Security and Defense: A three-state solution?

Hamas faces a growing threat to its rule in Gaza from radicalized groups known as ‘Jaljalat’ – a situation that pushes off prospects of a Palestinian reconciliation any time soon.

March 26, 2010 17:24
Hamas forces in Gaza City.

Hamas forces 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

While Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and American President Barack Obama butted heads at the White House this week over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the IDF Southern Command waged “war” against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The so-called war did not include putting Israeli boots on the ground in Gaza, but was a large command-level simulation of conflict with Hamas. Just a year after Operation Cast Lead, the IDF is in the midst of intensive preparations for the next round, which it believes will take place in just a matter of time.

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At the same moment as the Southern Command, the navy, the air force and Military Intelligence were running the war simulations, Netanyahu stepped into the White House on Tuesday for his round of meetings with Obama, which according to sources close to both officials ended in a new crisis between Jerusalem and Washington.

The IAF, which took part in the drill, also conducted almost daily bombing runs across the Gaza Strip this week, striking at weapons-manufacturing plants and smuggling tunnels along the border with Egypt. The attacks came in response to the significant escalation in rocket fire against Israel, which reached a total, in the past week, of some 15 rockets, the most in one week since the end of Operation Cast Lead.

The renewed violence on the Gaza border underscored for many in the defense establishment the feeling that while Obama and Netanyahu remain split on how to strengthen Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, they are ignoring the true obstacle to peace: Hamas’s continued rule of the Gaza Strip.

IN THE year that has passed since Cast Lead, Hamas has been occupied with rebuilding its military infrastructure, digging new tunnels, fortifications and underground missile silos. If rockets before the last operation were fired from mostly above ground, today Hamas has dug trenches large enough for people to stand in – like Hizbullah did in southern Lebanon – enabling fighters to fire rockets from underground.

In addition to the construction, Hamas has put its emphasis on three different tracks, all aimed at undermining the IDF’s qualitative advantage. First, there are increased efforts to obtain shoulder-to-air missiles to shoot down Israeli fighter jets and attack helicopters. The missiles are provided by Iran and Hizbullah, which also help train Hamas fighters in how to use them.

Hamas is also training more with the advanced Russian-made anti-tank missiles it has obtained. While the terror group had received the missiles before Cast Lead, it had yet to master the technology. In the next round, it is safe to assume that Hamas will be more proficient.

In addition, Hamas is conducting urban-warfare training for its forces. While it assumed that it would have the upper hand during Cast Lead inside the refugee camps and tight alleyways in Gaza, it was surprised by the force with which the IDF rolled into the Strip and how well-prepared the Israeli soldiers were for the urban fighting.

Hamas still has a way to go before it will have completely rehabilitated its infrastructure. While it is assumed to have more rockets today than it did before the war, Hamas is currently not interested in a new conflict with Israel.

This will likely change one day, but at the moment, Hamas is not behind the rocket attacks against Israel. On the contrary – in many of the cases, it sends its operatives out to search for the perpetrators and to arrest them, or at the very least, confiscate their weaponry.

Notwithstanding the group’s decision to hold its fire, the IDF holds Hamas responsible, a policy made very clear this week by Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.

“There is an escalation in rocket attacks from Gaza,” Ashkenazi told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday. “While Hamas is trying to prevent the attacks and is not interested in a deterioration, we have only one address for who is responsible, and that is Hamas.”

AT THE same time, though, Hamas is facing a growing threat to its rule in Gaza. The threat is not from Abbas’s Fatah, the ruling party in the West Bank, which Israel and the US want to return to control the Gaza Strip, but from radical Global Jihad and al-Qaida elements, which are an up-and-coming force to be reckoned with in Gaza.

There are a number of groups. One is called Jund Ansar Allah (“the army of Allah’s supporters”), with which Hamas clashed in Rafah in August, killing its leader and destroying the group’s mosque. Another group is called the Army of Islam, which was involved in the June 2006 abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Schalit. Gazans call the groups “Jaljalat,” an Arabic verb meaning “to echo loudly” and referring to the main core of the groups, which is made up of former Hamas operatives who split from the organization after it became too pragmatic for them.

The groups of fundamentalist Muslims or Salafis hold an agenda of global jihad that is against Hamas’s nationalist goals.

Since the beginning of the year, these groups have been behind close to 30 different attacks within the Gaza Strip, the same number they carried out all of last year. The attacks are against Hamas targets, such as a bomb that went off in February near the heavily-guarded home of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Other attacks have been against night clubs, Internet cafes and Hamas military vehicles.

Israel is increasingly concerned about the group’s latest activities, which have included a bomb that went off next to an International Red Cross convoy in Jabalya, as well as an attack on a medicine warehouse in El-Bureij used by UNRWA.

THE JALJALAT groups consist of several thousand followers, a few hundred of whom are armed. Unlike Hamas, which has training camps and bases, the Jaljalat groups operate out of mosques throughout the Gaza Strip.

While these groups are still far from posing an existential threat to Hamas’s rule in Gaza, the radicalization process sweeping across Gaza pushes off any prospect of a Palestinian reconciliation in the near future between Fatah and Hamas.

This has some senior Israeli officials talking about a “three-state solution” – Israel, Palestine in the West Bank, and Gaza – as the likely result of negotiations with the PA, as opposed to the internationally-backed two-state solution.

If this happens, the Jaljalat will have achieved its goal and Gaza will continue to serve as a dangerous thorn in Israel’s southern side.

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