After the best of times, fears for the worst of times

Analysis: There’s been little terror this year, but Hamas’s rearming and the collapse of direct talks mean the situation could turn at any time.

December 10, 2010 02:03
3 minute read.
A MAN pours water on the car destroyed by the IAF

Gaza Car Bombed 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

The year 2010, security officials have proudly noted, is wrapping up as possibly the quietest year, from a security standpoint, that the State of Israel has known for decades.

This is without a doubt true at first glance, with terrorist attacks at an all-time low in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

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Beneath the surface, however, is a different story.

In just under three weeks, Israel and Hamas will mark the second anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, the anti-Hamas offensive Israel launched on December 27, 2008.

Each side will have different things to commemorate, though.

For Israel, from a military perspective, Cast Lead was a success that has brought an unprecedented two years of quiet to the South. Rocket fire, for example, has dropped dramatically, from 570 projectiles in 2009 to around 130 this year.

For Hamas, Cast Lead was without a doubt a failure, but one that provided the terror group with the lessons it needed to learn ahead of the next conflict. Its No. 1 priority has been to obtain balance-altering weapons such as long-range rockets that can reach Tel Aviv and shoulder-to-air missiles that can undermine the Israel Air Force’s superiority over Gaza. Hamas has succeeded in obtaining both.

Yet alongside its military buildup, Hamas has maintained an unprecedented period of restraint, holding its fire and preventing its own ranks and even other organizations – on occasion – from attacking Israel. The recent escalation along the Gaza border is likely not the work of Hamas but of other, possibly even more radical, terrorist organizations like those that are affiliated with al- Qaida.

Despite the recent escalation, Military Intelligence believes that Hamas will continue to keep a lid on its Gaza-based terrorism. If it decides to attack Israel, it will do so from outside Gaza, like the West Bank or the Sinai Peninsula.

This policy, of course, could easily change. In addition to wanting to use the time that has passed since Cast Lead to rehabilitate and improve its military capabilities, Hamas also did not want to be perceived as harming Palestinian national interests by forcing Israel’s hand and leading the IDF back into Gaza.

It is also possible that it did not want to undermine the diplomatic process, not because it has come to terms with Israel’s existence but again, because it did not want to be perceived as the obstacle to Palestinian independence.

Now that the direct talks have collapsed, this restraint no longer exists. There are also growing calls by frustrated commanders and operatives within Hamas’s military wing to allow them to renew their attacks on Israel now that their military capabilities have been restored.

Another concern for Israel, though, is that while the breakdown in talks will not necessarily lead the Palestinian Authority to renew its direct involvement in terrorism, it could lead the PA to turn a blind eye to other organizations that operate in the West Bank. This would likely include a drop in the level of security coordination between the IDF and the PA security services, which over the past year has enabled the IDF to reduce its activity and level of forces within the West Bank.

The larger problem for Israel is that the PA is moving forward at a fast pace with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s plan to declare statehood and independence by the summer of 2011. The announcement this week by Argentina and other Latin American countries that they recognize a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 borders should demonstrate to Israel that it is not clear what would happen if the PA takes its case to the United Nations.

If this happens, the world will not care as much about the violence in Gaza as it will about Israel’s refusal to withdraw from the West Bank and give the Palestinians the independence they have declared.

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