One of the big questions about the US plan to create a Palestinian state controlled by Fatah is, of course, “what about Hamas?” Fatah is not strong enough militarily or politically to take on Hamas, and Hamas is not going away by itself.
I’ve argued that the apparent contradiction implies that the plan isn’t serious. But what if I’m wrong, and it is for real? How would such a plan deal with Hamas?
DEBKAfile has an idea, and it isn’t pretty. But it accounts for a lot of things that have been said by PM Olmert, President Bush, and others, and it fits the the way that the US has tried to accomplish similar goals in other places.
The suggestion is that the IDF will be permitted to invade Gaza — but only to a limited extent. Of course, DEBKA presents it as inside knowledge, and maybe it’s just a guess. But I hope they’re wrong:
1. Israeli forces must limit their invasion to two or three strips abutting the Gaza-Israeli border of the 365 sq. km square Hamas-ruled territory on Israel’s southwestern border…
2. The IDF must operate only in sparsely-populated areas and desist from actions that may cause extensive Palestinian civilian casualties.
3. The IDF will not capture the main cities, e.g. Gaza City, Rafah and Khan Younes.
4. After clearing captured areas of Hamas, Jihad Islami and other Palestinian terrorists, the Israeli army must pull out and hand the cleansed territory to the forces of the Palestinian Authority [PA] chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel must enable the passage of those forces from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip and allow them to establish military bases for launching their offensives to recapture the entire Gaza Strip, thereby reversing Hamas’ success in forcing their retreat six months ago…
It was … proposed in Bush’s talks in Ramallah and Jerusalem that the Israeli Air Force and artillery provide support for the Palestinian takeover of the Gaza Strip, a tactic the US army employs for local forces in Iraq.
DEBKA suggests that PM Olmert has agreed to this plan. But it would be a disaster of the first order if it were to be carried out.
First, from a tactical point of view, it will not work. The IDF will “break its teeth” against the elaborate fortifications built by Hamas in Gaza since the takeover, and will suffer significant casualties until they are overcome. But they will not be able to pursue and destroy the Hamas forces, who will simply escape to the West or lose themselves in the cities! So what will Israel have bought at a high price?
Second, the PA forces are not any more likely to fight effectively against the highly motivated Hamas than they were last year. Many of them are sympathetic to Hamas, most if not all are former (or present) members of terrorist militias such as the al-Aqsa Brigades, and all of them consider Israel a greater enemy than Hamas. Many of their US and Israeli-supplied weapons will end up in Hamas hands.
Third, the plan places the IDF in a role of fighting for one side in a Palestinian civil conflict, instead of defending Israel against her enemies.
Finally, if the PA does not defeat Hamas (which it won’t), then what? DEBKA writes,
If a military campaign succeeds in gaining control of parts of Gaza on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, peace talks will resume with Abbas’ standing much enhanced. But if the results are mixed, like in the 2006 Lebanon War under Olmert’s direction, the Palestinian leader will drop Israel and the United States like hot coals, turn coat and seek an understanding with Hamas for a re-united front against Israel.
We must also keep in mind that an Israeli invasion of Gaza, even a limited one, is likely to provoke Hezbollah to heat up the northern border. It will not be advantageous for the IDF to be tied down to supporting a protracted struggle between the PA and Hamas when this occurs.
All this and more is obvious to the IDF’s officer corps. I cannot imagine but that many officers would resign before they would carry out orders to, in effect, send their men to die for the PA. The result could be a crisis for the Israeli government and the IDF.