Sunday, June 17, 2007



Hamas has taken control of Gaza. A fundamentalist Islamic entity now controls that southern border with Israel. Many Israeli newspapers and radio shows are referring to the new reality as “Hamastan” or “Gazastan.” According to retired General Doron Almog, this move was to be expected. Interviewed on Israel Radio, Gen. Almog, who was once in charge of the Southern Command, said that the exchanges between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority had to be resolved with either the PA or Hamas taking absolute control. It turned out that Hamas made the move successfully.

On Thursday Hamas sent in its forces to invade the PA offices, including that of PA President Mohamed Abbas. One of the leaders of the PA security forces was captured while fleeing Gaza with his family. He was dragged from his car beaten, called a ‘Heretic” several times and then riddled with 45 bullets.

Other Hamas activists went from one PA leaders home to another, arresting or killing whomever they caught. A masked Hamas man armed with an automatic rifle was photographed in the office of PA president Abbas, standing defiantly on his desk.

Hamas fighters also raided the home of the late PA chairman Yassir Arafat, looted it of valuables and trashed what was left. Similar scenes were reported in the homes of PA leaders who had managed to flee to Ramallah.

The corruption and inefficiency of the PA, which was reportedly responsible for the rise of Hamas, was also blamed for allowing the Hamas ‘coup’ to succeed. According to the Haaretz newspaper, the PA fighters in Gaza did not resist the Hamas “military coup.” Rather fled their offices or sat quietly in their homes until the rampage was over. An anonymous PA leader said the PA fighters knew their leaders had fled to the safety of Ramallah, or Europe, so saw no reason to risk their own lives when the PA hierarchy was not risking theirs.

Mohamed Dahalan, head of the PA security forces, was in Egypt recovering from surgery on two ankles, but returned to Ramallah on Thursday to meet with PA President Abbas. Dahlan, a favorite of the US and Israel, has be conveniently absent from Gaza during the troubles of recent days.

PA President Abbas officially dissolved the current Hamas government, and appointed Salam Fayad, who holds an American passport, as head of the new trim Emergency Government with an 11 member cabinet, devoid of Hamas members. The EU and others have said they would support the new government formed by President Abbas, but they would also continue paying salaries to Hamas related employees in Gaza.

Hamas spokesmen have called this a ‘coup’ by PA President Abbas, and deny the legitimacy of the new government. In a move to strengthen the PA position in the West Bank, PA security forces raided Hamas offices and arrested Hamas officials, including judges serving in the PA courts in the West Bank.

The PA has long been in control of the West Bank, with the help of the IDF, while Hamas has been strong in Gaza. Recently PA President Abbas was considering the possibility of new election for Prime Minister, a move which Hamas was adamantly against. Hamas feared that it would not have a majority in new elections, since many of the Gaza residents were disappointed with Hamas’ ability to govern Gaza, receive foreign aid, and bring peace to the city.

Israel’s military and political commentators believe that now, without the presence of a PA security force opposing them, Hamas may sweep through Gaza and neutralize the various armed gangs. This may result in the release the BBC hostage Alan Johnston, progress in the release of Gilad Shalit, and a long-term cease-fire of Qassam rockets into southern Israel.

This new Hamas control over Gaza comes after nearly a week of fierce fighting between the PA and Hamas which left over 90 people dead, hundreds wounded, and hospitals filled to overflowing. During one gruesome murder Hamas marched a handcuffed PA security forces leader up to the 18th floor of a Gaza high-rise and tossed him over the side.

Many in Hamas view the PA as ‘heretical’ since they are not Islamic fundamentalists. The new Hamas entity in Gaza is separate and distinct, as of now, from the West Bank and the PA.

According to David Horowitz, the editor of the Jerusalem Post, Israel supplies Gaza with seventy per cent of their electricity and much of the water. Can Israel now realistically decide to cut off the electricity and water to Gaza? This is the quandary in which Israel now finds itself. Israel Radio reports that Hamas leaders still declare their intention to never recognize the legitimacy of Israel, yet Israel now must keep the Hamas government in power by supplying Gaza with power and water.

The ‘coup’ by Hamas in Gaza precipitated the hurried appointment of former Prime Minister, Ehud Barak as Defense Minister to replace Amir Peretz. Barak served in previous governments as the Defense Minister, and Chief of Staff of the IDF. Barak will be sworn in on Monday, and immediately replace present Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

Barak defeated Ami Ayalon, his rival for the leadership of the Labor Party, in a run-off election held last Tuesday. As head of the Labor Party Barak is now in a position to dictate terms to Kadima’s leader PM Ehud Olmert, whom he has vowed to replace as Prime Minister.

Barak ran for Labor Party leadership on a ‘strong man’ campaign, billing himself as a military man who could deal with Israel’s enemies, the Qassam rockets, and Hamas. A report in Sunday’s Haaretz newspaper says that Barak is planning a massive invasion of Gaza to eliminate the Gaza threat.

Other political analysts think this is hollow talk. Israel, they say, is not interested in assuming responsibility for the welfare of one and a half million Palestinians in Gaza. Israel would much prefer a multi-national force to step in and deal with the crises, much as the UN did in southern Lebanon. However the same analysts admit that no Arab government will send troops to such a force, certainly not Egypt, which they say is more than slightly responsible for the problems in Gaza by allowing the free flow of weapons and ammunition to Hamas.

Hamas took over the “Philidelphi” route on Sunday, effectively taking control of the Gaza Egypt border from the Egyptians. Israeli military analysts find this quite disturbing, since larger weapons, anti-aircraft missiles and longer range rockets, will now flow wholesale over ground, not in dribs and drabs through tunnels in the sand. The Hamas arms buildup will only intensify in the coming days and weeks, they say.

Ehud Barak, according to an analysis in the Jerusalem Post, is positioning himself as the strong, silent, slightly mysterious Israeli incarnation of Charles DeGaulle, who was called back to power to deal with the crises of Algeria. Barak, they say, will act decisively, and harshly, with Hamas, appear to be the savoir of Israel, and be swept back into power as the Prime Minister. Barak has already warned PM Ehud Olmert that he will call for Olmert’s resignation as soon as the final Winograd commission’s findings are published. The findings are expected to be harshly critical of Olmert, the last of the triumvirate who ran the War in Lebanon II to still be in power.

Both former Chief of Staff of the IDF Dan Halutz, and out-going Defense Minister Amir Peretz have resigned. Olmert, considered an astute politician, has so far refused to step down from the prime minister’s seat, claiming that he did nothing wrong, and that Israel in fact won the War in Lebanon II. Recently former Defense Minister and Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz said he told the Winograd commission that his advice was ignored during the war, and he wasn’t even invited to crucial meetings.

Meanwhile, two Katyusha rockets fell on Kyriat Shmona on Sunday, causing no injuries or damage. Reportedly five rockets were fired but three fell in Lebanon, some near UNIFIL positions. Lebanese police sources believe the rockets were fired by Palestinians not Hezbollah. This was the first rocket attack from Lebanon since the war ended last summer.

Analysts believe this heating up of the northern border with Lebanon is meant to relieve the pressure on Hamas in the South. It is unclear if Israel will respond to these attacks in the north, and if they do with what force. Kiryat Shmona was hard-hit during the 34-day Second Lebanon War, during which Hezbollah fired some 4,000 Katyusha rockets at towns and cities across northern Israel.

Some columnists point out that Ehud Barak was reared on strategic strikes against enemy targets, not wholesale bombardments. Barak, they say, is more the type to have a sniper draw a bead on the foreheads of Hamas leader Khalid Mashal, who sits in Syria, and Sheik Nasrallah, in Lebanon, than to launch a full scale offensive.

Barak is scheduled to take control of the Defense Ministry on Monday. With Hamas consolidating their power in Gaza, and the Palestinians reportedly firing at Israel from Lebanon, most likely with the active assistance from Hezbollah, Barak will have his work cut out for him. As much as U.S. President George Bush, and U.S. Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice would like to support PA President Mohamed Abbas, some pundits believe this is just more American wishful thinking. Abbas, they say, is a weak leader who let Gaza slip through his fingers, and can do nothing to regain it. Some pundits believe that the best Israel can hope for now, is to neutralize the threat in the South, and in the North, before Al Queda and Iran decide Israel is too weakened to defend itself and launch an intelligent, well-thought out multi-front attack whose goal is to establish an Islamic state stretching from Gaza to Syria, and probably beyond.