The head of the Israel Defense Force’s Military Intelligence Directorate told a Knesset committee that despite efforts by Hamas to maintain calm, the deteriorating economic situation in the Gaza Strip is liable to blow up in Israel’s direction, five lawmakers who attended the meeting told Haaretz.
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The Knesset members, who asked to remain anonymous because the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting was held behind closed doors, remarked that Gen. Herzl Halevi said there is certain progress in reconstructing Gaza but that it is too slow and insufficient. They said that he presented data from a UN report that was published in September, according to which if the current trends in Gaza continue, it will be uninhabitable by 2020.
The MKs noted that the military intelligence chief made it clear that as of today Hamas is doing everything it can to stop an escalation against Israel in Gaza. He said Hamas is functioning as a restraining force for other organizations in Gaza and is making an effort to prevent rocket fire. Still, they said that Halevi made it clear that economic improvement in Gaza will be the most important restraining factor.
“The military intelligence chief said that the situation in Gaza is deteriorating, and that the United Nations report forecasts a catastrophe,” said one of the MKs. “He emphasized to us that if there won’t be improvement Israel will be the first to feel it when things explode.”
During the intelligence chief’s briefing, he also discussed the situation in the West Bank and the future of the Palestinian Authority. Halevy denied statements attributed to him on Monday on Israeli television’s Channel 10, according to which he said in a meeting of the diplomatic-security cabinet that without progress in the peace process violence in the West Bank would spread. “I did not say these things, and therefore I have no intention to comment on them,” Halevi told the MKs.
The MKs remarked that the intelligence chief stressed to them that economic steps would help stabilize the situation in the West Bank as well, and said that the government decision to allow Palestinian laborers to continue working in Israel and to even increase the number of work permits is a step in the right direction that will help put a break on further escalation. He added that security coordination with Palestinian security forces is still robust, and that it is necessary to maintain that coordination. The MKs noted that Halevi stressed that an end to the security coordination is a possible scenario, but one that is extreme and is of low probability.
Halevi discussed during the meeting the scenario of the PA collapsing and said that such a development would not happen as part of a Palestinian initiative. “The intelligence chief told us that the Palestinian leadership has no interest to bring about the collapse of the PA,” said one of the MKs.
Still, Halevi clarified that a collapse of the PA is liable to happen as a result of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas disappearing from the scene. In such a situation, remarked the intelligence chief, Hamas will try to take control of some of the governing institutions and power centers in the West Bank, not as part of a military coup but rather a political revolution.
“The intelligence chief said a number of times that the army is concerned about what could follow the day after Abu Mazen is gone, especially because there is today no natural successor,” said one of the MKs who participated in the meeting.