Who Is The Lesser of Two Evils: Hamas or Arafat?

by DEBKAfile

9 October 2002

The first serious inter-Palestinian clashes since Yasser Arafat proclaimed his confrontation withIsrael two years have not lightened Israel’s security cares and dilemmas. While fighting each other in the Gaza Strip, the two Palestinian factions - his loyalists and the Islamist Hamas - are also vying for primacy as wielder of terror against Israel.

Northern Israel’s police chief, Yaacov Borovsky, warned Wednesday October 9 that the short lull in terrorist strikes from the West Bank into Israel of recent weeks was deceptive and his forces were arrayed for the next bout of violence. His voice was drowned out by the clamor of criticism pouring out of Israel’s political opposition. One Knesset member wanted all unauthorized settlers’ outposts dismantled on the West Bank – an operation ordered by defense minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer to begin Wednesday, October 9; another demanded a state inquiry into Palestinian civilian deaths among the 16 casualties in this week’s IDF raid of a Hamas stronghold, inside a densely-populated slum in the south Gaza Strip town of Khan Younes.

The raid was widely condemned. The White House voiced “deep concern”, adding that while supporting Israel’s right to self defense, the risks to civilian population in areas in which the IDF operations should be minimized. Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, while expressing remorse for civilian casualties, stressed the operation was essential and promised more to come.

Israel’s defense authorities are clearly braced for trouble. That is because of intense, ominous rumblings under the surface.

DEBKAfile ’s counter-terror sources have received information that the Palestinians are busy plotting a whole new vista of anti-Israel violence on three separate levels:

Level 1: The Palestinian terrorist groups subject to Arafat and his lieutenants have been directed to start using missiles – specifically, shoulder-launched LAW anti-tank missiles and SA-7 air-aircraft Strellas.

Evidence of this turned up in the last week of September, when two LAW missiles were discovered by chance in a stolen vehicle in the industrial zone of Lod, near Ben Gurion international airport. On the same day, two large explosive devices were found in the same town near the municipal tip. The police initially attributed these discoveries to criminal activity, until security authorities came to the conclusion that a major terror strike had been aborted against the international air port, the air industries located there or one of the many military and air bases clustered grouped in the Lod area.

Level 2: Indications are accumulating of a Palestinian plot to shoot down a plane carrying an Israeli VIP – an operation for which precise intelligence is required. This is thought to be at the information-gathering stage.

Level 3: Tuesday, October 8, a Red Magen David ambulance was stolen in Hadera, north of Tel Aviv. It was not the first. Several have gone missing in recent months. Even though Israeli armed forces control most West Bank Palestinian towns, the missing ambulances are believed to have been transferred to the territory and rigged for a large-scale terror attack.

Such an attack, security services believe, would be staged by stolen Israeli ambulances packed with hundreds of kilos of explosives and activated by suicide killers or remote control. One or more would creep up after a major terror attack in a town center and explode in the middle of the carnage and rescue efforts. Alternatively, an ambulance could serve Palestinian terrorists as a mobile gun position for firing off in all directions, or to gain entrance to a hospital and detonate amid crowds of patients and medical personnel.

This threat is judged real enough for a decision to fit Magen David ambulances soon with GPS (Global Positioning Systems), for positioning and navigating by satellite, as well as a new, secret type of armor.

As for the widely condemned Khan Younes operation, Israeli combat personnel do take care to differentiate clearly between armed Palestinian terrorists and civilians. Israel’s left-wing opposition leader Yossi Sarid, is aware of this. He will also know that the IDF did not send tanks, bulldozers, men and helicopters into the Hamas lion’s den of this Gazan town early Monday, October 7, on a routine hunt for terrorists. Their objective was quite different.

The Palestinians make no bones about admitting that an inter-faction showdown has begun for control of the Gaza Strip. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad have raised a challenge to Arafat’s authority in the territory. Some hours after the Israeli incursion, Monday, October 7, masked Hamas killers kidnapped and shot dead the chief of the Palestinian riot police, Col. Rajeh Abu Lehiya, settling accounts with an Arafat operative a year after he gunned down pro-Osama bin Laden Hamas demonstrators. When Palestinian police demanded the handover of the chief suspect in the killing, Emad Akel, the Hamas helped him escape. Four people were killed in the ensuing Hamas-pro-Arafat partisan clashes Monday and Tuesday.

Despite reports of peace talks between the warring sides, the Hamas has made plain its determination to pry loose Arafat’s hold on the Gaza Strip. This extremist Islamic terror group is now bent on gaining full control over the Strip and make it the second – or even first – Islamic terror base in the Middle East, after Hizballah-dominated south Lebanon.

On April 1, Israeli forces drove into the Jenin refugee camp to break up the Hamas-Jihad-Hizballah’s West Bank bastion before it extended its hold on the territory. Its war stockpile was considerable - as revealed this week by candid Palestinian spokesmen: 15,000 explosive devices. Monday’s IDF Khan Younes operation was the first in a series aimed at the same goal of diminishing the Hamas domain, this time in the Gaza Strip.

DEBKAfile ’smilitary experts explain there is no way to hit Hamas and Jihad Islami strongholds in the Gaza Strip without collateral harm to civilians. Quite simply, those groups locate their command posts, operations bases, armories and explosives dumps in residential districts and public institutions, like schools and hospitals, which provide a supportive environment and act as a vital element of their operational logistical system.

Israeli military planners think very hard before attacking such Islamic strongholds in the Gaza Strip – and only then when seriously provoked by non-stop rocket, mortar, bomb, firing and grenade attacks on Israel targets in the Strip and across the border into southern Israel.

In addition to the risk of civilian casualties, a strategic dilemma raised its head this week: Any assault on Hamas strongholds weakens this violent group; it also plays into the hands of Yasser Arafat and his men, at a time when they are deep in the planning of the a/m upsurge of terror. The question is: 'Why should Israel help Arafat subdue his enemies in the Gaza Strip?' " [Emphasis added]