Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal speaks during an interview with Reuters in Doha.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal vetoed a plan by the Islamist group’s military wing to carry out a large-scale terrorist attack in an Israeli community near the Gaza border just after the outbreak of Operation Protective Edge, Army Radio is reporting on Wednesday.
Citing Israeli intelligence sources, Army Radio reported that Hamas was set to deploy dozens of armed terrorists poised to cross into Israeli territory from Gaza through one of the group’s underground tunnels just days after Israeli warplanes began pounding targets in the Strip.
The plan is believed to have centered around Kibbutz Kerem Shalom. The mastermind of the operation, Hamas military commander Mohammed Deif, wanted to surprise Israel by carrying out an attack via the tunnels just as the Israeli air force was in the midst of its bombing campaign. This was also before the extensive network of tunnels became the focal point of Israeli military efforts.
According to Army Radio, dozens of Hamas gunmen trained for the operation in which they would infiltrate the kibbutz, slaughter a number of civilians, and take a number of others alive as hostages before returning through the tunnels to Gaza.
Hamas’ intention was to then use the hostages as bargaining chips to be exchanged for prisoners in Israeli jails.
Had such an operation been carried out, it is likely that Israel would have responded with disproportionate force. Such an event would also likely have precipitated a massive ground incursion that would have entailed hundreds of Palestinian casualties as well as IDF losses.
When the plan was finalized and brought before Mashaal, the political bureau chief rejected it out of hand for fear of the Israeli response.
Mashaal’s decision engendered resentment among the high command of the military wing, according to Israeli intelligence. The disagreement cast a pall over relations between the two factions throughout the course of the war. To this day, the military wing blames Mashaal for denying it an achievement that would have brought it prestige as well as a possible prisoner swap deal with Israel.
Wracked with inner tensions, the Islamist organization now finds itself in a quandary. Diplomatically, it is isolated - Egypt has turned its back on it, and the West sees it as a terrorist organization. The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, is allowing it to hemorrhage.
Deif, meanwhile, is pursuing a rapprochement with Iran, over the objections of Mashaal, who prefers that Hamas seek comfort in the arms of Saudi Arabia.