Yaalon, who is currently conducting academic research in Washington, spoke at a conference sponsored by the Jerusalem Center for Public and State Affairs. In his speech, Yaalon referred to Hamas' win in the recent Palestinian elections and its implications, as well as the strategic threats facing Israel.
According to Yaalon, Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza had a huge impact on public opinion in the Palestinian street who credited Hamas with forcing Israel to withdraw and voted for the group as a reward for its attacks against the Jewsih State.
"No doubt, the disengagement caused the reinforcement of Hamas and weakened Mahmoud Abbas" he explained. He referred in detail to the close relations between Hamas and Iran, which were evident in the warm welcome Tehran gave a Hamas delegation on a recent visit.
“Hamas’ victory poses a challenge to those interested in stability in the world and the Middle East, including Israel, the United States, Arabs and Palestinians who favor western democratic values to extremist Islam, Yaalon stated.
"In Hamas’ victory speech, leader Khaled Mashaal expressed the line of thought and the spirit pervading al-Qaeda, global Jihad, the Islamic movement and the Iranian regime – all of which direct their struggle against the West and its culture. Israel is the first target for occupation and destruction on the way to conquering the west and establishing a Muslim regime across the world,” Yaalon said.
Iran set to strengthen influence on PA
Yaalon added that Hamas’ victory will fuel the ambitions of Islamic groups in western-friendly Arab countries like Egypt and Jordan to depose the secular regimes.
“The meetings between Khaled Mashaal and the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, before and after the elections should keep us awake at night. With or without western financial support, Iran will strengthen its influence on the Palestinian Authority, will back terror attacks against Israel, and will transfer knowledge, technologies and arms,” he said.
Yaalon hinted that Iran will seek escalation in the region to divert international attention from its clandestine nuclear program.
“We should suppose that despite the differences between Iran Shiite Islam and Hamas’ Sunni Islam, and all the ensuing disagreements, their common enmity to Israel will engender close cooperation,” Yaalon said.
More explosive, roadside bombs
Yaalon warned that al-Qaeda’s Katiusha attacks on Israel from Lebanon and Jordan indicate the group has Israel in crosshairs. He said al-Qaeda will try to set up terror cells in the Gaza Strip now that the IDF has withdrawn from the tiny coastal territory.
Hamas’s abidance by the year-long truce frustrated many young members who believe in the necessity to continue the armed struggle against Israel, making them susceptible to recruitment in the more extreme Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda.
“In any case, the young Palestinian generation, who’s brought up on incitement, is more prone to embrace al-Qaeda’s ideology,” Yaalon said.
The Palestinians will try to upgrade the firing range and precision of their rockets and to smuggle anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles. Israel’s defense establishment should brace itself for more explosives and more sophisticated remote-control devices.
"The IDF will continue to deter these attempts, but the border between Israel and Egypt porous after Israel’s withdrawal from the Philadephi route. Therefore, as long as the Egyptians show no decisiveness in fighting arms smuggling, weapons will reach the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. From a military point of view a more offensive strategy is needed,” Yaalon said.
Commenting on Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians, Yaalon said Israel should seek Washington’s help in pushing the Palestinian Authority to implement reforms and fight terror groups. No concession should be made to the Palestinians so long these conditions are not met.
“Is not clear yet that a society that teaches its children to choose death instead of life is not a peace partner? A society whose narrative is based on denying Israel’s right to exist is not open to negotiations but to war,” Yaalon said.
He warned against misinterpreting Hamas’s softened political discourse into a readiness to abandon its pledge to destroy Israel, saying the Islamic group is ready to make tactical concessions to serve its long term target of “establishing a Palestinian state that extends from the Jordan River to the sea.”