ISRAEL, HAMAS BOTH TRAPPED
By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff
June 26, 2006
Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz described
yesterday’s Palestinian attack on IDF positions near Kerem Shalom
as an "act of terror." But the incident on the Gaza border was more
of a guerrilla attack than a terror attack: A small, skilled force
managed to surprise high-level IDF troops, to kill two soldiers, to
kidnap another soldier and to sustain relatively few losses.
Taking into consideration the ease with which the Hamas and Popular
Resistance Committees members acted, it appears that they could
easily have also infiltrated the neighboring kibbutz and massacred
There were reports last night, after the cabinet meeting, about an
extensive air and ground operation that the IDF has received
permission to carry out. But the truth is that at this stage,
Israel is limited in how it can react. The top priority right now
is the return of the kidnapped soldier. The first 48 hours after
the abduction will be dedicated to intensive efforts to exert
pressure on the Palestinians, through every channel possible, in an
effort to force them to return Corporal Gilad Shalit.
Indeed last night Defense Minister Amir Peretz told Shalit’s father
that the primary consideration is to bring him home safely. The
United States and Egypt (whose security delegation is in Gaza) will
play a major role in these talks. They will need to explain to the
Palestinians that this time Israel is serious and that if the
soldier is not released, the IDF response will be far harsher than
in the past.
The Hamas military wing models itself after Hezbollah. Both
movements are known as "the opposition," and use similar tactics.
Just as Hezbollah kidnapped three IDF soldiers from Har Dov along
the northern border, after Israel‘s withdrawal from southern
Lebanon, Hamas has kidnapped a soldier from the Negev. Both have
the same reason: They seek to use the soldiers as bargaining chips
to win the freedom of Palestinian prisoners. But Shalit was also
meant to provide Hamas leaders with a kind of "insurance policy" in
the face of potential Israeli assassination attempts.
Now Hamas must consider whether yesterday’s attack, which many
Palestinians spoke about as having restored national pride, was a
mistake and whether the movement’s military wing – which
Palestinians think helped get rid of the IDF – will end up bringing
it back into Gaza.
Conversations last night with representatives of the Palestinian
factions involved in the attack reflected an effort to renounce
responsibility for the fate of the soldier, who may have become a
burden rather than an asset. No one understands this better than
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who kept silent
yesterday. The military wing has placed a bomb in his hands, almost
certainly without having consulted him beforehand.
If Shalit is not released immediately and if, heaven forbid, he
does not survive captivity, the Palestinians have two scenarios to
fear: a major IDF ground invasion of Gaza, and attacks on senior
Hamas officials. The fate of the Hamas government is now dependent
on the fate of the kidnapped soldier. Harming him is liable to
constitute a death sentence for the government and some of its
ministers. Hamas government spokesman Ghazi Hamed called on Israel
yesterday, in fluent Hebrew, almost in supplication, not to take
steps that would lead to escalation.
Hamed, who said he doesn’t know who the kidnappers are, knows who
is behind the kidnapping, even though he won’t admit it. They are
Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas’ political bureau in Damascus, and
Ahmed Jabari, leader of the movement’s military wing in Gaza.
Meshal and Jabari have pushed Haniyeh and his people into a corner.
The "Meshal exercise" also drew criticism from Fatah officials. In
talks with Hamas leaders yesterday, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas
accused Meshal of sabotaging the agreement that the Palestinian
factions were going to sign in regard to the prisoners’ national
unity document. Egyptian diplomats in Gaza, who tried in vain last
night to reach the Hamas military wing, realized that the person to
whom they actually must address their grievances is in Damascus.