial drone equipped not just for surveillance but as a precision weapon capable of knocking out stationary and moving targets with minimal collateral damage. Similar armed drones, Predators, are known to have been fired three times before by the Americans in Afghanistan, Yemen and, on May 8, to kill the wanted al Qaeda operative Haitham al-Yemeni in near the North Waziristan town of Mir Ali.
The Israeli government decided to expose the deadly drone hoping it would serve as a deterrent to more Palestinian attacks. The deterrence did not work because the Sharon government made it clear that there would be no follow-up since Israel was committed to a policy of restraint.
This left the Palestinians free to strike again.
Friday morning, May 20, a band of Hamas, Fatah-al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Popular Committees gunmen perched on an UNWRA school building in Deir al Balah in the Gaza Strip and opened up on Kfar Darom and the attached military camp with mortars, shells and anti-tank weapons. Their plan was to emulate Iraqi al Qaeda terror tactics and follow up with an invasion of the village for a bloodbath. Miraculously, no one was hurt although village buildings were damaged. The IDF made do with firing a single tank shell to stop the attack, killing one cell member and injuring a second.
The cell’s composition most tellingly refuted Mofaz’s assertion that the Hamas driven by its difficulties with the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the three days of attacks.
In the last two months, debkafile has reported the failure of Abbas and his government to wrest control of the Gaza Strip and the main cities of the West Bank from a defiant coalition of Fatah factions, the al Aqsa Brigades, Hamas, Jihad Islami and the Palestinian Fronts. The most urgent question now is this: Is the revolt genuine? Or has Abbas cut an underhand deal with Palestinian terrorist chiefs permitting them to wage war against Israel at will while allowing him to conduct Palestinian “foreign policy” in a way that brings them international sympathy, plentiful funds for their war chest, and world backing for extorting from Israel one concession after another with nothing in return. Such a deal would strongly reflect the late Arafat’s strategy in more subtle form.
Abu Mazen’s White House talks next week should provide some clues to this vital question. Presumption of a common strategy would be unavoidable if the Palestinians held their fire during the three days leading up to the visit. It would indicate that the terrorists had been given an interest in Abbas’ success in Washington. His backing for Hamas is in any case a giveaway.
Less than three months before the scheduled withdrawals, the persistence of Palestinian violence leaves the Israeli prime minister clutching at thin air. He knows that Israel military action to halt the Palestinian fire will be frowned on in Washington – or worse. Yet he sees those withdrawals being sucked into a maelstrom he cannot control. To cover their predicament Sharon and Mofaz maintain that there are two Palestinian Authorities, the second governed by Hamas.
Abbas has demonstrated that this distinction is fictitious. He takes every chance to stress the importance of bringing the radical Islamists into Palestinian mainstream politics, meaning running for election and power-sharing in the next government. He refuses adamantly to dismantle the terrorist frameworks or collect the arms stockpiled by Hamas or any other Palestinian terrorists. He hints that one day Hamas will transform itself from a terrorist organization to a political movement.
Abu Mazen’s statements might be convincing were it not for a small fact that he is at pains to conceal. Israeli military intelligence – AMAN, and the Shin Beit have solid evidence that armed Palestinian groups are in a hectic race to achieve a goal quite difference from a peaceful entry into politics; they are working flat out to prepare a fresh terror offensive against Israel, eager to apply the guerilla tactics they are studying in Iraq. They showed their paces and intent in Friday’s attempted raid of Kfar Darom.
But since he is only days away from his and Abu Mazen’s trips to Washington, Sharon has let his hands be tied.

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