Thursday, December 29, 2005

Iran, Hizballah and Palestinians Gang up for a Second Front Against Israel

On Dec. 17, DEBKAfile reported exclusively: A special Iranian plane flew Palestinian Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal to Revolutionary Guards HQ at Bandar Abbas Monday, Dec. 12, after he spent 10 days in Tehran as favored guest of Iran’s clerical rulers. There, he conferred with RG commanders on operational collaboration between the two Palestinian groups, Hamas and Jihad Islami in Gaza and the West Bank, and their hook-up with Iranian networks and Hizballah in Lebanon. Their shared goal: the opening of a second rocket and shelling front against northern Israel to complement the Gaza front in the south.

This decision was implemented ten days later, Tuesday night Dec, 27, with a bombardment from southern Lebanon of Israel’s western Galilee and the northern towns of Kiryat Shemona and Shlomi. It was only be sheer good fortune that no one was hurt by the double salvo of 105mm rockets. Two homes were badly damaged in Kiryat Shemona. READ MORE

The Sharon government and his security advisers have no intention of admitting that Meshaal’s Hamas, assisted by Hizballah missile experts present in Gaza, are the hands behind the Qassam offensive against southern Israel, even though the crews are put up by a coalition of the Jihad Islami, the Fatah-al Aqsa Brigades and the Popular Resistance Committees. Tehran and the Damascus-based Meshaal keep this coalition well supplied with the projectiles, are working on improving their precision and selecting the targets.

But instead of hitting home, Israel’s armed forces are told to strike empty spaces in the Gaza Strip. While the Hamas leader plots the next attacks, Israeli officers are sent to address public symposia to explain that a Hamas victory in the January 25 Palestinian general election might not be a total security disaster, because going into politics and government may well temper its violent bent and mute its aspirations to destroy Israel.

Exactly the same sort of talk with accompanied the 1993 Oslo process reference to Yasser Arafat.

The Sharon government has two compelling reasons for burying its head in the sand:

1. Its unquestioning adherence to the policy line laid down Washington, which is that any delay in the Palestinian poll will finish Mahoud Abbas for good. The vote must therefore take place in the slim hope that Abbas and the jailed Marwan Barghouti will be able to bring Fatah level with the Hamas. That would be the lesser of two evils, in the American view.

DEBKAfile’s Palestinian sources note that Barghouti, through his spokesman Kadoura Fares, have managed to sell this reassuring line to secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. Washington has thus been sucked into the accepting a strong Hamas showing in the polls and a share in Palestinian government. Ariel Sharon has fallen in behind Washington and therefore finds himself seriously enfeebled on the security front.

2. Sharon cannot afford to directly tackle Hamas in Gaza because this would be an admission of the radical group’s expanding strength and the failure of his disengagement policy to beget the promised improved security.

DEBKAfile’s security experts liken the Israeli air force raids of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine group’s bases south of Beirut following the Katyusha raid to the bombardment of empty ground in the northern Gaza Strip as a means of halting the Qassam attacks. It was no more than a sop to still angry complaints of the people living within range of the Lebanese border, who were looking forward to a quiet Hanukah holiday with a healthy influx of trippers. Hizballah and Palestinian leaders in Lebanon went through the motions of repudiating the Katyusha attacks on northern Israel. But it is no secret that no one moves anywhere in southern Lebanon, including the Lebanese army, without the Hizballah’s sayso. By holding back from striking at Hizballah bases, Sharon conferred on the Hizballah the same of immunity he extends to Meshaal’s Hamas in Gaza.

Nonetheless, the very real decline in Israel’s security situation and deterrent force is becoming harder to deny as time goes by. Israel gained no strategic advantages from its unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. If anyone has gained it is the newly emerging terror axis drawn between Tehran, Beirut, Gaza and Ramallah. They drove this point home Tuesday night. That Palestine projectiles flew across two fronts in a single night was no coincidence.