Saturday, July 01, 2006

Israel, the PNA and Gaza - Jul 1

I have stayed a little clear of this subject and there is a good reason why. Because this is a fluid (not to mention dangerous) situation, I did not put any links in my previous posts due to the fact that the situation was developing rapidly. Any link that was not fresh off the wire was going to be redundant 24 hrs later anyways. This has disaster written all over it if the 'powers that be' don't make it a point to de-escalate the situation. We don't even know if Cpl. Galid Shalit is dead or alive! Israel must respond to this though. For any of its citizens (civilian or military) to be kidnapped, taken across state lines, tortured and possibly killed is anathema to Jewish culture. What would you do if you were in the Israeli's position? It's easy to criticize when nothing is at stake for you. There is absolutely no parallel for us here in Canada. Or in the United States or Mexico, for that matter. So please remember that before you open your trap and offer up some ignorant criticism of Israel and what YOU think they should be doing. Because it's not about you. Something about 'walk a mile in someone else's shoes' and all that. BTW, Happy 139th Birthday Canada!

Johnny Cash

Stratfor -- Predictive, Insightful, Global Intelligence


Israel, Palestinian Territories: The Gaza Campaign's Message
Jun 29, 2006

Summary

Israel delayed a ground invasion into the northern Gaza Strip on June 29, as Egypt is involved in intense negotiations with the Hamas-controlled Palestinian National Authority government to secure the release of an abducted Israeli soldier and to put a halt to the Israeli military incursion. Using a variety of pressure tactics, Israel has effectively reminded its Arab neighbors that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not necessarily confined to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Analysis

Israel is aggressively pursuing a military campaign to retrieve an Israeli soldier abducted by Palestinian militant groups Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) on June 25. In the last 24 hours, the Israeli operation dubbed "Summer Rains" showered the Palestinian territories with missiles and 155 mm artillery fire.

Israel's intent in this military campaign is to spread the perception the Israel Defense Forces will not hesitate to dismantle whatever infrastructure has survived past bombings in the territories, including bridges, universities and power stations if its demand for the safe return of the abducted soldier is not met. Israel has also put its neighbors on notice that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could extend beyond Israel and the Palestinian territories.

At the moment, however, Israel has frozen a military offensive in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanun while Egyptian negotiators try to convince the Hamas-controlled Palestinian National Authority (PNA) government to release the abducted soldier. There is no guarantee that these talks will yield a significant breakthrough and reduction in tensions, but Israel acquired a hefty bargaining chip with the Palestinians with the overnight arrest of at least 64 Hamas officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Nasser al-Shaer, Labor Minister Mohammed Barghouti and several other Cabinet ministers. By taking these tough measures, Israel is essentially holding the Hamas-controlled PNA hostage.

Israel is not aiming for a complete dismantling of the Palestinian government, but it is setting a precedent for future responses to provocations by the Hamas political leadership, which does not want to commit to anything beyond a long-term truce with Israel. Israel is conveying to Hamas that it cannot seek to emulate Hezbollah by drawing a distinction between its political and military wings, thus giving it cover to use its political position to threaten Israeli security.

Prior to the abduction and the Israeli response into Gaza, intra-Palestinian tensions were simmering over a "prisoners document" drafted by Hamas and Fatah leaders, which in an effort to pull the PNA out of a major financial rut would divide security responsibilities and includes an implicit recognition of Israel. Widespread disagreement over this document is what likely led to the June 25 raid that resulted in the abduction of the Israeli soldier, which was timed to provide cover for these negotiations. The abduction simultaneously prevented Hamas from appearing as if it had conceded too much to Israel by agreeing to work toward a two-state solution. The June 25 attack, for which Hamas took direct responsibility, put Israel in an intolerable position, in which Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had to prove through Israel's military prowess that the negotiations resulting in the summer 2005 Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank have not compromised Israel's national security.

Israel is also working to widen the rift between Hamas' exiled leadership in Damascus and the Hamas leadership in the territories. Israel has singled out Khaled Meshaal, Hamas' firebrand political bureau chief living in exile in Syria, as chief planner of the June 25 raid. Israel has thus returned Meshaal to the top of its assassination list. (In a bungled 1997 Mossad operation in Amman, Jordan, Israeli intelligence operatives attempted to inject Meshaal's ear with poison in broad daylight, leading Jordan's outraged leader at the time, the late King Hussein, to demand Israel deliver the antidote to revive him and free several Palestinian prisoners in exchange for releasing the captured Mossad agents.)

To drive this point home, Israeli warplanes buzzed the summer residence of Meshaal's host, Syrian President Bashar al Assad, as a stern reminder that al Assad has not slipped from the Israeli radar and that harboring Hamas leaders in Damascus could quickly become a major liability for the Syrian leader. Syria, however, is unlikely to cave in to Israeli pressure and expel Meshaal. Allowing Hamas to operate on Syrian soil gives the Syrian regime a substantial bargaining chip with Israel when the Israelis actually feel a need to come to the negotiating table. Giving up Meshaal also would strike a major blow to Syria's position in the Arab world.

At the same time, Syria cannot afford to have Israel assassinate Hamas leaders on Syrian soil and label such action an act of war. As the Syrian air force's delayed response to the Israeli flyover most recently demonstrated, Syria's military capabilities are no match for Israel -- and its forces would most likely suffer an unpleasant defeat in any engagement with Israel. And Syria cannot depend on the support of its Arab neighbors in a conflict with Israel.

Syria could get the Israelis off its back by using its pull with Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah to quash any plans the group might have for a major strike against Israel in retaliation for Israel's aggressive military campaign in the Palestinian territories. Thus far, Hezbollah has been unusually quiet along the Israeli-Lebanese border despite the recent developments in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. Hezbollah's restraint is also likely influenced by the delicate Iranian position in negotiations with the United States over Iraq and Tehran's nuclear program. As the principal financier, supplier and ideological provider to Hezbollah, Tehran wields considerable influence with the militant movement. And Tehran does not want a major flare-up related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to interfere with its current negotiations.

The web of relationships surrounding the Palestinian territories provides Israel with a complex set of levers to employ in situations such as these. Should the current negotiations fall through, and the Israeli soldier be found dead, Mossad will likely be given the green light to go on an assassination spree against Hamas officials. This, in turn, will create a crisis extending well beyond Hamas circles.

Copyright 2006 Strategic Forecasting Inc. All rights reserved.

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