Hamas' failed attack at the Kerem Shalom crossing on Passover eve shows that the organization is prepared to put a lot at risk to lift Israel's economic blockade on the Gaza Strip, and to try to abduct more soldiers to get talks moving on the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.
Even while various intermediaries are trying to effect a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, the temptation to operate seems too great for Hamas' military wing. According to the Israel Defense Forces, Hamas operatives believed they had identified a promising breach in Israel's defenses: the Kerem Shalom crossing, where 200 trucks cross to meet "humanitarian" needs in the Strip each week. It was preceded by the Nahal Oz fuel terminal attack on April 9, where two Israelis civilians were killed.
An attack on the crossings might cause Israel to increase sanctions. Hamas does not necessarily view this as a bad thing, although 1.5 million civilians in the Strip will pay the price. A more severe crisis could result in international intervention, which would force Israel to open the crossings.
However, Gaza experts say Hamas wants to achieve calm, but that it wants to do so from a position of strength. The Hamas leadership understands that Israel does not want to embark on a major operation, at least not in the coming month. Between Passover, Independence Day and another visit by U.S. President George W. Bush, drafting the reserves is not a preferred or even reasonable option.
If Saturday's Hamas action had succeeded, it would have helped the group keep public opinion in the Strip on its side, even if it agrees soon to a cease-fire and to restrain the smaller, more extreme organizations.
The IDF believes the Hamas office in Damascus gave the green light for the attack a few months ago, but it is difficult to ascertain whether Hamas' political bureau leader in Damascus, Khaled Meshal, knew about the timing. On Friday he was meeting in Syria with former U.S. president Jimmy Carter. If the attack had succeeded, the Hamas leader would have appeared not to be in control of his people in Gaza.
Israel's response to the Hamas attack in the coming weeks will probably be limited until the celebrations end. But a large number of civilian casualties, on our side or theirs, can ignite the Strip before Independence Day.
IDF success depends greatly on the quick judgment of the commander in the field. Saturday it was the Bedouin Desert Battalion deputy commander, Major Wahid, who correctly foresaw the impending explosion of a booby-trapped vehicle, and ordered his men into protected vehicles, certainly limiting casualties.
Despite a leg injury from the second explosion, Wahid continued to command the forces that surrounded and killed the driver of the armored vehicle. Almost two years ago, at almost exactly that spot, the battalion was unable to prevent Shalit's abduction. This is the proof that lessons have been learned. It also shows another misconception: The armored vehicles Israel plans to transfer to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank have been described as useless weapons, easily targeted by the Israel Air Force. But they served Hamas in its abduction plan.
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