Wednesday, May 16, 2007
The Qassam Front
As I said last week, it was only a matter of time before one of the qassam rockets among the barrage fired at the western Negev and the city of Sderot would occasion a more far-reaching response from the army. The direct hit on a Sderot apartment complex today broke the camel's back, though it remains to be seen just how "comprehensive" the military response will be. The air force's bombing of a Hamas "operations center" in Rafah, which killed 4 and wounded 20, combined with a resumption of "targeted killings" of Hamas leaders probably represent the limits of the "severe and harsh" measures promised by Olmert will take.
The increased qassam activity is taking place against the backdrop of renewed intra-Palestinian fighting between Hamas and Fatah, which has led to more than 40 deaths over the past four days. Perhaps partly in a bid to make some sort of appeal for Palestinian unity, Hamas is openly taking part in the qassam firing, which explains the increased activity on this front (50 rockets since Tuesday). Fatah militants are probably also participating to some extent, as they too seek to appeal to the street. But the residents of Gaza know how disingenuous this rhetoric is. The call for Palestinian unity against Israel and the qassam attacks obscure the serious tensions between the factions and criminal gangs in Gaza, and the lethal violence inter-factional violence enveloping the Strip.
It is amusing to watch As'ad AbuKhalil try to deny that we are in fact seeing the beginnings of a civil war in Gaza. It reminds me of his praise for the Iraqi "insurgency" and his pathetic efforts to manipulate the statistics from that theater - all in order to claim that these criminals are fighting "illegal occupation" rather than butchering innocent civilians.
This latest eruption in intra-Palestinian fighting should dispel any doubts about the viability of the Mecca accords (if anyone remembers it) as well as other cease fires. All of these cease fires are unlikely to last without the complete victory of one faction over another. The U.S. has been pressuring Israel to rush arms to Abu Mazen to support Fatah fighters and to ensure that Hamas does not score a complete rout over its opponents. I think that Olmert will continue resisting these calls - both for domestic political (one of the slogans of the right after the outbreak of the second intifadah, aimed at the Oslo process backers, was "you gave them rifles" - and they were right that these guns were indeed turned against Israeli soldiers and civilians ), as well as strategic reasons.
Even if Fatah were to acquire additional equipment, it is not at all clear that its failures in the field against Hamas are due to a material disadvantage. In any case, Fatah is unlikely to defeat Hamas militarily; certainly, such a victory bestowed upon it by American or Israeli backing would profoundly hurt its chances in the political sphere. It makes much more sense for Israel to step back and intervene with pinpoint operations against Hamas fighters and infrastructure (or Fatah militants) as it sees fit.
Meanwhile, Gaydamak has paid for 800 Sderot residents to be put up in hotels in Tel Aviv and Be'er Sheva. An exodus of sorts has gripped the town since the latest strike. In the Israeli media, photographs have been published of residents trying desperately to board Gaydamak's buses and flee the city.
Olmert has responded angrily (Hebrew) to this evacuation operation. It is clear that Gaydamak is amassing an arsenal of public support in pursuit of his political ambitions; in the meantime he is performing some very good deeds. The residents of Sderot have been let down again by the Israeli government. Nobody has previously discussed the deplorable "lethargy" exhibited by the country's politicians with regard to putting in place at least a preliminary defense system against the rockets. The public bomb shelters have only been opened now in Sderot.
Expect the qassam fire to continue increasing over the next few days, as Hamas and Fatah try to fight a two-front war - against each other and Israel. The biggest losers will of course be the residents of Gaza.