Wednesday, March 24, 2004

The Hand of Hamas

Now that Hamas has sworn to punish Americans for the IDF operation against their spiritual leader, Shiek Yassin, how might they do it? Structurally, Hamas is pretty much a local devil whose principal strength is concentrated in Gaza and the West Bank. The United States has warned its citizens away from Gaza and the West Bank, so targets there are strictly limited. Since Hamas does not have much of an international reach and there is an urgent necessity to 'teach America a lesson', the actual act of vengeance has probably been farmed out to a better positioned affiliate group, under some reciprocal arrangement, to strike in Hamas' name. That explains why the direct warnings have emanated from an Al Qaeda affiliate called Abu Hafs al-Masri, the same outfit that claimed the Madrid bombings and which Dan Darling at Regnum Crucis thinks is actually an Islamic PR group based in London. Their dire warning reads:

"We tell Palestinians that Sheikh Yassin's blood was not spilt in vain and call on all legions of Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades to avenge him by attacking the tyrant of the age, America, and its allies."

Notice how they didn't say, 'we Palestinians'. But unless there is an existing operation ready to be diverted, the practical difficulties of whipping one up at short notice may prove difficult. One possibility would be for another group like Hezbollah, which is known to have connections in the US underworld, to mount an attack on its behalf. Something. Anything. That would ironically suit Sharon's book better than Yassin's. It would directly couple Hamas and Fatah to Al Qaeda and by transitivity connect them with the band that gave us September 11. By goading Hamas beyond tolerance, Israel will have succeeded in coupling the Arab-Israeli conflict directly to the Global War on Terror. The repercussions of a Hamas-sponsored attack on America will be felt by its fund-raising charities in Europe, such as the Holy Land Foundation in Germany, the Al Aqsa Foundation in Belgium and Holland and the Comite de Bienfaisance et Solidarite avec la Palestine in France.

Sharon may be aiming for a three pointer plus a foul throw. The Times of India, quoting a  Washington Post article suggests that Israeli Prime Minister Sharon is attempting to disengage, not only from Gaza but from the decade old "Peace Process".

Sharon has been engaged in intensive secret bargaining with the Bush administration in this regard and he intends to scrap the decade-long peace process in favour of a solution according to which Israel would retreat behind a fortified border of its own choosing, the Washington Post said. The proposed "long-term interim" solution would involve an evacuation of Israelis from most or all of the Gaza Strip. ... The assassination, the Post said, was part of Sharon 's attempt to radically reshape the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - "an initiative that is looking as reckless as it is bold."  "If (George W) Bush agrees to reshape the Israeli-Palestinian landscape with such a partner," the paper warned, "he can expect that other surprises will follow."

According to this analysis, the Hellfire missiles were unleashed only incidentally at Yassin. Its real target was Oslo. The Belmont Club has suggested that Sharon has deliberately escalated the conflict in order to cut the Gordian knot and escape from the cycle of hudna/attack that has hamstrung Israeli response these last ten years.

Flash! 12:00 Zulu

For possibly for the reasons described above Hamas leader Rantisi has backed off from earlier calls to strike at America. Fox News is reporting that "Hamas  has no plans to attack American targets, the group's new leader in Gaza said Wednesday." It is a valiant and sagacious attempt by the new Hamas leader to maintain the firewall between the war on Israel and the war on America. But he is burdened with two nearly insurmountable difficulties. The first is the split command structure of Hamas. In an arrangement oddly reminescent of the dual kings of Sparta, the Hamas leadership is divided between the resident in Gaza, who is Rantisi, and a worldwide Hamas leader, who is Mashaal headquartered in Syria. Rantisi's first challenge will be to make his prohibition on attacking America stick. The second and harder problem for Hamas is that Sharon has embarked on a program of headhunting their leadership. Not only will it be increasingly difficult to forbear in the face of such attacks, it may be even harder to survive them. For the first time in nearly a decade, Hamas seems truly afraid of Israel, and is backpedaling in an astonishing manner in a pathetic effort to retain the last threadbare remnants of their triumphant Oslo strategy.

For America the new developments create both opportunities and set of new problems. Does America want to link the Arab-Israeli conflict to the Global War on Terror with all that implies? If America is truly committed to a two-state solution in the Holy Land, how can it best exploit the developing political rout of terrorist forces? Perhaps that is what the delegation President Bush is sending to Israel will try to find out.