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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Hamas control over the Gaza Strip will prevent any effective peace process from coming into fruition, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin warned Tuesday, revealing that he had recommended that the Olmert government try to topple Hamas's rule in the coastal territory.
Delivering the annual Shin Bet briefing to the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Diskin warned that there was a good chance that the situation could become more dire if Hamas emerges victorious in a West Bank election.
"If ballots were cast in the West Bank today, there is a chance that Hamas would win," he warned.
Diskin estimated that approximately 20 percent to 25% percent of the West Bank population are diehard Hamas voters, 30%-35% are are solid Fatah supporters, and that the remaining 50% are undecided.
He warned that a victory for Hamas would "be seen as a second victory for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in this area, and thus would have a dangerous impact on the whole region, including in neighboring countries."
He dismissed the possibility that the Gaza Strip and West Bank would be united under one government by internal Palestinian efforts alone.
"A joint [Fatah-Hamas] government can only be formed through firm international pressure," the Shin Bet head said. "Hamas will never voluntarily give up its rule in the Strip, and the Palestinian Authority will never cede its control over the West Bank."
He added that "a great divide exists in terms of culture and mentality between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the chances of bridging that gap are almost nil."
He had suggested to the "last government" to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza and in doing so, to "open many more options for diplomatic processes," but his recommendations were not adopted, Diskin said.
"I argue that you don't need to conquer all of the Gaza Strip in order to collapse the Hamas government. It can be toppled, but it is ultimately impossible to uproot Hamas from people's hearts."
Diskin concurred with an assessment made last week by Military Intelligence Chief Gen. Amos Yadlin, that Hamas was working on internalizing the lessons from Operation Cast Lead, and was interested in maintaining relative calm while it rebuilt its power.
"Hamas wants to maintain the calm in order to win the time it needs to reinforce and improve its standing on the ground," he said, estimating that some 300 smuggling tunnels were currently active on the Egypt-Gaza border, although not all of them were used for weapons smuggling.
Diskin said that the Shin Bet believes that the vast majority of the weapons used during the operation had not been smuggled through the infamous tunnels, but rather had entered Gaza during the days in which the Rafah border with Egypt was unmonitored.
According to Diskin, since the operation ended in January, terror organizations in Gaza have smuggled in 46 anti-aircraft rockets, 362 mortar shells, hundreds of assorted rockets, 220 rifles and machine guns, 39 anti-tank rockets, 17 tons of explosives and 61 tons of fertilizer to be used to build explosive devices.
Hamas is still trying to launch terror attacks from Gaza, Diskin stressed.
The terror group, according to Diskin, was definitely shaken up by Operation Cast Lead. In the negotiations that followed, he said, the military wing of the organization - which is the stronger wing in Gaza - had come under criticism from the political wing.
Furthermore, the Shin Bet had observed that a number of Hamas operational commanders had been removed from their positions following the IDF operation, and had indications that Hamas was "disappointed in Iran and Hizbullah for failing to open a second front," during the operation.