Gaza Escalation / No fun for Haniyeh
Ismail Haniyeh is rapidly discovering what Ariel Sharon before him put so well. Things you see from here, from the vantage point of prime minister (the Israeli, like the Palestinian), you don't see from there, from the opposition. At the end of his first week on the job, the Hamas prime minister had no time for celebrations.
Problems piled up in every direction: in the West Bank, Fatah and the Popular Front embarrassed Haniyeh and Hamas with the suicide bombing at Kedumim, signaling their readiness to continue flying the terror banner while the Palestinian cabinet wishes to fold it up, at least temporarily.
In the Gaza Strip, an assassination, to which an Israeli connection has remained somewhat vague, ignited a small war between the Popular Resistance Committees and the Preventive Security Service, which has been officially subordinated to the interior minister from Hamas but is still run by Fatah.
Meanwhile, Israel escalated its remote attacks on the Strip, from the air and now also from the sea, as part of dealing with Qassam-launching cells.
The most urgent problem Haniyeh faces is internal - the continued anarchy on the streets known as the fauda. The assessment, frequently made in Israel, that Hamas would impose order in the territories as soon as it assumes control of the regime now seems farfetched. Samir Mashrawi, a senior member of the Preventive Security and of Fatah in Gaza, announced yesterday that his organization will not heed Haniyeh's call to stop holding armed demonstrations. Hamas had better deal with its own first, Mashrawi advised.
Hamas' dilemma is clear: at this stage it apparently cannot replace the heads of security agencies from Fatah in the Gaza Strip, and the latter certainly have no interest in helping Haniyeh by voluntarily giving up positions of power.
Hamas' minister of information, Youssef Rezqa el-Bureij, conceded over the weekend that the cabinet has no current plans to enforce public order. The object, he said, would be attained gradually, by employing various means, some of them judicial. Hamas apparently wants a slow takeover.
One of Interior Minister Saeed Seyam's first steps was to promote senior members of the security agencies. Meanwhile, Hamas is building a major "intervention force" in the Strip, designed to counter Fatah's armed demonstrations.
If the initial steps for dealing with the anarchy are hesitant, then violent confrontation with Islamic Jihad and Fatah, which continue firing rockets into the Negev, is certainly out of the question. That would be political suicide for Hamas. But if Haniyeh thinks he has time to deal quietly with these challenges, he isn't taking Israeli into account.
Ehud Olmert has also just won elections and has an electorate expecting answers. Without effective measures by Hamas to rein in the other organizations, Israel will be forced to keep escalating its response. In view of the Katyusha launch last week, a large-scale ground incursion in the northern Strip no longer seems impossible.