The Ashdod port is a prime target, and a terror attack on it is liable to have strategic import. In operational terms, the lesson of Sunday's tragedy is that if a terrorist managed to penetrate to a port located not far from the Gaza Strip, a group of armed attackers might do the same thing tomorrow and cause yet greater damage.
In political terms, the lesson is that the Palestinians currently relate to Israel on two tracks: one has at least the veneer of diplomatic activity. On the second track, Fatah, which is Ahmed Qureia's and Yasser Arafat's organization, continues to sponsor terror attacks, in concert with Hamas.
Cooperation between the two organizations, Hamas and Fatah, in an attack such as Sunday's strike at the Ashdod harbor is nothing new. This operational cooperation has solidified over the past several weeks. For Hamas, the development is a major achievement: it has managed to build a kind of joint military apparatus with the Fatah establishment.
According to one theory, Hamas has managed to penetrate inside of Fatah, and has wrested control of several militant cells, managing them as though they were Hamas groups.
The Palestinian Authority will find it very hard to contain this trend of Fatah-Hamas cooperation. Though Arafat theoretically has control of seven security organizations, none of them really has any impact when it comes to militant activity and violence in the PA.
The impotence of these seven organizations is reflected not only by the continuation of terror, but also by the anarchy and crime that is sweeping over Palestinian Authority territory.
Current developments tend to support an assessment offered by IDF Major General Aharon Ze'evi (Farkash), head of Military Intelligence. The MI head predicted that the moment Israel evinced its readiness to carry out unilateral withdrawal, the Palestinian organizations would make a concerted effort to show that Israel is retreating under military pressure. To that end, Ze'evi warned, the militant groups would try to perpetrate large scale attacks in the Gaza Strip area.
The first such attempt came when several cars disguised as IDF vehicles rolled toward the Erez crossing. This effort, another joint Hamas-Fatah operation, was foiled thanks to the alertness and ingenuity of IDF soldiers; all the attackers were killed.
The attack on the Ashdod port could have been anticipated -the Palestinians attempted in the past to attack containers close to the port. Sunday's attack caused many fatalities and injuries, but it did not cause significant damage to dangerous targets in the area.
The terrorists on Sunday appeared to get by the fence which surrounds the Gaza Strip. In the future, attackers might try to reach the Gaza Strip area from points in the southern West Bank, from the sea or from the Sinai Peninsula.
If the attackers did manage to penetrate through the fence, their success was an unusual occurrence. The logical response to such infiltration would not be to bandon work on fences, but rather to identify weak links and "holes" in the fence, and to repair them.
The IDF's response to Sunday's attack is not likely to be entirely defensive. IDF planners are considering offensive oriented measures throughout the Gaza Strip.
The cancellation of the meeting between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) was mainly a symbolic gesture. Nobody, in any case, expected their meeting to yield substantive results.
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