Shin Bet, MI at odds over Hamas terror strategy
The Israel Defense Forces' Military Intelligence division believes that over the last 100 days, Hamas has refrained from carrying out terror strikes against Israeli civilians west of the Green Line. Hamas's last attack within the Green Line, according to MI, took place at Cafe Hillel in Jerusalem, on September 9, 2003.
Over the past three and a half months, Hamas has focused its attacks and attempted attacks on soldiers - both in the territories and in Israel - and settlers. MI's research department, headed by Brigadier General Yossi Kupperwasser, views this as a significant change in the attack strategy of the Islamic group, which until recently viewed all Israelis, wherever they may be, as legitimate targets.
The change, MI explains, stems from Hamas' sensitivity toward Palestinian public opinion, which has become increasingly opposed recently to attacks on Israeli civilians.
The Shin Bet security service, however, does not share this assessment put forward by MI. According to data in the hands of the Shin Bet, Hamas activists have participated in numerous attempted terror attacks against Israeli civilian targets in recent weeks. All such attempts were foiled by the Shin Bet and the IDF.
MI, for its part, has counted 27 foiled suicide bombings since October - none of them, according to MI, were Hamas plots.
The Shin Bet disagrees with this analysis and is ready to attribute each attempted attack to a specific Hamas cell )Nablus or Bethlehem, for example( and other accessory organization (the Tanzim or Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, for example). Sunday night, the Shin Bet counted 52 warnings about attacks in Israel and the territories, many of which are linked to Hamas.
MI officials believe that Hamas's relative surge in popularity among the Palestinians, together with a parallel slide in the strength of the ruling party, Fatah, is encouraging Hamas leaders to reflect the new popular trend - a gradual backing off from suicide attacks in Israel. According to surveys conducted by Dr. Khalil Shkaki's Center for Palestine Research and Studies in Nablus, support for such attacks has fallen over the past two months from 59 percent to 50 percent. MI believes that the true level of support for suicide attacks is even lower and that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, who also has his ear to the ground, is close to Hamas in his opposition to attacks in Israel - but not against soldiers and settlers.
The organizations that are still eager to carry out such attacks are Islamic Jihad and the Tanzim, which are fed by financial and ideological support from outside the territories, primarily from Iran and Hezbollah.
MI believes that PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia has no chance of persuading Hamas to agree to a cease-fire. On agreeing to take up his position, Qureia assumed that both sides - both the Israelis and the Palestinians - had tired of the conflict between them and were ready to compromise.
Now, however, MI believes that Qureia has reached the conclusion that he erred in his vision of the developments stemming from the weariness of the two sides, as it has emerged that neither has the strength to initiate a bold, new move. Qureia, MI says, has been unable to overcome his helplessness in the face of Arafat, who remains in control of the PA's security mechanisms.
Unlike his predecessor, Mahmoud Abbas, who had Mohammed Dahlan to rely on, Qureia does not have a senior security official, although he may choose to groom Abd al-Razaq al-Majeida or Amin al-Hindi for the job. Jibril Rajoub is close to Arafat, not Qureia.
MI believes that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's address to the Herzliya Conference last week was seen by the Palestinians as a real threat to their aspirations for political achievements. The threat, in the eyes of the Palestinians, stems from Sharon's announcement that together with the evacuation of certain settlements, Israel will decide from which areas it will not withdraw, even under a permanent settlement, and will reinforce its hold on them.
The Palestinians are also concerned by Israel's coordination with elements in the U.S. administration - expressed both by Sharon and in the praise that ensued from the White House, the fall-off in the influence of the Geneva Accord, and the series of U.S. successes in the Middle East.
According to MI, the current balance of power in the Israeli-Palestinian-American arena offer a chance for a gradual and hesitant renewal of the political process. In preparation for such a move, Qureia is expected to forgo the precondition he has touted - a freeze on the construction of the separation fence in the territories.