Partial Truce Breaks Down, Pullbacks Face Disruption as Palestinian Warfare Escalates
DEBKAfile’s Special Military Report
July 15, 2005
From Thursday, July 14, Palestinian terrorists have kept up a steady missile and mortar bombardment of Sderot and the moshavim and kibbutzim of southwestern Israel while challenging Palestinian security forces in bloody clashes. The violence surged with the arrival in Gaza of Mahmoud Abbas for a hopeless effort to assert control and revive the shattered truce he guaranteed last February in Sharm al Sheikh.
As he stood by helpless to halt the violence, Israeli air force helicopters revived the discontinued targeted killings of Hamas terrorist leaders, striking in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. The Israeli army and police meanwhile grappled with acts of defiance on the part of the Gaza Strip’s West Bank communities destined for evacuation. The defiance became active resistance when a military closure was clamped down on those communities, sealing them off to non-resident Israeli visitors.
The army took this step to prevent anti-evacuation supporters flooding in as living barriers against the evictions and, above all, to pre-empt the massive anti-evacuation protest march scheduled for Monday, July 18. This event is being treated by both sides as the ultimate test of strength.
All these developments came together disastrously this week to make another round of warfare with Palestinian terrorists and the threat of Abbas’ downfall more realistic than the pull-out on schedule in mid-August.
This scenario is one that DEBKAfile forecast more than a year ago as the outcome of the Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan.
Hamas has changed the rules current since February. It is now clenching its fist in the face of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and its chairman.
1. This has come about because the Islamist group has adopted the most hawkish of the three schools of thought dividing its leaders: Hamas has decided therefore to expose what these extremists call the “the fiction” of the Palestinian Authority and to overturn its rule in the Gaza Strip.
2. To succeed in its revolt, Hamas has drawn in fellow-terrorist groups, the Fatah’s al Aqsa Brigades, the Popular Committees and the radical Palestinian Fronts, who were delivered by the dissident Palestinian generals Musa Arafat and Amin al-Hindi.
3. It is only a matter of time before the anti-Abbas revolt spills over into the West Bank. The groundwork is in place in Palestinian cities. The bomb blast engineered from Tulkarm that killed 5 Israelis in Netanya last Tuesday was the beginning.
4. To unite Palestinian opinion behind its extremist path, the Hamas has fabricated a war situation by intensifying its missile and mortar attacks against Israeli targets in Gush Katif and outside the Gaza Strip. Stage two will be a fresh terrorist offensive against Israel launched collectively by a broad front of all Hamas’ partners-in-terror.
In the light of this intelligence, DEBKAfile’s military analysts find it hard to explain the timing chosen by prime minister Ariel Sharon, his defense minister Shaul Mofaz and chief of staff Lt. General Dan Halutz to confront the already tense Jewish communities of the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank with a military blockade. Rather than deal with the pressing security threats posed by a Palestinian group committed to Israel’s destruction, its leaders opted for a showdown with the domestic opponents of evacuation.
Hamas quickly seized the moment. While the IDF was immersed in the red tape for distinguishing between bona fide Israeli Gaza Strip residents and protesters, the Palestinian terrorist coalition struck.
Thursday and Friday, July 14 and 15, the security level in the West Bank and Gaza Strip took a sudden and dangerous plunge. To restore some equilibrium and Israeli’s deterrent credibility, the shock treatment of reviving targeted killings was applied for the first time this year. Friday, missiles airborne by combat helicopters struck the cars of 3 Hamas leaders near Salfit on the West Bank and 4 in Gaza City.
General Halutz stepped in with a warning: Israel will not withdraw from the Gaza Strip under Palestinian fire. If the Palestinians continue to shoot, Israel will deal with their terrorism right now and proceed with the pull-out later.
The chief of staff, like the heads of the Israeli government, sounds as though he really believes the IDF can polish off Palestinian terrorists in a month and then move on to uproot the Israeli presence from the two territories as planned. DEBKAfile’s military experts warn this is an illusion. After months of restrained responses to low-level violence, Israel must now gather in all its resources to fend off a combined onslaught by a broad, rearmed and regrouped front of al the Palestinian organizations, backed by the dissident elements confronting Abbas’ authority. Israeli military strategists must now take into account a war on two Palestinian fronts, the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip.
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