Analysis / Jihad operating at full steam
Only the precise intelligence from the Shin Bet, and the efficient deployment by the Israel Defense Forces at the Erez crossing prevented a total collapse of the calm in the territories yesterday.
The Palestinian Authority's ongoing haplessness in contending with the terrorist organizations cost the lives of two Israelis in the last two days - an IDF soldier in Rafah and a settler in the West Bank. But if the would-be suicide bomber had managed to get through Erez yesterday and blow herself up at Soroka Medical Center, Israelis and Palestinians would be awakening this morning to a completely new day. The regime of understandings reached at the Sharm summit last February would have ended: the immediate ramifications of a high-profile bombing at a hospital most likely would have been a broad Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, a new low in public support for the disengagement plan, and even doubt over the government sticking to the plan.
The would-be bomber arrested yesterday at Erez was dispatched by a local Fatah faction in the northern Gaza Strip. The fact that people from Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' party can plan such an attack at the height of the most reasonable period the Palestinians have experienced since 2000 attests to the state Abbas is in. But, ultimately, that is a rogue group, not the entire movement.
More important is the development in Islamic Jihad. For several weeks the organization has absolved itself of any responsibility for maintaining the "tahadiya," or period of calm. Now its efforts appear to be growing, with blatant encouragement from headquarters in Damascus. Within four days, the organization attempted a sophisticated attack on Kfar Darom, fired rockets at Sderot, killed the soldier on the Philadelphi route, and murdered the civilian near Baka al-Sharkiyeh. Such an amalgamation of attacks is also related to political developments: the visit last Saturday by U.S. Secretary of State Cnodoleezza Rice and the meeting today between Ariel Sharon and Abbas.
Even though Islamic Jihad is operating at full steam, it does not officially renounce the calm. This approach stems from Palestinian public opinion, which mostly wants the calm to continue in view of the resulting economic improvement and lifting of some restrictions on mobility.
The defense establishment's main concern is the Jihad network in the West Bank. The key figure, Louis Saadi of Saida village near Tul Karm, has been eluding Israeli capture, even though he has been high on the wanted list since helping to dispatch the bomber to the Stage nightclub in January. Dozens of other operatives have since been arrested, but the speed with which the network keeps reestablishing itself has surprised even the Shin Bet. Israel's success in thwarting a series of Jihad attempts to dispatch suicide bombers into Israel in the past two months has not deterred the organization. Meanwhile, it is also trying to develop Qassam rockets and mortars in Jenin, and is exploiting Hamas' relative weakness in northern Samaria to break into areas like charity networks and civilian fund-raising.