As Abbas Fiddles with Dead-End Diplomacy, Hamas Builds an Integrated War Machine

DEBKAfile Exclusive Military Report

While Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas was immersed this week in dead-end dialogue with Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, in obedience to the United States and European powers, the Hamas applied the finishing touches to a single integrated armed force by merging its armed branches with the former Palestinian Authority security and intelligence factions which ruled the Gaza Strip until the Hamas takeover in June.

From this week, either Hamas members or Fatah defectors man all the command positions and departments of a 40,000-strong armed militia which is provided with military bases, large arsenals, armored personnel carriers, sophisticated communications and intelligence networks – most made in the US – and a logistic infrastructure befitting a regular army.

Gen. Tawfiq Jabar, late of Fatah and now a card-carrying Hamas member, has been named commander of the Gaza Strip’s integrated Palestinian force.

The new force has assigned a special department with responsibility for the ongoing missile campaign against Israel. Hamas can therefore shrug off responsibility for these attacks.

High-ranking IDF officers told DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources that that, on the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority under Abbas and prime minister Salam Fayyad has failed to establish a comparable unified security force capable of warding off Hamas’ threatened takeover. Fatah’s al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades were never brought into the official fold except on paper. Instead, the PA has focused on securing Israeli amnesties and other concessions, which failed in their object of drawing wanted Fatah terrorists out of the cycle of violence and harnessing them to the Palestinian Authority’s security forces.

As a result, Abbas’ forces are in a state of disintegration, offering a strong temptation for Hamas’ formidable military organization to move in on the West Bank too.

DEBKAfile’s military sources note that the feat Hamas pulled off in Gaza three months, Abbas has failed to accomplish in two years, despite substantial American and British assistance. Security sources familiar with the way things are managed on the West Bank report that US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, US security coordinator Gen. Keith Dayton and British intelligence operatives posted there have produced endless plans and forked out huge sums to provide Mahmoud Abbas with an efficient military machine for fending off Hamas and Jihad Islami. However, his forces have resisted every effort to train and get them organized into an effective fighting army.

All that these efforts have yielded are competent security details for guarding Abbas, Fayyad and other Palestinian officials engaged in diplomacy with the United States and Israel.

The object of the security talks taking place in recent weeks was to portray Abbas as a strong leader with efficient security backing. Rice and Olmert hoped the Palestinians of Gaza would be attracted to his flag by the immunity Israel offered wanted Fatah terrorists who were willing to lay down arms.

However, these expectations failed to materialize. The security plan for the West Bank was eventually sidelined by the effort to prepare framework accords for Israel and the Palestinians to jointly present to the Middle East peace conference planned for November in Annapolis, USA. Nothing has come of this effort, as Abbas and Olmert were forced to admit after their last conversation in Jerusalem Tuesday, Oct., 1, and the security project has likewise reached an impasse.

In conclusion, it may be said that, while Hamas has strengthened its military grip on the Gaza Strip, Abbas’ control of the West Bank grows progressively weaker.

One ill omen largely glossed over was the discovery of Qassam missiles in the West Bank’s Bethlehem district pointed at the residential neighborhood of Gilo in South Jerusalem, which was quickly dismantled. Another was Egypt’s surrender to Hamas’ demand to allow 85 terrorists to re-enter Gaza from Sinai after receiving commando training in Iran and Syria.

Finally, the ultimate objective of a constructive meeting in Annapolis appears to be going by the board, especially since Saudi Arabia, which is deemed the key to its success, is inclined to beg off attending.

DEBKAfile’s sources see four developments consequently unfolding now:

    1. Hamas, in the face of an international boycott and siege, is going from strength to strength;

    2. Israeli military and Shin Bet tireless operations in the West Bank provide the sole obstruction and deterrent for a Hamas takeover;

    3. The restrictions Israeli prime minister has imposed for fear of spoiling his diplomatic maneuvers have prevented the IDF and Shin Bet cutting down Hamas strength or halting its missile blitz. On the Gaza Strip, they operate at the edge and on the West Bank are allowed no more than blocking operations on the fringes of terrorist strongholds, instead of a campaign to eliminate them root and branch.

    4. The unresolved security balance between Israel and the Palestinians suits Hamas very well because they see the IDF leaving the door open for its seizure of the West Bank too.

October 5, 2007 | 1 Comment »

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