Hamas is expected to continue perpetrating attacks against Israel even if it does well at the polls on Wednesday in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections, senior defense officials predicted on Tuesday.
Recent polls have predicted Fatah winning the elections by a 10 percent margin and Hamas garnering a little over 30% of the vote, creating the possibility that the radical group would become part of a future Palestinian government.
While the defense establishment expected Hamas's entry into politics to "moderate" the group's radical views, officials said they believed the organization would keep up its anti-Israel activity
even from a position within the PA cabinet
"It is difficult to believe that Hamas will dismantle its military wing even if they take a large part of the vote," one senior defense official told The Jerusalem Post
. "Hamas is built on an ideology that calls for Israel's destruction and its leaders speak like anti-Semites. The assumption is that they will not give up the Izz a-Din el-Kassam military wing so quickly."
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The IDF, the official said, would not be restricted in taking military action against Hamas if warranted, even if the organization became part of the PA government. If needed, the official said, the army would be able to launch operations similar to Defensive Shield in 2002, which aimed at dismantling Hamas infrastructure in the territories.
"Israel's security outweighs any other consideration," one official said. "We will be able to launch military operations against Hamas even if it will be part of the PA government.
But even if Fatah swept the elections, officials asserted, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas would have difficulty in leading a government with Hamas as a partner or in the opposition.
"For a while, we have wondered whether Abbas could but did not want to crack down on terror, or if he couldn't but wanted to," the official said. "Now it seems that he just doesn't have the power to do anything."
According to the official, if Israel and the PA returned to the negotiating table, the release of jailed Tanzim leader and leading Fatah candidate Marwan Barghouti to help Abbas would be considered. But with a powerless Abbas and no apparent successor in sight, the official said that the defense establishment's growing attitude was that Israel would need to take unilateral action similar to the disengagement from the Gaza Strip this past summer.
Meanwhile Tuesday, the IDF geared up for the Palestinian elections and continued withdrawing its forces from PA-controlled cities. The army announced that it would scale back arrest operations and incursions into West Bank cities on Wednesday to avoid encumbering the elections. The army, officials said, would only enter Palestinian cities if concrete intelligence regarding imminent attacks against Israel were received.
"Anyone who claims that the army is not allowing the elections to take place is just trying to undermine Israel and its security forces," Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said during a tour of the West Bank on Tuesday. "I promise we will make every effort to allow the elections to take place unimpeded."
The Civil Administration has set up a special "election coordination cell" in conjunction with PA officials to deal with any crises that might erupt during the voting. IDF checkpoints throughout the territories would be manned by senior IDF officers and Civil Administration officials to ensure that Palestinian dignitaries, candidates and their delegations enjoyed smooth access between PA-controlled cities.