Too Late for Talks with a Hamas Bent on Helping Iran Build Gaza into an Anti-US Anti-Israel Base

As the Hamas-led multiple missile offensive against Israel marked its first week, voices were heard in Israel and overseas, well-meaning or despairing, calling for Israel to start talks with the Palestinian Islamist group’s leaders.
Hamas soon knocked that notion on the head. After hurling some 150 missiles against Israel, one of its officials, Nizhar Riyah, issued a clear statement of intent Monday, May 21:
“Hamas is determined to wipe Israel off the map and replace it with the state of Palestine,” he said. Hamas will fight “until the last Jew is expelled” – not only from Sderot but also from Ashkelon and “all of Palestine.”
In February 2006, Hamas beat Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah in the Palestinian general elections, which the incoming Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni, against every Israeli security interest, allowed to take place.
Ret. Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland, then head of Israel’s national security council, strongly advised them to make the best of a bad job and engage the new Palestinian leaders in talks. This recommendation was emphatically reported by debkafile‘s analysts just days after the election. But it was turned down by leaders who preferred to follow advice from Washington.
Just as US State Department urged Israel to permit an election which gave Hamas its victory, officials at State also had a plan to deal with its unfortunate aftermath: a campaign spearheaded by the US and Israel, and adopted by the Middle East Quartet, to boost the Palestinian loser, Fatah and its leader Mahmoud Abbas, and boycott the winning Hamas.
It was soon clear they had backed the losing horse – and still are.
In the intervening 15 months, Hamas was not idle. Instead of breaking down under international pressure, Hamas went from strength to strength, taking advantage of Israel’s indecision and inaction and the ineffectiveness of Abu Mazen and his sidekick Mohammed Dahlan.
The Palestinian fundamentalists quickly jumped aboard the Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah bandwagon. That bandwagon is now racing ahead in the Middle East arena, leaving Israel behind with the United States and its crises.
In these circumstances, and after the Lebanon War less than a year ago, Israel must on no account turn to Hamas for talks, because the only agenda on offer now would be terms for Jewish state’s capitulation and demise.
The outcome would reflect the consequences of Washington’s two years of talks with Iraqi Sunni insurgent leaders, brokered by dozens of Arab and Muslim mediators, including Jordan’s King Hussein. The result has been the exacerbation of terror in Iraq.
For Hamas, diplomacy would serve only as a respite to gear up for more aggression. Saudi King Abdullah tried his hand in Mecca earlier this year. Once again, Washington and Jerusalem were deluded into believing the Saudi royal hand could tame Hamas and persuade its leaders to share power with Fatah in a unity government.
Instead, the group was strengthened in its radicalism; three months later it has embarked on its current 20-missile-a-day offensive against Israel. Day by day, Hamas spokesmen say the blitz of the western Negev is only the first step in its open-ended war for the final goal of destroying Israel.
Olmert told his second cabinet meeting on Gaza Sunday, May 20: “We will not let Hamas dictate our time table.”
But that is exactly what he has done in all his sixteen months in the prime minister’s office.
Israel exercises less control than ever before over the time table now that a disastrous factor has entered the equation.
Hamas’s blitz against Israel is part and parcel of a savage offensive to destroy the Palestinian Authority and oust Mahmoud Abbas, which is aligned with Tehran’s overall strategy for anticipating two prospective events in 2007 and 2008:
One is the beginning of the withdrawal of the bulk of the US army from Iraq. The other is the possibility, though not certainty, of an American military strike against Iran’s nuclear installations and strategic infrastructure.
To prepare for the two eventualities, Tehran is building a military and logistical base in the Gaza Strip. Combined with Hizballah’s support structures in Lebanon, the Gaza base will comprise not only a threat to Israel, but also to US bases in Israel and Jordan and the American and European fleets present in the eastern Mediterranean.
Israel’s failure in the Lebanon War last year gave Iran an easy victory and a free hand for upgrading its military strength in Lebanon. Tehran is after the same effect in Gaza.
In the face of this looming juggernaut, the Olmert government would be courting disaster by entering into bargaining mode with Hamas – especially in the absence of any realistic strategy for repelling it.
The Olmert-Livni policy, joined by defense minister Amir Peretz, has consisted until now of lurching from crisis to crisis and applying patches for makeshift repairs. This path left Israel groping among hard options:
On the one hand, they have held back from ordering an effective military operation against Hamas – and not only because of the brakes applied by Washington. After the Lebanon fiasco, the trio is afraid the IDF is not up to delivering the goods, naturally preferring to make the army accountable for that conflict’s shortcomings rather than their own faulty leadership.
On the other hand, Olmert has obstinately held back from diplomacy with Hamas. Therefore, if anyone has maneuvered Israel into its present tight corner, it is not Iran or Hamas, but his misguided policies.
In these circumstances, Israel has three available courses of action:
1. To embark on full-scale war in the Gaza Strip, turning the tide of the Lebanon setback and seriously impairing Iran’s plans for exploiting the territory.
2. Carry on as before, that is dithering while the missiles rain down from Gaza – and not only against Sderot and its neighbors, but also strategic Israel towns which the improved Qassam missiles can reach. The air force will continue to execute pinpoint reprisals including targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders. Not all will hit their mark, like the attack on the Gaza home of key Hamas spiritual and strategic leader, Khalil al-Yahya, Sunday night.
3. Do nothing and wait for the American attack on Iran while the situation deteriorates, in the hope of some outside force stepping in and taking the job out of Israel’s hands.
All three options are obviously unhealthy for Israel. But not much is left for a government which is too muddled to see its way to clear and logical action in the real Middle East arena.

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