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An investigation has been launched into why the intelligence services failed to correctly assess the outcome of the Palestinian elections. Cabinet sources have been criticizing not only the failure to predict a Hamas triumph, but also the lack of any analyses about the possibility of such an outcome and the failure to attribute the proper importance to it.

Various intelligence analyses, some of which were presented to the cabinet, dealt with the possibility of Hamas winning only as a relatively unlikely scenario. Both Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet predicted a Fatah victory with a small majority over Hamas, but noted that the Hamas would score a significant achievement. Shin Bet predicted a smaller advantage to the Fatah than did MI.

The probe, which is being held in both MI and Shin Bet, is required in view of the stunning Hamas victory and the changes it could effect in Israeli-Palestinian relations, defense sources said.

Some sources said the extent of the victory took Hamas itself by surprise, as its leaders mostly believed the elections would result in a narrow Fatah victory. The Hamas' political bureau head Khaled Meshal said at a news conference in Damascus yesterday that "none of us imagined such a huge victory."

The military sources said that predicting election results is always difficult. They noted that the Iranian president's victory some six months ago also took Israel and the West by surprise.

However, some intelligence sources say that relying on the Palestinian opinion polls too heavily was a mistake, especially following their failure to predict Hamas' victory in the recent local elections.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz yesterday defended the intelligence services in an interview to Channel 2. He said that even had Israel predicted the election results correctly, it would not have been able to do anything about it, because it could not be seen to intervene in the Palestinian democratic process.

Mofaz said that if the Hamas resumes terror acts, Israel would respond accordingly and resume its assassinations of Hamas leaders. He said Israel would not allow the terror activity to resume and reach the extent of 2002 and threatened that should this occur, "Hamas will come under an unprecedented attack."

Major General (res.) Amos Gilad, head of the political-security branch in the Defense Ministry, told Israel Radio yesterday that Israel would not allow Hamas parliament members to pass from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank to take part in parliamentary debates. He said "Israel should not give passage to someone who represents a murder and terror organization, who seeks to destroy us."

The cabinet and defense establishment have decided not to change the warfare against terror at this stage. The IDF will continue arresting Islamic Jihad but also Hamas activists engaged in terror activity in the West Bank, if necessary. On Friday 15 activists on Israel's wanted list were arrested in the West Bank, nine of them Hamas members.