The escalating Palestinian violence from the Gaza Strip is the direct result of the Damascus-based Khaled Meshaal's victory in his power struggle with the Gaza wing's leadership. Today, this hardliner is in complete control of all wings of the fundamentalist Palestinian movement. Dec. 13, he celebrated the 23rd anniversary of Hamas's foundation by reiterating the Palestinian goal which is to seize all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. His signature is clearly marked in the escalating missile, mortar and raiding attacks, murderous kidnapping operations inside Israel and the deadlocked negotiations for liberating the Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit in a prisoner swap.
Under his orders, Hamas-Gaza has itself taken over the missile, mortar and raiding attacks on Israel from the fringe groups like Jihad Islami and Al Qaeda-linked cells heretofore. When they land on empty ground it is deliberate; of late Hamas has taken delivery of guidance instruments to improve and they can hit targets with much greater precision than ever before. The 10-mortar barrages of Monday, Dec. 20, marking a change in tactics, aimed straight for a military target in the Eshkol district abutting on the Gaza Strip; only by a miracle was no one hurt. This brought the the Israeli Air Force to spread out Monday night and attack seven locations in the Gaza Strip. Because most were unmanned, only three Hamas operatives were injured, one critically.
Then, early Tuesday, a Qassam missile came dangerously close to a kibbutz nursery school in the Hof Ashkelon area north of Gaza Strip, injuring a small girl and an adult and leaving shock victims.
By then it was obvious that Hamas was gearing up for a showdown. Still, up until Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak persisted in holding the IDF back. By refraining from exercising its deterrent strength, Israel handed let Hamas dictate the the pace of confrontation.
Even when the Palestinian terrorists moved into their next arena over the weekend, they were treated with kid gloves.
The two "Arabs" who murdered the American tourist Christine Luken (correcting the misnomer in the first official announcements) and stabbed her companion, Kaye Wilson, Saturday, Dec. 18 near Mata in the Jerusalem hills, were in fact a Hamas kidnap gang. They planned to abduct the two women, smuggle them to the Gaza Strip possibly through the long Sinai border, and hold them hostage. When Wilson managed to get away, they decided to murder their captive and escape the scene ahead of pursuit.
Israeli police commanders, after hearing a full, detailed firsthand report on the incident, refused to call it flat out an act of terrorism, although Wilson had a dozen stab wounds and had reached her rescuers with her hands bound behind her back. Instead, police officers spoke vaguely about exploring different paths of inquiry and cast implicit aspersions on her testimony.
Getting away with this crime encouraged Hamas to redouble its efforts, possibly with the same kidnap team already operating in the vicinity of Jerusalem and using the same tactics. Monday, Dec. 20, saw not only a 10-mortar barrage from the Gaza Strip, but three Palestinians armed with long knives trying to assault an Israeli soldier at Givat Zeev. They fled when he cocked his sidearm.
The soldier took care not to shoot and injure any of his assailants – which would have netted Israeli anti-terrorist authorities a valuable asset for interrogation – because he was afraid of sharing the fate faced by some of his comrades – court martial and trial by the media for responding to an attack with "disproportionate force."
He knew what he was doing: The police spent more time casting doubt on his account – "it is being checked" – than catching the would-be kidnappers.
They remain at large for more murderous abductions of Israelis. Their handlers will have understood that they can safely press ahead with their efforts to snatch Israeli soldiers who are afraid to shoot – especially after Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai told a radio interviewer Tuesday morning that he saw no sign of a Hamas "war of attrition" developing against Israel.
Khaled Meshaal's takeover of Hamas Gaza gravely prejudices Gilead Shalit's hopes of deliverance more than four years after he was kidnapped in a Palestinian cross-border raid outside the Gaza Strip.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Gaza's ideologue and virtual foreign minister Mahmoud A-zahar have been elbowed aside by Meshaal's cronies, interior minister Fathi Hamad and Ezz e-din al-Qassam commander Ahmed al-Jabary. That action wound down the controversy within the Hamas leadership over whether to accept a prisoner swap deal with Israel for Gilead Shalit's freedom.
From the first, Meshaal fought against letting the Israeli soldier go – even if all 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails were to be offered. For him, Shalit is an irreplaceable asset for enhancing his international prestige by bringing world leaders to his door to plead for the Israeli soldier's release. By this means, Hamas gains international legitimacy and recognition as a force to be reckoned with in the region rather than a bunch of rabid terrorists.
Hamas' military commander, Jabari, holds the Israeli soldier locked away from all contact with the outside world in an underground cell as an insurance policy against any Israeli attempts to liquidate him. He has sent backdoor message to Israel that Shalit's jailors are under orders to respond to his untimely death by killing their Israeli captive.
These brutal facts have clearly not been brought home to Gilead's desperate parents who have vowed to remain in a tent opposite Prime Minister Netanyahu's residence and not go home until they can take their son with them. They are protesting what they call the government's lack of courage and determination to obtain his release, when in fact they are dealing with a government which is in paralyzing denial of the escalating threats posed by Hamas.