A View To A Kill
Why Israel Is Likely Preparing Future Fatah Battlespace Against Hamas in Gaza
By Steve Schippert
The primary immediate aim of the Israeli offensive on Hamas in the Gaza Strip is to halt, or more realistically, to reduce the rate of rocket attacks on the Israeli population. Hamas is the key terrorist agitator, thou certainly not the only one within Gaza, especially since seizing control of Gaza following its bloody purge of Fatah, and with it Palestinian Authority governance. Since that time, Hamas has bargained its way away from moderation and squarely into the Iranian terrorist orbit. It was at this point that the Hizballification of Hamas and its Gaza territory commenced full speed ahead, with Iran overseeing the arming, training and funding of significant Hamas weapons and tactics upgrades. This perilous reality dictates that Israel find a way to challenge Hamas within Gaza in order to ultimately defeat it. This is a long process that ideally includes Fatah as the primary challenger on the ground in Gaza.
Though there are significant risks for Israel in partnering with Mamoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, the alternative is either a) direct, costly and prolonged Israeli operations inside Gaza; b) intermittent Israeli combat excursions against Hamas in Gaza with no end in sight; or c) continued disengagement, ceding to Hamas unmitigated and unchallenged terrorist buildup under the guiding eye of the Iranian mullah regime until it truly becomes Hizballah South (in a military/terrorist capabilities sense, not the theological or ideological sense.) And each of these options fails to achieve the elimination of rocket attacks on Israel's civilian population, increasingly at risk as the Iranian-supplied rockets improve and extend Hamas' reach deeper into Israel.
It is for these reasons, and the unpalatability of each of the above alternative approaches, that it might be wise to consider that what Israel is actually doing is preparing (softening, if you will) the future battlespace for a rejuvenated Fatah to ultimately rise and challenge Hamas for control of Gaza. Operation Cast Lead is not the operation that will 'defeat Hamas' or even stop the rocket fire into Israel. In fact, the latter cannot be achieved until the former is realized. Hamas is too entrenched and powerful in Gaza. It is also more than a collection of terrorists. It is a movement in every sense of the word, and one that has been part of the Gaza public identity and culture (media, education, etc.) for at least a generation.
The world seems to convulse whenever Israel shelves restraint and takes the offensive to the terrorist aggressors. There are no UN Security Council condemnations and demands for cessation of hostilities when Hamas rockets fly without Israeli response. But when Israel reacts to combat the combatants, the reaction and condemnation is swift and loud.
Israel can ignore such international political protestations, and is right to do so while acting in her own self-defense. But this is only possible for a finite period of time before international political pressure and condemnations begin to exact their toll on Israel - politically, economically, and militarily. This finite period of time - as seen in the 2006 Summer War with Hizballah terrorists in Lebanon - is never enough to destroy the teeth of a terrorist movement, only enough to impair it in the short term.
However, the reality is that if Fatah were to take up fighting Hamas for primacy in Gaza, the international community would hardly bat an eye. And, for Israel, the objective for securing its civilian population against incessant terrorist rocket attacks is the elimination of Hamas as the chief power broker inside Gaza. And if Israel will never be afforded the time and space necessary to do this and Fatah would be, then Israel - which at least works with Fatah in the West Bank, however imperfectly - likely sees the wisdom in assisting and empowering Fatah in achieving just that capability in Gaza.
This is no small order, mind you. Fatah was decimated by Gaza in the bloody internal fight for control of Gaza. Rebuilding them will undoubtedly be a greater challenge than the current phase of softening and bloodying Hamas. However, the overall restrained and relatively quiet response by more moderate Arab states in the region to the Israeli bombardment and ground incursion against Hamas in Gaza is a sign that they are not on board the Hamas bandwagon, even in the face of massive Israeli counter-attacks, and would support a Fatah resurgence. This support would likely be manifested in actual material support, which may already be in process.
The greater point here is that Israel's chief aim is the elimination of rocket attacks on its towns and cities from Gaza, which means necessarily that the chief aim is the elimination of Hamas' domination in Gaza. With one goes the other. Thus, Israel's greater goal in providing for the security of its civilian population is the elimination of Hamas, not necessarily the elimination of Hamas by the Israeli Defense Forces.
So if international political protest prevents the sustained Israeli operations necessary to significantly de-fang Hamas in Gaza, yet the world would not bat an eye at Fatah fighting to achieve the same ends, the logical strategic conclusion is to assist them in doing just that. Considering the longer view of things, this is exactly what Israel seems quite prepared to do. As your writer previously concluded in a brief look at the situation at The Tank on National Review Online, "There are two ways to fight Hamas. This, I believe, is Israel's preferred method."