Wednesday, 21 November 2012


Khaled Meshaal's suicide bomb

By Matthew Kalman

JERUSALEM - Don't be fooled by the victory slogans of Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Cairo or the scenes of celebration in Gaza on Wednesday.

The bomb that exploded on Bus 142 in King Saul Boulevard next to the Israeli army headquarters, Ministry of Defence and Tel Aviv's museum, law courts and opera house, was not a suicide attack, but from the point of view of Hamas, the hundreds of nails it contained might as well have been prepared for the group's own coffin.

Hamas has now committed diplomatic suicide. The Islamic Resistance Movement is about to undergo the humiliating procedure of having its weapons extracted. It is unlikely to survive the operation in its current form.
The M-75 and Fajr-5 rockets aimed at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv last week gave Israel no choice other than to neuter the militant monster now camped on its border. The US and Europe are firmly in agreement.

The eight days of Israel's Operation Pillar of Defence have been hell for the Palestinians in Gaza, but the international community places the blame for their suffering squarely on Hamas. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon this week described Israelis near Gaza as “living in fear and terror,” a situation he described as “unacceptable, irresponsible and reckless.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, announcing the ceasefire on Wednesday, reserved the right to renew military action at any time. "I realize that there are citizens who expect a harsher military action and we may very well need to do that. But at present, the right thing for the State of Israel is to exhaust this possibility of reaching a long-term cease-fire," he said.

If Hamas carries out another attack on Israel or tries to re-arm, Netanyahu's decision not to invade now has given him international backing to wipe out Hamas completely next time around.

"Any serious long-term deal that comes out of this has got to ensure that Hamas is not re-armed," UK Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt told me in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

“We can’t go on as we are. There has to be a sustainable Gaza and that clearly implies that the missiles that are smuggled through the tunnels – that’s got to stop," said Burt. "The only way Gaza can move forward is if it is no longer a base for these sort of attacks and then we can start to think of the future of Gaza another way."

Burt was clear that the entire supply chain from Iran through Sinai via Sudan must be closed down and that the international community would help achieve that.

"Clearly there is a route," Burt told me. "All those involved in the route have an obligation to make sure that this stops and Israel is right to insist upon that.”

European governments agree. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels this week: “We need to find a long-term solution to Gaza. We have to find a way to prevent the kind of violent rocket attacks that we've seen.”

Even Egypt, whose Muslim Brotherhood government has close historic and doctrinal ties to Hamas, cannot risk its own stability by allowing Sinai to be the smuggling route for Hamas's armoury.

“Sinai right now is an unfolding catastrophe,” said a senior European diplomat who asked not be identified.

Hillary Clinton did not mention Hamas by name in Jerusalem on Tuesday, but her meaning was clear.

“The rocket attacks from terrorist organizations inside Gaza on Israeli cities and towns must end and a broader calm be restored,” she said. “The goal must be a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

She pointedly praised “President Morsi's personal leadership and Egypt's efforts thus far. As a regional leader and neighbor, Egypt has the opportunity and responsibility to continue playing a crucial and constructive role in this process.”

Egypt is still supporting Hamas in public, but western diplomats say that behind the scenes Morsi applied the intense pressure that persuaded Hamas to sign Wednesday's deal. Hamas's diplomatic isolation is almost complete, and with the attack on Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Hamas may have kissed its last shreds of domestic support goodbye.

Palestinians are overwhelmingly opposed to a renewal of attacks against Israeli civilians.

A poll carried out in early November for the Palestinian Jerusalem Media and Communications Center showed 65% of Palestinians in favor of “peaceful negotiations” or “non-violent resistance” compared with just 28% who wanted a return to “armed resistance” – as the Palestinians call terror attacks.

The same poll revealed that Palestinians in Gaza were already wearying of their Islamic Resistance Group government before the current round of fighting began, with 40% saying they would vote for the Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, with Hamas support at just 22.4%. In the West Bank, support for Hamas was even lower at 16.6%.

Most Palestinians would reluctantly accept the deal Israel is currently offering - a demilitarized Gaza in return for open borders and a chance to start again. As far as the extremists are concerned, there is now little to choose between Hamas and Fatah. Hamas has now followed Fatah in negotiating with the Zionist entity, and - worst sin of all - agreeing to stop armed attacks. The remaining supporters of the Islamic Resistance Group are asking what happened to the Hamas promise of constant jihad until the liberation of Palestine?

The growing gulf between the militants - now in a dwindling minority - and the vast majority of Palestinian public opinion was sharply illustrated by Ziad Nakhleh, deputy leader of the Islamic Jihad just this week, complaining about Israel's demand that he be stopped from acquiring more weapons.

"Smuggling weapons is seen as if it is smuggling drugs," Nakhleh protested. "We say our people has the right to get weapons by all means. Without them, we won't be able to stand steadfast, and we won't be able to bomb the capital of the Zionist entity."


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