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Defense Minister Amir Peretz convened security chiefs for a situation assessment on Thursday afternoon, with the focus on the Hamas onslaught on Fatah forces in the Gaza Strip.
Two main conclusions were reached: First, Fatah has lost in Gaza, and second, Israel will not intervene, at least for now.
From a military perspective, some defense officials actually said there was reason to be thankful for Hamas's takeover of the Strip. Before the recent round of intra-Palestinian violence, Israel had to distinguish between Fatah and Hamas gunmen in Gaza and make sure that that the former, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's loyalists, were not targeted. Now, according to this view, there is no longer any need to draw such distinctions, since all gunmen are Hamas and therefore fair game.
"The bank of targets has grown tremendously with Hamas's takeover," explained one official involved in monitoring events in Gaza and planning policy. "Hamas is a clear and defined enemy, and that means that when we decide to respond it will be easier than before, since all their buildings are now targets, as is anyone walking around with a weapon."
When the fighting in Gaza erupted at the beginning of the week, Israel placed its faith in Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, hoping he would be able to rally Fatah forces against Hamas.
Dahlan instead traveled to Egypt, where he underwent knee surgery. Israeli officials said he was later advised not to return to Gaza in a wheelchair, since such a sight would destroy any chance of reviving Fatah's weakened image. On Thursday, he reportedly went to Ramallah.
With the consensus in the defense establishment now being that Hamas is the sole ruling party in Gaza, Peretz convened security chiefs to formulate paths forward.
The most pressing issue on the table is the knowledge that in the coming days, Gazans will run out of basic goods such as fresh milk and fuel. With the Karni cargo crossing closed, Israel might need to coordinate its reopening with Hamas. If that happens it would be the first time Israel talked directly to Hamas, something it has avoided since the group came to power in the January 2006 Palestinian Legislation Council elections.
While some defense officials called on Peretz to order the IDF to go into Gaza and intervene on Fatah's behalf, the defense minister and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided to stay out of the fray for the meantime.
If, however, Hamas renews its attacks against Israel and Kassams pound Sderot, Israel would immediately respond, Peretz said. The relatively few rockets being fired now are attributed to Islamic Jihad.
Israel has three primary options in the face of Hamas's takeover of Gaza. The first, which has been rejected, is to invade Gaza and help Fatah; the second is to use the opportunity to shut down all the crossings into the Strip, throw away the keys and once and for all completely disconnect from Gaza; the third option is to open talks with Hamas.
Predictions in the defense establishment are that Hamas, aware of Gaza's dependence on Israel, will place a Fatah official as a puppet at the forefront of its organization in Gaza so that Jerusalem will have someone to talk to.
Hamas, officials said, made a strategic decision to conquer the entire Gaza Strip and to wipe out the entire Fatah senior brass.
Hamas operatives man roadblocks throughout Gaza with laptops that contain lists of Fatah officials, supporters and families. Anyone found on the list is either executed or severely beaten.
Hamas's brutality was demonstrated on Wednesday when it raided the Shati refugee camp in central Gaza and rounded up female members of the Baker clan, known Fatah supporters. The women surrendered, were ordered outside their homes, and Hamas gunmen executed three of them, aged 13, 19 and 75.
Due to recent events, a plan proposed by US Security Coordinator Gen. Keith Dayton to transfer weapons from Egypt to Fatah in Gaza has been rejected by Peretz's office. Any weapons that enter Gaza would immediately be captured by Hamas.
In the meantime, two plans are being considered by Israel. One is to send a multinational force into Gaza to patrol the Philadelphi Corridor and try to stop the arms smuggling from Sinai. The other is to dispatch a force composed of soldiers from Arab countries.
While Olmert has voiced support for a multinational force, the assumption in the defense establishment is that no European country would be willing to send troops to Gaza unless Hamas supported the idea.
Peretz will convene security chiefs again next week. Predictions are that Hamas will complete its takeover of Gaza by the end of the week and that once it is in full control, it will also begin to consider the consequences of its recent actions.