The Palestinian Buildup For War
While the United States and Iraq liquidated a terrorist leader in Iraq, Israel killed the founder of the Popular Resistance Committees with their own airstrike in Gaza. Jamal Abu Samhadana founded the Popular Resistance Committees in late 2000 and, after openly supporting Hamas with the rest of his PRC in the 2006 elections, was appointed the ‘general supervisor’ of the Hamas-run PA Interior Ministry. The PRC founder was tasked with creating a Hamas army, the early incarnation of which took the streets of Gaza as a force of 3,000. They are still on Gaza streets, vigilant for confrontations with rival Fatah security forces and police. Samhadana has long been thought to be the orchestrator behind the 2003 roadside bomb attack in Gaza that killed three Americans.
The PRC, along with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, were the principal attacking organization in the rash of Kassam rocket attacks from northern Gaza into the Israeli areas of Sderot and Ashkelon. The PRC has long been thought of as a surrogate attack arm for Hamas, enabling it to attack Israel without the inconvenience of dirty hands. With the increase in attacks recently and frustrated by their inability to stop them through artillery strikes at launch points - always after the fact - the Israelis felt compelled to launch two stern warnings.
The first warning was directly to Hamas, informing them that attacks on Hamas leaders deemed involved in Kassam attacks, a clear and direct threat to Samhadana without using his name. Israel made good on that threat today.
The second warning was far more grave, as Israel warned the Palestinian Authority that they were being held directly responsible< for the Kassam attacks. The IDF statement read in part, “The PA is fully responsible for everything that happens in the Gaza Strip. It is not doing anything to prevent the terror attacks against Israeli citizens and therefore the military is forced to step up its offensive actions.”
As that offensive began to step up, the IDF attacked eight approach routes to the Northern Gaza Kassam launch points and also dropped leaflets into the area warning Palestinians about the coming harsh reaction to them and to steer clear of terrorists launching missiles and areas of Israeli attacks. The leaflets read, “If these actions continue, our reactions may be hardened. For you, as well as your family’s safety, we warn you stay away from areas that come under attack.”
With pressure from Israel in the form of militrary strikes beginning to crescendo, so to is the internal tension between Fatah and Hamas. The friction between the two has been feeding a Palestinian arms race, where, according to the Washington Post, in addition to both sides fielding new militias in Gaza and the West Bank, Hamas has been buying as many rounds for their rifles as they can get their hands on, paying $1 per bullet in Gaza, “a steep price in areas where up to half the people live on less than $2 per day.” A simple M-16 now brings in $13,000 in the West Bank.
Earlier in the week, Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin reported that arms smuggling in Gaza is incredibly high since the Israeli pullback. He said that “11 tons of explosives, more than 3 million bullets, 430 rocket propelled grenades and 10 shoulder-fired missiles” are known to have made their way into Gaza, primarily through the Gaza-Egyptian border crossing no longer manned by the IDF.
The power struggle between Abbas’ Fatah and Hamas - complete with a looming July 31 referendum - is so high, that not even increased attacks from Israel remains a unifying factor. While many fear another Intifada, the conflict that looms on the horizon will resemble mayhem and chaos more than an Intifada. Hamas will find itself fighting on two fronts: Against Fatah for control of Palestinian governance and, unimaginably, Israel, which will be not only attacking Hamas to end the attacks on its civilians, but also in ironic defensive moves to assist the Fatah forces if and when needed. Which and how many Fatah forces will choose to battle the Israelis rather than Hamas will be an important factor going forward.
And then there’s the Northern Border.