Members of the Egyptian delegation conducting negotiations over the release of the abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier are under the impression that those holding him belong to various organizations, and are unsure what to do with the spoil in their possession. The Egyptians also believe that the ideological disputes among the kidnappers are likely to make it difficult to reach agreement that would facilitate a hasty release for Gilad Shalit.
According to an Egyptian source in Cairo, there will be "lengthy talks with irregular and undisciplined forces."
This Egyptians' view could be an indication that Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh now has realized that the movement that carried him to power could strip him of his ability to maintain control. Hamas, a movement that has enjoyed an image of unity among its ranks is looking more and more like Fatah of the intifada era.
The operation near Kerem Shalom and the abduction of Shalit have brought the conflict between those who support upholding the cease-fire and those who oppose it to the surface, and illustrates the ineffectiveness of Hamas' political leadership.
It is no longer a case of the old dispute between Hamas outside the territories, under the leadership of Khaled Meshal and exiled Hamas members in Damascus, and Hamas inside the territories. Now it is also a conflict between a faction within Hamas' military wing, Iz al-Din al-Qassam, and the force's central body, which continues to obey the directives of the political leadership.
According to Hamas sources, a rogue faction within Iz al-Din al-Qassam appears to have joined forces with the so-called Popular Resistance Committees, various family-based gangs and splinter groups that control a number of quarters in Rafah. These forces were responsible for digging the tunnel into Israel - an operation whose planning and implementation began shortly after Haniyeh's government took office in March.
Judging by the reactions of Haniyeh and his aides, Hamas' political leadership and parts of Iz al-Din al-Qassam had no knowledge of the tunnel or plans to carry out the attack and abduction, which was an unexpected bonus, according to a Hamas source.
"You must understand that in general, the political leadership is not in the know when it comes to every operation carried out by the members of the military wing - in the same way that Yasser Arafat didn't know exactly what every one of his military organizations was doing," a Hamas source explained.
Does this mean that Haniyeh cannot give orders to the military wing?
"The military wing works in coordination with the government, and this is illustrated by the fact that the cease-fire has been preserved; but there are a number of commanders in the field who are not prepared to accept these orders," the source said. "The forces in the field are aware of the general policy, and they are entitled to translate it into any type of action."
The source said that this situation is due to both the political leadership's inability to provide for its military forces and pay their wages, and the political disputes that arose following the elections. Therefore, Hamas' leadership outside the territories also may not have known about the attack.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia now are pressing Hamas and Islamic Jihad's leadership, via Syria, to bring about Shalit's release, but have yet to receive practical responses. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak may initiate a meeting in Cairo with these organizations' leaders within a day or two in further efforts to secure the soldier's release.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now