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April 7, 2008: Hints of War

April 7, 2008

We are now in the midst of the largest National Home Front Training Exercise ever undertaken in Israel. Beginning yesterday, and extending until tomorrow, it was designed to allow various agencies to practice coordination and appropriate response in case of a war emergency that reaches the home front (which undoubtedly the next war will). A variety of scenarios are being rehearsed: conventional and non-conventional rockets hitting Israel, chemical-biological incidents, etc. There will be field drills and a nationwide siren sounded as a test tomorrow (except in the area of Sderot, where sirens are not tests).

The sense that our nation is prepared is enormously important.

It was stated up front that this was not planned in relation to any particular current event, i.e., the tension in the north. But this is how our enemies are reading it — as a muscle flexing meant to be a threat.


And, predictably, an Iranian official stated that "The states of the region must closely watch the Israeli drill. These provocative actions should be brought to the attention of the relevant officials in the international community."

In response, National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer, not known for cautious and judicious speech, commented that "an Iranian strike on Israel will lead to an Israeli response that will devastate the Iranian nation."


On Friday, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter was accompanying a group from the Canada Israel Committee to the area adjacent to Gaza. When they climbed to Givat Nazmit, a popular observation point, in order to survey the area, a sniper shot at the group, wounding Dichter’s personal assistant, Mati Gil. The IDF responded immediately, shooting at the source of the fire until it stopped.

A statement quickly came from Hamas saying they were responsible and had been aiming at Dichter himself. Later there were claims that an al-Qaida group was responsible. There were also various opinions voiced as to whether the sniper would have known Dichter was there, or whether he was simply aiming at a large group.


By late last week the IDF reported removal of 10 roadblocks — near Tulkarm, Nablus (Shechem) and Kalkilya.

An obviously distressed Israeli security official commented that, "There is no doubt that the removal of the roadblocks will make it easier on terrorists to carry out attacks and then escape back to the territories, but the decision was made at government level."

While a PA security official claimed, "not one roadblock has been removed. Maybe the IDF removed roadblocks in its own bases, but not in the Palestinian Authority and certainly not in the West Bank."

If we can’t win anyway, why even bother?


Allow me, please, to share here some of the most recent happenings in the PA:

PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was cited in the journal al-Rai, in Kuwait, on Saturday as saying: "There is no solution for the troubles in Gaza, or for the rockets being fired from it. All we can do is transfer funds to the Gaza Strip."

Transfer funds? The PA pays certain salaries to people in Gaza. But of course none of it gets into Hamas hands, right?


A dozen Al Aksa gunmen who had agreed to go to a PA prison in exchange for being taken off the Israeli wanted list have escaped from the prison (actually, for the second time). They ran because they were being beaten by a guard.

The PA put out a call asking them to return voluntarily . Nothing doing, was their answer. We returned voluntarily the first time we ran, but not now.

Said an Israeli spokesperson: "It’s clear that dealing effectively with terrorism by the PA government is an integral element in the peace process. These people escaping from jail is a matter of concern to Israel." I would think so.


Fatah old-timers (Arafat cronies who have been in charge through to the present) are expressing new concerns about the threat of a coup by the "young guard, "reports Khaled Abu Toameh in the Post. This is hardly a new scenario, but has been growing more intense in recent weeks, as Fatah is preparing for its first General Conference since 1989, at which time new leaders are supposed to be elected.

The recent scandals that have emerged within Fatah — which involve the old guard and documents suggesting the embezzlement of millions — have exacerbated the tensions. But the younger people challenging the old timers are afraid that Abbas will not permit them to assume new positions. In fact, it has been suggested that the tensions will prevent the conference from taking place at all.

From his prison cell, Marwan Barghouti is believed to have a good deal to do with the movement to oust the old timers. (Which makes it clear why Abbas is in no rush to see him released in the course of a prisoner exchange.)

All of this internal unrest impinges upon the ability of the Fatah-dominated PA to conduct negotiations with Israel.


From one source I have picked up this information , which still requires confirmation: Reportedly, Hamas and Fatah have been negotiating for the last few weeks and are on the verge of reaching the framework for an accord that would lead to a unity government.

This would require Olmert to break off all talks , even if Abbas at this point did not. (And it is likely that Abbas would, because Hamas, which would have the upper hand, would not be a party to negotiations.)

While, as I said, this requires further confirmation , it strikes me as likely because Abbas knows how weak he is (how close to being toppled by Hamas in Judea and Samaria) and because he doesn’t really want a two-state solution anyway. It cannot be emphasized enough how much the political discourse in the Palestinian areas has radicalized, and how little support Abbas has for striking a deal, even within his own Fatah party, which remains committed to Israel’s destruction. The young guard may be anti-corruption, but that doesn’t mean they want to deal with us.

What is more, I noted not long ago that after the signing of the accord in Yemen, which committed the two sides to talk further, it suddenly became strangely quiet, with no further news reports on what was happening. (Right after the signing, Abbas hedged, and I saw that as potentially a way for him to play both ends against the middle.) So, when I now read that Abbas has chosen to do this in secret, it does not strike me as surprising in the least. Presumably, Abbas, who had promised Bush he wouldn’t deal with Hamas, hopes to extract maximum benefits from the US before tipping his hand.

It may be (it seems to be) that the pressure from Rice to give the maximum to Abbas was a last, desperate attempt to show him that he’s better off negotiating with Israel. But what would be most disturbing, should it be true, is the suggestion that Rice knew, as she made those concessions, that Abbas was already in the process of talking with Hamas but chose not to deal with it as it would have resulted in considerable embarrassment to her.

If this turns out to be so, it means she was making concessions hoping to still lure Abbas away, but mindful of the fact that what was offered might in the end come into Hamas hands. This would have the makings of her undoing, I would say.

It would probably be too much to hope, that this might teach the US invaluable lessons: That the promises of
the Palestinians cannot be trusted. And that ideology trumps economy (that is, that the Arabs cannot be bribed into making peace).

I will refrain from further speculation here and go into "wait and see" mode.


That splendid Israeli-Arab (Muslim) journalist Khaled Abu Toameh , who reports so accurately and incisively for the Post, recently gave a talk at the University of Oregon in which he said that two, if not three, generations of Palestinians would have to be educated for peace before the situation would change.

I had recently said I thought it would take at least a generation. Now I see I was being optimistic.




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