Published in The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle
On the verge of a complete defeat of the Palestinian terrorist groups, Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza has brought them back from the dead. Now the worst case scenario of what was predicted to happen after the Gaza withdrawal is becoming a reality.
The terror against Israel is increasing, the PA is disintegrating and Hamas’ popularity and influence is increasing in Gaza as well as the West Bank. Gaza is becoming a safe harbor for terrorists and their senior commanders including Al Qaeda and a training ground and support base for the smuggling and production of weapons including rockets that can reach the large southern Israeli city of Ashkelon. But unfortunately the worst is yet to come. The terrorists are now working hard to smuggle into the West Bank Kassam and Katyusha rockets with the intent to fire them at the population center of Tel Aviv or at civilian aircraft coming in and out of Ben Gurion Airport . In addition, Israel’s priority as a target for Al Qaeda is increasing.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to withdraw from Gaza was probably to showcase to the world how a future Palestinian state would fail before they were granted sovereignty but it seems that his successor Ehud Olmert’s statements of the need for further unilateral withdrawals from the West Bank could bring the worst case scenario much faster.
On September 12 Israel withdrew its military forces from Gaza after evacuating and demolishing the Jewish settlements. But they also withdrew from the Philadelphia corridor, the 7 miles border between Gaza and Egypt-Sinai. It was the first time Israel left a perimeter around the Palestinian territories and gave its protection to the responsibility of a third party, the Egyptians. Just after Israel’s withdrawal and without any Egyptian intervention, tons of explosives, hundreds of anti tank rockets and rocket propelled grenades and a number of anti aircraft missiles and Katyuashas were smuggled in freely through the open border. Much worse, armed Palestinian terrorists were entering freely into Gaza including Al Quaeda operatives who came from their camps in Sinai.
Instead of closing the border as a result , Israel under American pressure subsequently opened a crossing in the Philadelphia corridor- the Rafah crossing- and gave it to the sole supervision of the Palestinian Authority . Since then for the last 3 months the flow from Egypt into Gaza of weapons, explosives and fugitives terrorists from Hamas and Fatah has been continuing in violation of all agreements with Israel. At least 45 Hamas and Fatah fugitives who were on Israel’s wanted list and were forbidden to enter have returned through the Rafah crossing. Among them is one of the founders of Hamas’s armed wing, Izzaddin al Kassam, who has been wanted by Israel since 1988, the other is the brother of the Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar, who was deported in 1991, and another is a senior member of Hamas who has been wanted by Israel for over a decade for terrorist attacks. The PA said they were aware of the movement of these terrorists but that “their policy is to allow in all Palestinians through the crossing” and “they don’t classify passengers according to their political affiliations”.
On the Verge
The head of Shin Bet, Israel’s Security Services, admitted recently that terror organizations, especially Hamas, have used the last few months of a cease fire with Israel to build up their military forces and to develop, test and upgrade their long range Kassam rockets in preparation for planned renewed violence and large scale terror attacks in Israel. He warned that with external assistance the terror groups would have a longer range capability within a matter of months. Recently the terrorist organizations took advantage of the open border policy and sent weapons experts into Gaza after being trained in Syria, Lebanon and Iran. Most of the experts are Hamas activists who specialize in making explosive devices and improving rockets range and warheads. Before the Gaza withdrawal the terrorists had to rely on technological knowledge which was transmitted via the internet or by passing information hand to hand.
Since the withdrawal there has been an increase in the number of Kassam rockets attacks from Gaza and many of those rockets on an almost daily basis reach the outskirts of Ashkelon, 7 miles a way. The fact that after the withdrawal the terrorists can get right up to the areas in the northern Gaza strip that were inaccessible to them before the pullout automatically increases the rocket’s range which is approximately 7 miles long. As a result, Ashkelon’s 120,000 residents are increasingly vulnerable as is Ashkelon’s industrial zone which includes the huge Rutenberg power station, the Eilat Ashkelon oil pipeline and a storage facility for hundreds of tons of fuel and gas. This is a potential nightmare scenario.
It seems that the Palestinians are trying to emulate Hizballah again. After Israel unilaterally withdrew from Southern Lebanon in May 2000, Hizballah placed 12,000 rockets and Katyushas in the evacuated areas and targeted them on northern Israel posing real danger to the entire Haifa metropolitan area and as far south as Hadera. Now, the Palestinians are trying to achieve the same balance of terror in Gaza and restrain Israel by threatening a sizable city like Ashkelon. But there are signs that the Palestinians final aim is to smuggle rockets and know how to the West Bank to put under threat Israel ‘s main population centers and the heart of it’s industrial capacity .
Tel Aviv is 40 miles away from Gaza, but it is only 11 miles from the West Bank. Ben Guriun Airport is only 6 miles away as well as Rehovot , Ramla, Petah Tiqwa and other main Israeli cities. Just recently Israeli intelligence confirmed that in December for the first time a 3 miles range kassam rocket was fired from Jenin
in the West Bank toward Israel, causing no damage. The head of Shin Bet warned that if anti aircraft missiles in the hands of the terrorists in Gaza would reach the terror groups operating in the West Bank it could seriously threaten Israel’s civil aviation. After the pullout, there was a significant increase in attempts to smuggle potential suicide bombers and terrorists from Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai to the Negev and the West Bank. With the assistance of operatives in Egypt and Bedouin criminal elements living in the Negev, there were several attempts to smuggle long range rockets and other weapons to the Negev and West bank. There have also been attempts to dig tunnels into Israel from Gaza.
After Ariel Sharon came to power in 2001 he was able to defeat the war of terror, by retaking territory inside the Palestinian Authority areas of control, isolating Arafat up to his death, building a security fence ,and targeting terrorists and their political leaders such as Sheik Yassin the Hamas spiritual leader and his successors. The cumulative impact of Israel‘s counter terrorism raised the price of terrorism so high that many Palestinians began to yearn for the normalcy of life before the war. Israel’s relentless attacks against terrorist groups including Hamas forced so many terrorist leaders to spend their walking hours moving from hideout to hideout that actual operations were left in chaos and disarray. Eventually Hamas’ were so afraid they stopped naming their leaders publicly. Consequently the death toll of Israelis was minimized from 450 Israelis in 2002 to 117 in 2004 and 45 in 2005. And then on the verge of total victory over the terrorists , Israel ‘s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza brought Hamas back from the dead and made them more popular than ever as a perceived viable alternative to the PA. In surveys after the Israel withdrawal, 84% of the Palestinians view Israel disengagement as a victory of Palestinian armed resistance over the Israelis. They saw it as a retreat and attributed most of success of the resistance to Hamas‘ terrorist actions.
Israel’s acceptance of the cease fire brokered by Abu Mazen (without Hamas being disarmed first) brought them out from the hideouts and let them rearm and replenish their armed forces. With Israel acquiescence that Hamas can participate in the political process, again without renouncing terrorism or recognizing Israel’s right to exist first, Hamas seems on the verge of increasing its influence in the West Bank as well as Gaza in the Parliamentary elections scheduled for January 25.
As a result, Hamas will make every effort to install its activists in the Palestinian security forces and government offices thereby assuring that there will be no efforts made to head off terrorists or disarm them thereby effectively killing any chance of fulfilling the “road map” plan. The continuous anti- Israel and anti- Semitic propaganda espoused by Hamas will continue in the Palestinian education system. Thus , a terrorist organization which calls for the destruction of Israel will control the next Palestinian Authority Parliament and government.
Now on March 28, Israel’s very crucial election will take place. Ehud Olmert, the acting Israeli Prime Minister and head of the centrist Party Kadima, who was the originator behind the idea of the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, remarked publicly that “Israel will need to carry out a second large scale disengagement from the West Bank after the Gaza pullout , whether or not a viable peace partner emerges on the Palestinian side“. Amir Peretz , the candidate of the Labor party on the left, stated that Israel has become morally compromised by ruling over the Palestinians and must be prepared to withdraw from much of the West Bank to save itself as a Jewish state.
It would be disastrous to Israeli security and it’s survival to withdraw from the hill tops of the West Bank which would become another Gaza. Rockets and missiles will be as common there as they are in Gaza and Lebanon. Virtually the entire country, including Ben Gurion Airport would be vulnerable to simple weaponry.
Already, Al Qaeda claimed and Israel has confirmed that it was responsible for the Katyusha attack on north Israel on Dec 27. Al Qaeda operations around Israel are becoming more prominent. Al Qaeda has led attacks against Jordan and Egypt in the Sinai . Al Qaeda has already penetrated Gaza and on Jan 1 2006 the Israeli daily Maariv disclosed that the Israeli security establishment confirmed that Al Qaeda has succeeded in recruiting operatives in the West Bank as well. Were Israel to withdraw from the strategic barrier it controls in the Jordan Valley Israel’s increased vulnerability would attract more Al Qaeda to Jordan who would seek to use it as a way to reach the West Bank and then target Israel ‘s population centers a few miles away.