TEL AVIV – The major threat currently looming over Israel on the Palestinian front is the establishment of an “alternative Hamas
authority” at the expense of the Palestinian authority, an IDF intelligence official told Ynet Tuesday.
“In recent weeks we have seen that Abu Mazen’s (Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas) way is not working,” he said.
Despite the Palestinian leader’s attempt to force the Hamas to renounce its armed struggle through dialogue, it appears the most likely possibility is that Abbas’ efforts would fail, the official said.
According to IDF intelligence, the clearest expression of current developments in the Gaza Strip was symbolized by last week’s events in the town of Rafah, where Hamas terrorists attacked Israeli targets after a Palestinian Authority court invalidated recent local election results.
“The Hamas, which was disappointed by the political process in Rafah, opened fire at us,” the intelligence officer said. “The group made the connection, which isn’t new, between the political process and Abu Mazen’s soft underbelly, which is the calm (in violence.)”
“The Hamas is a significant threat that keeps on growing,” the official said.
Intelligence analysts are also concerned the upcoming Gaza Strip and northern West Bank pullout would be followed by an Israeli Palestinian crisis over unfulfilled expectations, prompting the Hamas to exploit the situation for its benefit.
“These days, the Hamas continues to strengthen militarily and senior members of the group have a fantasy of maintaining a reservoir of thousands of people and establishing a semi-military organization,” the IDF official said.
“On the security front, we see a rearming effort through the smuggling route, the activists are resting and organizing, and the workshops keep on producing weapons,” he said.
The official also warned that the Hamas, as do other groups, has already prepared terror attacks that could be carried out on short notice.
“However, we must emphasize the Hamas is still committed to the calm and the level of its commitment is higher than that of other groups,” he said. “Still, the main direction pursued by the group today is the building of military force that could be utilized by the organization’s leadership when the moment of truth arrives.”
However, the official provided a second, less likely scenario, that would see the Hamas increasingly integrated into the Palestinian political system following the general elections, leading to the forging of understandings between the group and Abbas.
“These understandings would surely leave a certain component of violence, but it would be much more restrained than what was happening until now,” the official said. “It’s not what Abu Mazen wants, but it may be better than the other possibility and that way the Hamas would find itself forced to renounce most of the violent resistance.
Moreover, Israeli analysts have taken note of the internal debate within Hamas ranks, the official said. One approach pushes for an election victory and the assumption of a leadership role, while another view fears an election win, which could lead to the renunciation of Jihad, the official said.
“In any case, in my estimation, the Hamas strives for a situation where it will be politically strong, but on the other hand won’t be a partner to the Palestinian government that would be established,” the official said. “That way it would have public legitimacy, so that when the crisis of expectations comes around, the violent conflict would be renewed.”
Iranian bomb? Not before 2007
Turning his attention to the Iranian nuclear threat, the official said intelligence analysts estimate Teheran is maintaining a surreptitious nuclear program alongside its overt effort.
“Currently, there is a debate within Israel and with the United States over the scope and status (of the secret program,)” he said.
However, even if the Iranian effort continues unabated, the earliest the Iranians would possess a nuclear bomb would be 2007, the official noted.
“The American analysis of the facts is identical, although they chose to present the data in a somewhat different way, so the debate between us is mostly statistical and technical,” he said.
Currently, European countries are at the helm when it comes to leading the effort against Iran’s nuclear program, with the Americans choosing to remain on the sidelines for the time being, the official said.
“The Iranians are currently attempting to extract some kind of agreement from them (the Europeans,) while at the same time attempting to create a crisis atmosphere,” he said.
‘Hizbullah having tough time’
When it comes to the northern front, army intelligence officers have some good news, noting the Hizbullah
is having a tough time in Lebanon.
“The past five years were very bad for the organization,” the IDF official said. “The (Israeli) exit from Lebanon constituted a turning point in the organization’s stature, which was at its peak in Lebanon and in the Arab world.”
The IDF’s withdrawal from Lebanon took away the terror group’s main power base, the official said, noting the Hizbullah has attempted to compensate by pursuing other causes, such as Lebanese prisoners, but without much success.
“In recent months, the organization is feeling great distress because it perceives to be under pursuit in the international arena in an attempt to include him in the European list of terror organizations,” the official said.
“The group is attempting to brand (Hizbullah leader Hassan) Nasrallah as a political leader, creating a situation where the Hizbullah as a resistance group is quickly and clearly sinking,” the IDF officer noted.
“However, the Hizbullah as a political organization overcame the crisis and is in a process of strengthening,” he said. “This direction would restrain the Hizbullah and that is something positive for Israel. The possibility that Hizbullah would use weapons against Israel is highly unlikely at this time.”