Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz met in Tel Aviv yesterday with Egypt's intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, and asked him to try to calm matters in the Palestinian arena and stop the Qassam rocket fire on Israel.

Mofaz told Suleiman that rocket fire aimed at Israel has increased in recent weeks, and reported that there were six specific warnings regarding planned terrorist attacks in Israel. He said that Syria conveyed directives and funding for various organizations in the territories.

Mofaz insinuated that Israel would continue operating militarily against the terrorist infrastructure despite the upcoming PA parliamentary election.

"Despite Israel's desire to strengthen Abu Mazen ahead of the election, we are responsible for our citizens," he said.

Mofaz's assertion aside, Israel would prefer that Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) postpone the election using any excuse. Senior Israeli officials believe that Abbas will ultimately decide to do so.

Mofaz and Suleiman - who is visiting Israel and the Palestinian Authority - also discussed continued bilateral cooperation. Mofaz said that since he visited Cairo several months ago, there has been evident improvement in the performance of the Egyptian forces stationed along the Philadelphi route. Both sides agreed to continue cooperating on security matters.

With Fatah weakening and Hamas growing stronger, Israel believes Hamas is likely to score striking results in the election, if not to win it. That would be extremely dangerous because of the legitimacy the election would confer on an armed terrorist organization that calls for Israel's annihilation.

Candidates risk arrest

Still, while not allowing voting in East Jerusalem, the latest Israeli position is not to interfere in the elections, but to coordinate them logistically with the PA. Hamas candidates who try to move between the Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank will risk being arrested at IDF checkpoints as operatives of a terrorist organization. In post-pullout Gaza Strip, the Palestinians are free to do and act as they please.

Israel also permitted the jailed Tanzim leader, Marwan Barghouti, to conduct his political campaign from his cell in an Israeli prison. Barghouti was allowed to meet with PA ministers and members of parliament.

According to political sources in Jerusalem, "we did the minimum so as not to be accused of interfering with the political process." But Israel may have wanted to signal Abbas that it has the power to bolster his main rival for Fatah leadership.

Israel has attempted to persuade the international community that Hamas' participation in the election only serves to undermine democracy, not strengthen it. The impression in Jerusalem is that the American administration is increasingly disappointed with Abbas, who has not "delivered the goods" as a leader.

Egypt is trying to help Abbas, as was clear yesterday when Suleiman told Mofaz that it is important to the current PA leader to hold the election as scheduled, January 25.