Monday, December 31, 2007

You Heard It Here First

The stalemate continues between the 900 Moslem pilgrims returning from the Haj in Saudi Arabia to Gaza and the Egyptian troops who have prevented their crossing through an Egyptian checkpoint to get back to Gaza. The Egyptians demand that the pilgrims go through an Israeli checkpoint.

The pilgrims include at least 10 well-known figures from the radical Islamic group Hamas - including Khalil al-Haya, a leader of the group - who fear Israel will arrest them if they cross through Kerem Shalom.

Israel, in turn, fears that if the pilgrims are allowed to return to Gaza through Rafah Hamas militants might get through and sympathizers could smuggle cash or weapons to Hamas in Gaza.

Israel Television’s Channel One’s Arab affairs reporter said on Sunday night that this was a move by Egypt to curry favor with the U.S. administration on the eve of U.S. President Bush’s visit to the region. He predicted that as much as the Israelis disliked the idea, they’d allow the pilgrims unfettered access to Gaza to keep the peace with Egypt.

Recently, Egypt has come under harsh criticism from the Israeli government that claim Egypt has turned a blind eye to smuggling of weapons, ammunition and contraband into Gaza.

In October, the Haaretz newspaper published a report stating that Israel is becoming increasingly worried that Egypt will allow more Palestinian terrorists to enter the Gaza Strip through the Egyptian-Sinai border.

In that report, Haaretz claimed the government and defense establishment were concerned over the closer ties Egypt and the Hamas government were forging in the Strip.

The paper also reported that an Israeli government and defense delegation to Cairo protested Egypt's allowing gunmen to enter the Strip from Egyptian territory. According to informed sources, in October Egypt allowed about 85 Hamas militants to enter the Gaza Strip from Sinai after a wait of a few months. The group was said to include experts in manufacturing bombs, rockets and mortars, who had undergone extensive training in Iran and Lebanon.

According to other sources, Israel continues to gather intelligence on smuggling from Sinai to the Gaza Strip. The IDF recently released information that 1,650 RPG rockets and some 6,000 bombs have been smuggled into Gaza since the beginning of the year. Since Hamas has taken over Gaza smuggling has increased drastically.

Yuval Diskin, the head of the Shin Bet security service, told a cabinet meeting in October that an estimated 73 tons of explosives have been smuggled into Gaza through tunnels since June. Millions of bullets for light weapons and tons of potassium, used to manufacture bombs, have also crossed the Gaza-Sinai border.

On the heels of this information comes a new report by the 17-member Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee that found the IDF’s high command committed a “grievous blunder” in not launching a full-scale ground attack into Lebanon during the last war.

According to the committee, the army’s planners "played into Hezbollah's hands, were seized by blindness, and lent strength to the enemy's logic."

The committee said the high command erred in delaying the ground offensive until the end of the war, since the object of the war was to stop the Hezbollah missile barrage that could only be done by foot soldiers.

The committee said the government’s long-standing policy of non-response had left the army weak and disorganized while allowing the enemy to entrench and strengthen. Some analysts saw this as a slap against both Ehud Barak, who was then Minister of Defense and Prime Minister, as well as Shaul Mofaz, the former Defense Minister. Both of these men had called for a scaling down of the IDF since they said no threats existed to justify keeping a large standing army, nor running expensive live-fire exercises.

Dancing deftly around assigning blame on the political establishment, committee chairman Tzachi Hanegbi, a known supporter of PM Ehud Olmert, said that it was the goal of the Winograd Committee to criticize the political sector, not the Knesset Committee. Some pundits thought this a disingenuous statement that permitted the committee members to criticize those who couldn’t retaliate against them.

However, the committee was in agreement that Israel must now face Hamas in Gaza in a head-on confrontation or suffer the same situation it endured when Hezbollah began firing rockets into Israel’s population centers.

Some analysts thought this was good news. That the tide was turning in the fight against radical Islam. Should the Hamas leadership be eradicated, this might send a message to other regimes that their end is also near. That the meteoric rise of Islamic fundamentalism is about to peak, burn out, and plunge harmlessly into the sea.

Another hint of this might be the ascendancy of Benazir Bhutto’s husband and son into the political limelight. Bhutto’s husband Asif Ali Zardari has shown courage in facing what pundits believe will be a series of attempts on his life. But by standing up to whomever was responsible, be it the Pakistani government afraid of her competition, or Al Queda and/or other Moslem extremists, the fact is the family has taken up the challenge. In a country known for Moslem extremism in the past, the Bhutto’s are stepping forward to make a case for democracy.

Couple this with French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s anger at Syria. After promising that his support for Israel would not affect France's relations with Arab states, Sarkozy announced the suspension of talks with Syria, whom he blames, like Jacque Chirac before him, for the unrest in Lebanon. Sarkozy had been trying to bring Syria into the world of western democracy, and Assad, analyst believe, had played him for a chump.

If one by one the other leading nations of the world stand up to the duplicitous leaders of countries like Syria and Iran, and despots like the leaders of the Palestinians, then perhaps the brakes can be put on the Islamic train riding full-speed across the globe. With the right switches pulled, the train can be sidetracked, and lead to a quiet station; or allowed to plunge into a deep gorge just like in the movies. The first steps have been taken. You heard it here first.