Analysis / Bombing When Israel blames Arafat, Hamas wins
By Zvi Bar'el
The speed with which the Hamas military wing managed to pull off a "quality attack" in response to Israel's assassination of the Iz a Din Al-Kassam's founder, Salah Shehadeh, and the movement's utter rejection of the PA's pleas not to conduct revenge attacks for the assassination, are a sign of the new front facing Israel.
According to an Israeli intelligence source, Hamas and its military wing has a "target bank" in Israel, just as the IDF has a "target bank" in the territories. "There's nothing random about their choice of targets," said the source, "with each bomber and each bomb having a known target that is not improvised at the last minute. This is the fruit of ongoing intelligence work that knows the security arrangements and the ways to reach every target."
The bombing yesterday at the Hebrew University shows that assessments saying the Palestinian terrorist organizations are having difficulties getting hold of effective munitions, does not meet the test of reality and that their ability to recruit bombers has not been reduced by the mass arrests during the IDF's operations in the territories.
Hamas' military capabilities and its full integration in what has become known as the Palestinian resistance movement - the same name used by the Hezbollah in Lebanon - has become a threat not only to Israel but to the Palestinian Authority's ability to find its way toward any political process. In effect, the PA realizes that it can only get cooperation with Hamas in those areas that are compatible with the Hamas ideology - and not the contrary. Therefore, when Israel strikes at Hamas targets, like Salah Shehadeh, or if it hits other Hamas targets, the PA cannot prevent the Hamas from undertaking vengeance attacks of its own. Thus, the question becomes whether there is any point to the efforts for coordination and dialogue between the PA and Hamas and Islamic Jihad with regard to reactions to Israeli moves.
PA sources believe that in the balance of forces in the territories, Hamas has achieved legitimacy because it is regarded as an integral part of the Palestinian movement against Israel. Hamas today is no longer perceived as an isolationist, religious movement working against the PA's agenda or against the agreements the PA signed with Israel, but rather as part of the struggle.
"Hamas' stature is similar to that of Hezbollah in Lebanon before the IDF withdrew," said a senior Palestinian official. "Just as Lebanon had to grit its teeth in light of the Hezbollah's activities, there are more and more elements who oppose Hamas' actions but they cannot speak out because we are all in the same struggle."
That leads to the conclusion that in order to retain and sustain its legitimacy, Hamas will be ready to coordinate with Arafat because Arafat remains the source of authority of that legitimacy. Until he announces an end to the armed resistance, Hamas has no tactical problem lining up with him, even if it means a temporary halt to the attacks.
Revenge attacks, in any case, are not counted in the overall balance, and despite PA condemnations, such as yesterday's, the revenge attacks are always justified by the Palestinians as retaliations for Israeli attacks.
The Hamas dilemma will begin if a tactical halt to the bombings leads to a renewal of the political process, which could once again divide the PA's agenda from that of Hamas, or if Israel starts sending money to Palestinians in the territories and allows work inside Israel in exchange for security cooperation from the PA against Hamas activists.
In both cases, Hamas will try to prove its relevance and its ability to set the agenda by basing itself on the Israeli doctrine that continues to blame Arafat for all the acts of terror against Israel. As long as that doctrine remains fixed, Hamas can continue gaining legitimacy at Arafat's expense, and at the same time, with relative ease, prevent the renewal of any negotiations.