Analysis / From Washington to Gaza to New Zealand

"The strategic defense environment today is completely different," U.S. General James Jones declared recently.

The new defense environment is characterized by "enemies that have no territorial base, no borders, no regular military bases," explained Jones, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR), and the Commander of the United States European Command (COMUSEUCOM).

This description fits three security events that occurred in recent hours: the IDF air strike that killed Abdel Aziz Rantisi, the attack Saturday at the Erez Crossing, and the release of the Mossad mishap in New Zealand.

Jones' area of command extends (among other places) to Israel, Syria, and Lebanon. It is possible that after Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip, and Gaza's heightened security link with Egypt, it, too, could fall within the theater of the American general's command. The meaning of this switch would not be purely organizational: It would reflect the tightening of U.S.-Israeli cooperation in the war on terror.

The strikes against Hamas leaders are carried out within the context of Israel's policy of disengagement from the Gaza Strip, a plan that has been formulated by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and which now has U.S. support.

As a "plus" to be gained from Israel's disengagement plan, President George Bush has cited the precedent-setting aspect of the evacuation of settlements; as a "minus," Bush administration officials are concerned about the possible strengthening of terror groups, which could gain control of the Gaza Strip after the IDF's departure.

Disruption of Hamas' operations might make it easier for Mohammed Dahlan to impose his authority on the Gaza Strip, with American and Egyptian support. Early this month, Israel refrained from attacking Rantisi, around the time of a meeting he held with Dahlan - the IDF exercised restraint, wary both of hurting Dahlan physically, and about possibly compromising Dahlan in the eyes of Palestinians (who might have accused him of complicity in Israel's assassinations policy).

Just under a month ago, Israel assassinated Ahmed Yassin. In contrast to fears that surfaced as Hamas spokesmen vowed reprisals for Yassin's death, the past month was one of the most placid periods since the start of the intifada in September 2000.

Terror strikes originating in the Gaza Strip will continue after the assassination of Hamas leaders, and also after Israel's withdrawal from the area. Based on the assumption that the Erez crossing will be targeted for attacks in the future, the IDF's Southern Command plans to move the Erez terminal to a point more than a mile away from where it is now located.

Recently, millions of shekels were allocated to fortifying security arrangements at the current Erez crossing - but if Sharon's separation plan is approved, this investment will be frozen, and the funds will be used to beef up the new, relocated terminal.

In Washington, Hamas and Hezbollah are considered terror organizations that have unacceptable links in Iran and Syria, and which use these connections to undermine American efforts in Iraq. Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and other senior U.S. State Department or armed forces spokesmen, stressed the key support Syria gives to terrorists who infiltrate Iraq. American warnings about this subject are designed to set the stage for direct action in Damascus - or perhaps for Israeli action against Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Damascus, and other militant figures in the city.

The Mossad's embarrassing mishap in New Zealand stands out as a kind of ugly foil to the success enjoyed recently by the IDF, the Shin Bet security service and also Israel's police force in anti-terror operations.

This misadventure is part of a series of botched operations in recent years in a number of countries - Switzerland, Germany, Britain, Cyprus. Now, New Zealand is on the list. The latest mishap proves that Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who has been on the job for 18 months, has not found a way to end the chain reaction of flaws in the Mossad system - the problems derive from the quality of personnel, and their performance in the field. In addition, Sharon, like his predecessors in the prime ministerial post, has not succeeded in his supervisory role over the Mossad.

The Mossad, one can assume, does not spy on New Zealand's government. Its agents must have been sent to the country either to keep tabs on elements hostile to Israel that are located in the country, or to develop cover identities for use in some third country.