A Tale of Two Borders
Israel and terrorists in Gaza continue to trade blows. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad suicide bombing that killed five in a busy Netanya mall drew an Israeli airstrike response that killed the field commander of the Popular Resistance Committees near Rafah. While Israel and the Islamic Jihad engage to the south, to the north Syrian President Bashar Assad is may be eager to restart peace talks with Israel.
In the airstrike in Gaza, Mahmud el-Arqan was killed as two missiles struck the car he was driving. Israel said it targeted the Popular Resistance Committees field commander because he had collaborated with the PIJ on recent attacks and weapons smuggling. He was likely a target of opportunity as well as choice who was seen, identified and eliminated. Various reports range from five to ten others injured in the strike. Israel also pounded rocket launch sites again with artillery.
The Popular Resistance Committees is a cooperative of sorts among Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and terrorists of other groups for the purposes of shared strategies, coordinated operations and combined tactics, predominantly rocket attacks.
The Popular Resistance Committees had vowed to continue rocket attacks from Gaza into Israeli settlements in Israel, largely populated by Israelis forced to leave their Gaza homes after the withdrawal. The homemade Qassam rockets are highly inaccurate and cause little damage as a result.
The same spokesman told reporters, “We are going to respond to every Israeli attack in order to show them that while our means are simple, our resolve is strong.”
The relatively ineffective Qassam rockets appear to be the weapon of choice as infiltrating Israel from Gaza has never been more difficult.
In a radio interview via phone with John Batchelor just north of Gaza, Abu Abir, Spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, confirmed as much when he said point-blank that it takes a month or more to infiltrate a single suicide bomber into Israel, but it takes just an hour to set up and fire Qassam missiles.
Previously on Monday, the IDF held raids in the West Bank towns outside of Nablus and Hebron resulting in the capture of two members of the PFLP and one PIJ member.
At the Islamic Conference Organization summit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Jordan’s King Abdullah is pressing Syria’s Bashar Assad to resume peace talks with Israel. In so doing, King Abdullah also enjoys the support of both Egypt and Saudi Arabia. With Detlev Mehlis’ final report to the UN Security Council coming in just one week regarding Syrian involvement in the car bombing murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, it appears Assad may be more than willing in attempts to head UNSC sanctions of at the pass.
“Syria would go along with almost anything at this point,” a senior Arab diplomat said yesterday. “They are looking for any leeway. They do not want to be penalized like Libya or Iraq. They are definitely looking for a way out of this mess.”
At first glance, the phrasing of “definitely looking for a way out of this mess” may appear a less than satisfactory Syrian escape from consequences. This is, however, an extremely positive development. The whole point of sanctions is not to punish, but rather to change behavior. If the very real prospect of sanctions compels the desired change, it is better for all involved, most notably the people of Syria who will bear the brunt of the sanctions’ effect. If talks (and other behaviors) occur and sanctions are delayed, the stick must remain very near the carrot to prevent potential backsliding.
For its part (and from a definite position of strength), Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sees no real urgency in resuming talks with Syria.
Israel has occupied the Golan Heights area between the two countries since the 1967 war. Last week, Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, said he was in no hurry to resume peace talks with Syria. “In my opinion, Israel should not surrender the Golan Heights,” Mr Sharon said.
It is also worthy of note that, as the Mehlis report to the UNSC and potential sanctions draw nearer, the past two weeks have seen very little activity from Hezbollah since the skirmishes along the Lebanese-Israeli border.
With Palestinians making war in the south and Syria potentially suing for peace in the north, there is, as usual, never a dull moment in the Levant.