Analysis / Hamas Selected Be'er Sheva Because It Was an Easy Target

The bombing of the buses yesterday proves Hamas' unwillingness to accept a cease-fire in anticipation of Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, as its people told Egyptian officials in Cairo last week.

The bombing of the buses yesterday proves Hamas' unwillingness to accept a cease-fire in anticipation of Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, as its people told Egyptian officials in Cairo last week.

The meeting in Cairo ended without results, and it was clear that it was only a matter of time before Hamas found a way to penetrate Israel's defenses.

Be'er Sheva was chosen as a target because the way from Hebron to Be'er Sheva is relatively easy, in the absence of a defense barrier in the south of Mount Hebron.

The two suicide bombers arrived from Mount Hebron. The Shin Bet knows who they were. Yesterday the defense establishment heads convened in Tel Aviv to discuss Israel's reaction. It would be wrong to expect a decisive and surprising reaction to the two bus bombings. The only formula Israel has is continuing to foil suicide bombings on the basis of intelligence tips relating to specific incidents, by assassinations of persons directly involved in suicide bombings, stepping up the construction of the separation barrier, and setting a "price" for those who support terror.

The past few months indicate that this formula has been relatively successful.

Hamas' reply to Egypt was not surprising. Its leadership sees Israel's disengagement plan as a threat, and even if it cannot prevent it, Hamas will try to make the IDF withdraw under fire. The Egyptians are familiar with this position, but want to prove to the residents of the Gaza Strip that they are doing everything to reduce Israel's military pressures on them.

Hamas is gaining considerable prestige from its high level meetings with Egyptian officials. At the end of the last round of talks, Hamas representatives said they would be willing to have another debate with the Egyptians after the latter receive Fatah's answer to the cease-fire proposal. They probably know that Arafat is not ready to issue an explicit instruction for a cease-fire.

Hamas in Hebron is considered one of the hard core terrorist organizations, characterized among other things by the extreme secrecy with which it conducts itself. The intelligence services consider it difficult to crack Hamas cells in Hebron, and when things are quiet in Hebron for a long time, the Shin Bet gets suspicious, seeing it as the calm before the storm.

After several Hamas attempts to penetrate towns in the Sharon failed, it chose the southern, open way, where no fence separates Mount Hebron and the Negev. The fence route in the south has been decided on, but following the High Court of Justice ruling, the officials in charge started arguing on whether it should be changed. The planned route is not on the Green Line, and penetrates quite deeply into Palestinian territory, more than five kilometers in some places.