An unnamed "senior IDF officer " has given a briefing with regard to the situation in Gaza that is being broadly cited. I am assuming that he remains unnamed because he is criticizing the government; what he has to say must be attended to with the greatest seriousness:
Hamas has developed enormous military sophistication in Gaza since the "disengagement," he says, and Israel has a limited window of opportunity for confronting that threat. That window of opportunity exists both because the world has not yet become accustomed to the Hamas entity in Gaza, and because Hamas has not yet completed its military buildup and thus does not find that it serves its interests to attack us yet. But its ultimate goals are clear.
"They have an organized military. They have the manpower, they have the training, they have the motivation."
Some 13,000 Hamas recruits now constitute a full-fledged army, consisting of four brigades, made up of a number of battalions and platoons. In the past two years hundreds of Palestinians have received training in Iran. Hamas, in the past two months, has smuggled over twenty tons of explosives from the Sinai into the Gaza Strip. They have obtained anti-tank missiles, as well as an unknown number of anti-aircraft missiles. Hamas also reportedly is in possession of old models of Katyusha rockets, and they are working to improve the range of their Kassam rockets.
The IDF, says this officer, has the ability to confront this threat: The IDF Southern Command has operational military plans for Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and recently conducted several weeks of training.
"I don’t see the Egyptians, the Americans, the Europeans or Abbas, being able to restrain Hamas. Israel is the only one capable of making the change…
"The IDF has gone through the necessary preparations for a widespread operation in Gaza."
ALL THAT IS NEEDED IS GO-AHEAD FROM THE GOVERNMENT.
And speaking of the government…
The report on the Home Front just released by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss was thoroughly predictable. Anyone who was here last summer during the war or followed events carefully already knew what happened with the Home Front in the north. For all practical purposes the people were abandoned by the governments — national and municipal. Instead, volunteers, acting independently and in concert via NGO agencies, attended to the people. There was at one and the same time shame and disgust because of how officialdom acted and enormous pride in how the Israeli people acted. (This has become a theme of mine, has it not?)
Lindenstrauss is a man who minces no words and cuts officialdom no slack. In his 582-page report released yesterday, he wrote: "The facts show that the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, the former defense minister, Amir Peretz, the former chief of General Staff, Dan Halutz, and the head of the Home Front Command, Maj.-Gen. Yitzhak Gershon, each one according to his own role, gravely failed in the decision-making process and in their appraisals and actions in dealing with the home front during the war in Lebanon."
As to volunteers, he said: "The enlistment of the private sector and voluntary organizations to help out during the war substantially helped overcome the vacuum left by government authorities. We should not spare our praise for the outstanding expressions of volunteerism on the part of organizations that made contributions and volunteer organizations and individuals who ‘cared.’ Their contribution during the fighting was the epitome of the spirit of brotherhood, solidarity and shared fate. It was the epitome of the essence of the good and beautiful Israel at its finest."
He also had words of praise for the health system – especially hospital and Magen David Adom staffers – for working above and beyond the call of duty and even endangering their lives. And he said that the police performed well.
The are two aspects to be considered in all of this. One is the very immediate and pragmatic one of correcting weaknesses in the system, as now critiqued, because there is a very good likelihood that we will be facing a similar situation with war in the north again soon, as well as because the Home Front has been sorely remiss in Sderot (which was not specifically the subject of the report). The government is committing itself to addressing this and we shall see.
Then there is the political aspect, which also has potentially pragmatic implications. Is this damning report going to weaken Olmert’s hold on the government? Olmert, fearing that it will, has lashed out at the report, saying that it has to be separated into the professional report, which must be addressed seriously, and the gratuitous personal attack on him — especially in a strongly worded introduction — that makes him very angry.
Lindenstrauss’s response to Olmert was direct: "There is no compromise in criticism, no mediation, no use of pretty language and no obfuscation. Criticism must be sharp, definitive, piercing, transparent, direct and above all professional and based on facts that have been checked and rechecked. The criticism must be courageous and fair. That is how the State Comptroller’s Office has always behaved and this is how we behaved this time as well,"
Knesset Speaker MK Dalia Itzik (Kadima) appealed to the prime minister to respond in a way that is not personal, in the interest of helping the people of Israel. "It is important to take the personal issue off the agenda."
State Control Committee Chairman MK Zevulun Orlev (NRP) said. "The phenomenon of delegitimizing the comptroller disturbs me. No ‘spin’ can undermine the findings of the report or keep anyone from coming to conclusions, even if they turn out to be personal."
What will follow this report is the final Winograd report on the conduct of the war, which will, similarly, be damning and is expected to have a greater impact. There are those predicting that Olmert won’t last past the release of this report, but I have to see it to believe it. Originally it was supposed to be out in the summer, but has now been delayed until fall presumably because of technical factors. On the table right now is the issue of giving advance notice to those criticized in the report.
So the question remains: when will this nation get a government worthy of it — a government that will act decisively on behalf of the people?
The PLO Central Council, meeting in Ramallah, is expected to pass a resolution today endorsing a plan PA President Abbas has put forth to hold early legislative elections. This is Abbas’s way around Hamas control, as the PLO ostensibly represents Palestinians everywhere; he says once there is PLO approval, he will have the authority to move ahead. The PLO is still Fatah dominated.
Such elections likely would not be held in Gaza, and Hamas says under no circumstances would it recognize them. Hamas, for its part, intends to convene the legislature, which it dominates, on Sunday and call for a vote of non-confidence in the "illegitimate" government Abbas has put in place.
I note here that Abbas, even as he speaks of elections , says he will not speak with Hamas until it ends its violent coup. He doesn’t say "never." And I’ve already reported on steps Mashaal indicated he was willing to take to turn Gaza back to the PA.
A PA news agency is reporting that Hamas and Fatah prisoners are drafting a docume
nt that should solve the crisis between the two factions. It is scheduled for release in a few days, and includes such items as "a comprehensive and truce between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank," "confirmation of the geographical unity of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip" and "rejection of the Palestinian internal conflict and the use of weapons as a means to solve differences."
Please remember that the Mecca accord that forged the (ultimately very unstable) unity government had its genesis in a letter from Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. (The final accord was actually more radical than the letter, as Abbas acceded to Hamas demands.)
Additionally, according to a new poll — done by Fafo, a Norwegian research institute — Palestinians see national reconciliation as more important than peace talks with Israel. Eighty-five per cent of those polled would like to see negotiations between Fatah and Hamas.
My take (still without a crystal ball) is that there will be further negotiations and perhaps even accords between Fatah and Hamas, which will put the lie to Abbas’s claims to moderation. However, I don’t believe there will ever be a stable Palestinian "nationalist" movement, as there are competing ideologies and loyalties at work here, with power struggles that transcend any goals of unity.
After agreeing to grant "pardons" to 180 Al Aksa members in Judea and Samaria, Israel was prepared to entertain a request by the PA that another 260 also receive "pardons." Yes, you read this correctly. But that has now been put on hold because some of the Al Aksa people on the original list are refusing to sign the document renouncing terrorism and to surrender their weapons.
I guess you might say these people have a sort of perverse integrity — they insist on being what they are and not pretending to be otherwise. But it creates complications for the PA, and for an ever-eager- to-make-concessions Israeli government. Now they can’t act as if these guys are reformed peaceniks.
A Palestinian source (also unnamed) speaking to YNet claims that the PA and Israel are in negotiations for transferring various areas in Judea and Samaria to Palestinian security control, operating in three stages, starting with Jericho and Kalkilya, and excluding problematic Jenin and Nablus entirely.
I would say this isn’t going to happen because the Palestinians aren’t going to come through in a way that makes such nauseating concessions possible even for the Olmert government. But I don’t doubt for a moment that our government may have been in preliminary dialogue with the PA with regard to this.
The Almagor Terror Victims Association filed a petition with the High Court today to block the release of the 250 prisoners scheduled for tomorrow. According to the association, 177 people have died in terrorist attacks in the last seven years as a result of past prisoner releases. Whatever Olmert’s professed diplomatic concerns, they say, such considerations should not be more important than Israel’s security needs. I could not agree more. Unfortunately, I doubt that the court will agree.
The association attorney noted that some of those being released had only served 40% of their terms, which contravenes a cabinet decision of 2005 that only prisoners who have served 2/3 of their terms could be released. Other procedural problems were noted as well. At the very least, the association requested that the release be held up so that the list might be examined with greater thoroughness.
According to Guy Bechor, who is with the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya, writing in YNet ("Back to Oslo Illusion"), Israel has had the experience that "80 percent of released Palestinians, all of whom had made a commitment not to be involved in terror, immediately resumed their terror acts against Israel."
There are solid reasons for this, says Bechor: "For released prisoners, terror is livelihood, a way of life, their honor and self determination. Moreover, those released within the framework of a prisoner deal must prove that they have not changed; they must reaffirm their status, and the only way to do so is by means of perpetrating terror acts against Israel."
In his piece Bechor also addresses the issue of Israel’s halting of night operations to undermine terrorist infrastructure in Judea and Samaria. This, he says, has been "one of the IDF’s key successes in the war against terror." Terrorists have been so busy running for cover they haven’t had time to successfully plan attacks. Now this will change.
Abbas was seeking a halt to Israel’s operation because it wasn’t only Hamas that was impeded, it was also Fatah’s Al Aksa Brigades. Abbas’s argument to Israel is that he needs those Brigades as part of his security forces to act against Hamas in Judea and Samaria, and, it seems, Israel bought this. The problem is that members of the Brigades are also very much terrorists who act against Israel.
"The West Bank will once again become an immune paradise; anti-Israel terror will be restored without interference and will pose a serious threat to Israeli society, which has experienced relative stability and calm in recent years."