Fatah has completely collapsed in the Gaza Strip. That was the atmosphere that prevailed in recent days at the top floors of the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv. The security establishment experienced a deep sense of frustration over the ease with which Hamas members crushed Palestinian Authority security positions.
Fatah members did not want to, and possibly could not, fight – they had no leadership or a top command. They were just a bunch of gangs. But actually, we knew they were like that all those years yet we deceived ourselves. We wanted to believe we were dealing with serious people.
Up until four days ago there were still those among us who believed that supplying equipment to Fatah members in Gaza could change the picture.
On Wednesday morning, Fatah was supposed to receive from Egypt armored vehicles and some arms. Today, we thank God that the weapons never made it there.
Meanwhile, the Israeli decision is to observe and wait for developments. They decided not to decide. The political situation does not encourage decision-making. They wait for the new defense minister to take office.
Yet within all the chaos, security officials were able to somehow identify a ray of light: Instead of two heads in the Strip, which confused the world and sometimes confused us too, there is only one head. The masks have been removed.
There is no longer Palestinian Authority that enjoys legitimacy and aid and a Hamas movement that takes advantage of that. There is clear return address now: Hamas.
A month ago, the cabinet discussed responses to Gaza Qassam fire. They were talking about the need to respond without undermining the Palestinian Authority's power and about possible international reaction, and agreed on a formula of "phased response" that requires strict approval by the political leadership.
Today, it's a whole new story. The PA is no longer a factor when it comes to considering a response.
Palestinian cause gravely damaged
For Israel, Gaza equals southern Lebanon and Hamas equals Hizbullah. Instead of producing "phased response" to terror originating from the Strip, Israel needs to produce an arsenal that would establish its deterrent power vis-à-vis the Strip. And because there is a return address, it is possible to utilize pressure levers – both economic and military.
Hamas' military wing disrupted the plan of the political leadership, which intended to take over the street and government institutions in a phased and slow manner, while gaining international legitimacy. The military wing, however, was in a rush. All the latest moves are a story of taking advantages of success rather than an orderly military plan.
In fact, the military wing played into Israel's hands. It exposed to everyone its fundamentalist, pro-Iranian ideology and its brutality. The world is starting to understand where the Palestinian street is heading to. The damage to be sustained by their cause is immense.
Yet Defense Ministry officials are also hearing the warning bells. There are serious concerns that Fatah intends to produce provocations that will force Israel to do the job for it – that is, drag Israel to the Strip so that it hits Hamas.
There are more than just estimations that Fatah intends to shift the flames from Gaza to the West Bank.
The scenario goes like this: Fatah embarks on an all-out confrontation with Hamas in the West Bank, which in turn leads to street riots, which drag the IDF into the West Bank. There is a rise in the scope of terror attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers.
Meanwhile, Hamas in Gaza would not remain indifferent to attacks on its members in the West Bank and boost the rate of terror attacks and fire from the Strip. Without noticing, the IDF would rush into Gaza to hit the "head of the snake."
This scenario requires the army to be prepared in the face of any attempt to import the Gaza chaos into the West Bank.
Within all this chaos, we can see a sort of logic to the madness. Hamas is still not ready to cut off the oxygen from Israel and Egypt. If Hamas controls all the border crossings, neither Israel nor Egypt would cooperate with it, and the Gaza population will pay the price. Hamas would not be able to handle a humanitarian disaster of such scope.
So at this time, the Hamas victory is a military win. The movement has not captured the hearts of the Gaza street. It still does not have the street on its side.