Hamas seeks control of security in West Bank

IDF says it may have to stop all coordination with Palestinian field officers.

Hamas gunmen 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Hamas gunmen 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Having failed to establish a military force in the West Bank parallel to the one it has in the Gaza Strip, Hamas is instead working to infiltrate its operatives into the official Palestinian Authority security branches, a high-ranking officer in the IDF Central Command warned on Thursday. Two months ago the IDF thwarted plans by Hamas to create a force in the West Bank similar to the one it has created in Gaza, where Ahmed Ja'abri - the commander of the Hamas military wing - has built up an army consisting of close to 10,000 well-trained troops. According to the officer, Hamas tried uniting all of its factions in the West Bank into a single force, but failed due to IDF preemptive action. Believing that additional such efforts would also fail, Hamas has been infiltrating its men into the ranks of the Palestinian Police and the National Security Force. "If this continues they will eventually take over the security forces," warned a senior Israeli defense official, adding that once this happens Israel will find itself facing a "two-faced" PA security establishment. The officer said that the creation of the PA national unity government following the signing of the Mecca agreement some two months ago had essentially "dissolved" any differences between Hamas and Fatah. A Hamas takeover of the security services would eventually lead the IDF to reconsider its policy of talking and coordinating with PA security chiefs in the West Bank, he said. According to policy set by the cabinet, the IDF has refrained from dealing directly with Hamas, instead taking great pains to find non-Hamas PA officials to coordinate civil and military issues, the officer said. He said Hamas was involved in terrorism "at all of its levels" and that its infiltration of a car bomb into Tel Aviv on Seder night with the intention of carrying out an attack was supported by Damascus-based Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal as well as its local West Bank and Gaza terror chiefs. The officer said that after the car-bomb attack attempt, the IDF rebuilt roadblocks that it had removed in the Kalkilya area as part of a gesture by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in December. While the IDF was succeeding in curbing the expansion of terrorism in the West Bank, it was possible that without diplomatic progress between Israel and the PA, the Palestinians would increase their involvement in terrorism, and even escalate the situation to a third intifada, the defense official said. The officer added that Hamas terror chiefs in the West Bank had learned the lessons of their predecessors who were captured by Israeli forces, and were now extremely difficult to apprehend. "There is no such thing as a vacuum in the territories," he said. "The situation as it is now can lead to either a diplomatic process or to renewed violence."