MIDEAST MIRROR 5.10.18, SECTION A (ISRAEL)
The seemingly inexorable march to war with Gaza is on Israel's mind heading into the weekend, with fears that border violence will ramp up significantly on Friday. Channel 10 reports that the army is expecting some 20,000 Palestinians to protest along the border Friday, with the IDF ordering extra troops to the area to deal with the unrest, including Special Forces and snipers. According to the channel, the army believes that Gazans may also return to shooting rockets at Southern Israel, and if so it will be in "significant volleys." The army has deployed a bolstered Iron Dome presence to the region. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Friday signaled to the heads of Hamas that Israel was prepared to go war. In a Tweet, Lieberman indicated that Israel had been holding back on a harsh response to the near-nightly riots on the border in order to prevent an all-out conflict during the period of the Jewish High Holidays, beginning with Rosh Hashanah on September 9 and ending with Simchat Torah on October 1. "We've been through the High Holidays exactly as we planned, without a flare-up and by exacting a heavy price on the rioters along the Gaza border," Lieberman said, referring to the people killed and injured by IDF troops during the clashes. "The holidays are over, and I say to the heads of Hamas: 'Take that into account,'" the defense minister wrote.
The tensions are serious enough to push Yedioth Ahronoth's interview with Hamas leader Yahiya as-Sinwar off the front page. The paper reports that the army is ready for a significant round of fighting as early as Friday evening, though it notes that area residents have not been given any special security instructions. As is usual for times when war drums are beating, Israelis tend to turn more jingoistic. The headline on Hadashot news's website reads "we're ready, no doubt." Yedioth notes that the troop call-up and extra Iron Dome batteries are not just to protect the border but also to send Hamas a message that "even before an escalation, the army is changing its policies regarding rioters, who have been ramping up the level of violence on the border for several weeks." Israel Hayom's Yoav Limor writes that the army is telling Hamas "do not test us." "Gaza and Jerusalem both understand very well that they are playing with fire, and neither side is interested in a confrontation whose results, in a best-case scenario, will return both sides to where they started (minus the death and destruction)," asserts Limor.
Meanwhile, Yedioth runs its full interview with Sinwar, a day after publishing an excerpt that made a fairly large splash, with the Hamas leader claiming he does not want to fight, just wants Israel's blockade on the Strip to end. Sinwar rejects the idea of Hamas disarming and being protected by an international force, defends suicide bombings as a way to get attention and says arson kites and balloons do not hurt anyone but are just meant to send a message. "The kites and balloons are not a weapon, they are a message: You are stronger than us; it is not even comparable, but you will never, ever win," he says. He also defends using aid and other resources for arms and building military infrastructure, one of the main reasons for the blockade, saying without it "we would all be dead."
In news of Israel's campaign against BDS, Haaretz reports that shadowy right-wing name-and-shame group Canary Mission is being used by Israeli authorities to deport people accused of supporting boycotts of the country. The use of the site, long suspected by activists according to an August Forward report, is confirmed by documents submitted to an appeals tribunal after student Lara Alqasem went to court to fight her deportation. The paper points out several flaws with Canary Mission's claims about Alqasem, and the argument that she would not be trying to study at Hebrew University if she supported a boycott of Israel. The August Forward report on Canary Mission mentioned a Jewish student it accused of anti-Semitism for speaking out against the U.S. embassy moving to Jerusalem at a pro-Israel event. Haaretz notes that in other instances, the government's case against so-called Israel boycotters includes only "superficial Google searches and that the ministry, by admission of its own senior officials, does not collect information from non-public sources."
In the Jerusalem mayoral race, The Times of Israel interviews former Jerusalem mayoral candidate Aziz Abu Sarah, whose campaign to become the city's first Palestinian mayor was abruptly cut short earlier this week. Abu Sarah says Palestinians threatening him played a role in his decision to quit, but he was really forced out when Israel challenged his residency in the city, saying his "center of life" was elsewhere, while the front-runner in the mayoral race, Ze'ev Elkin, only moved to Jerusalem a few months ago for the sole purpose of running for mayor. Now, not only can Abu Sarah not run for mayor, he may be forced to leave the city altogether because of rules stripping residency rights from some East Jerusalem Palestinians. "My lawyer said that what happened is pretty bad. He said if they do not see you as a resident, your first problem is you cannot run for office, but your bigger problem is you may not be able to stay here". Even though he's out of the race, Abu Sarah says he will continue campaigning for the rights of East Jerusalemites: "In coming days, I will be meeting with Palestinians to talk about how we can serve our city outside the municipality."
Meanwhile, campaign posters put up by Likud's Tel Aviv faction in South Tel Aviv ahead of the October 30 municipal elections depicting African migrants and Islamists under the slogan "It's us or them" have drawn accusations of racism and incitement. One poster depicts a split screen, one half with a masked Islamist waving a Palestinian flag above the words "the Islamic Movement in Jaffa." According to the campaign Tel Aviv/Jaffa's choice is that or the image depicted on the other half of the poster – an Israeli flag under the words "the Hebrew city." Along the bottom of the poster the words read "only Likud, the Right of Tel Aviv." Another Likud campaign poster, with the same "it's us or them" slogan juxtaposes an image of African migrants waving an Eritrean flag above the words “city of infiltrators” with the same Israeli flag image and "Hebrew city" banner seen in the other poster.
Police investigators were set to question Prime Minister Netanyahu for the 12th time today in a series of burgeoning corruption investigations. Netanyahu will be questioned at his official residence in an interview likely to touch on recordings and information provided by his former adviser Nir Hefetz, who has been recruited as a state witness. The questioning is set to focus on two separate graft cases in which the prime minister is a suspect – known as Cases 1000 and 2000, according to Hebrew media reports – in which he is suspected of receiving illicit gifts and engaging in illegal quid pro quos. It is not clear if police will also ask Netanyahu about a third affair known as Case 4000, in which police suspect he may have traded favors for favorable media coverage. In Case 1000, the so-called "gifts scandal," Netanyahu is suspected of "systematically" demanding benefits worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors, including Arnon Milchan and Australian resort owner James Packer, in exchange for favors. Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth. In Case 4000 Netanyahu is suspected of advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country's largest telecommunications firm, despite opposition from the Communication Ministry's career officials, in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch's Walla news site. Netanyahu's wife Sara and son Yair are also suspects in that case.
Finally, Iranian forces have started withdrawing over the past couple of days from the T4 military airport, the al-Quds newspaper reported Wednesday, citing Syrian opposition sources. According to the report, the Iranians have started vacating the premises of the base, which is situated on the outskirts of the Syrian city of Homs, to make room for Russian forces who entered the military compound, in order to help complete the transfer of the S-300 missiles. The Russians have also reportedly asked to see Syrian presence reduced in the airport nearby, which is considered to be one of the most highly-guarded strategic sites in Syria.
ISRAEL AT FATEFUL CROSSROADS: Shimon Schiffer in Yedioth Ahronoth asserts that the IDF's decision to bolster forces on the Gaza border would usually signal a countdown to retaking the Strip, but Sinwar's offer of a truce in return for ending the siege poses a challenge for Israeli decision makers.
"In other times, say 30 years ago, the Chief of Staff's decision to increase the army's deployment around Gaza would have been not only dramatic, but would also have marked an advance in one clear-cut direction: A countdown towards a broad military operation, and possibly even the retaking of the Gaza Strip. But yesterday, following the publication in Yedioth Ahronoth of Hamas leader Yahiya as-Sinwar's offer of 'a cease-fire in return for ending the siege', a difficult political-security challenge has been created for Israeli decision-makers.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman are now required to respond to Sinwar's proposal and decide: An arrangement in return for lifting the siege on millions of Gaza residents - or another round of fighting, which will exact a painful and heavy toll on all sides.
For those still wondering why publish a newspaper interview and grant a stage to a bitter enemy of Israel like Sinwar, an arch-terrorist who was imprisoned for 22 years in Israeli jails for murder, it is essential to mention and clarify one simple thing. The Israeli side is conducting negotiations and maintaining ongoing contacts – albeit indirect – with the Hamas regime in Gaza. This is a fact. and no amount of wording manipulation or evasion attempts, according to which 'we do not talk to Hamas' or 'the talks are conducted through the Egyptians', will conceal the simple fact that Netanyahu's government is talking, with a capital T, with Hamas representatives. Not only is Netanyahu talking to Hamas, and has talked to it in the past, it should be remembered that he is also directly responsible for the release of Sinwar from Israeli prison, with another 1,000 Palestinians, as part of the Shalit deal.
There is nothing wrong with a dialogue with Hamas, which manages the lives of Gaza residents. Even during the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union continued to keep embassies in Moscow and Washington and maintain a hot line between the leaders, while their nuclear missiles were prepped and aimed at each other, poised for mutual destruction. Even Winston Churchill, whose style of leadership Prime Minister Netanyahu wishes to emulate, hinted that he would have been ready to parley with Hitler – had that enabled him to prevent war.
However, we must not get confused: Hamas adheres to a religious and fanatic worldview and will continue to strive to remove Israel from the land that Hamas believes belongs – in its entirety - to the Palestinian people. But that does not mean that we cannot try to reach an agreement with it, even if it is 'only' for five years.
Morning headlines place Israel at a fateful crossroads. Bolstering the forces on the Gaza border in preparation for a military operation or responding to Sinwar's half-hearted call for appeasement and an arrangement. The Prime Minister and the cabinet are now placed with the heavy responsibility of navigating between them and deciding in what direction to head. This is the essence of leadership: To point the way, and successfully lead towards it."
CHALLENGES OF UPCOMING WAR: Colonel (Res.) Ronen Itzik in Israel Hayom argues that war with Hamas is only a matter of time, and the IDF must prepare for scenarios of large terror squads attacking Israeli civilians, mobs of demonstrators blocking Israeli forces, and a "rain" of incendiary balloons and kites.
"Since March, the pendulum of confrontation between Hamas and Israel has fluctuated between calm and escalation. In recent days it seems that the general direction is pretty clear – a diplomatic arrangement is probably not in the offing. What is the military significance of this situation and is the IDF prepared for the new challenges of Gaza? It is important to assess the situation correctly before embarking merrily on a new campaign.
Since the end of Operation Protective Edge in September 2014, Hamas has been working hard on rebuilding its fighting forces: Bunkers, missiles, rockets, combat tunnels, and offensive tunnels. This effort has encountered counter-efforts by the IDF in the framework of the so-called campaign-between-the-wars, which deals with slowing down the buildup in Gaza. The IDF's efforts are bearing fruit, especially in neutralizing tunnels and reducing smuggling, in parallel to Egyptian pressure. But in some areas Hamas has learned and enhanced its capabilities and the IDF is required to prepare before the next campaign kicks off.
In general, the IDF's challenges in fighting Hamas can be divided into three main categories: The home front of the fighting zone, the line of contact along the fence and deep inside Gaza.
In the home front of the fighting zone, Hamas has improved its Special Forces, an-Nukhba, in a positive lesson from Operation Protective Edge. These forces, which at their basic level of soldiering are roughly equivalent to the lowliest soldier in the Golani Brigade, are not expected to pose significant difficulties for the IDF in its maneuvers on land, but dispatching them to the Israeli home front, into settlements or military bases, may produce surprising moves with great effect. Hamas attempted such moves in Protective Edge. The success was minor, but the potential was dramatic. Try imagining 12 terrorists on a killing spree inside Sderot or Netivot – and you will comprehend the problem.
In addition to an-Nukhba's capabilities, Hamas has developed and enhanced the technique of incendiary balloons, including the establishment of a unit dedicated to the matter. The combination of kites, balloons, and explosive charges can create significant difficulties in the home front, and serve as a platform for quality terror attacks. At the very least, it has the potential to disrupt life on the home front.
The ability to operate deep inside Israeli territory, which Hamas has improved, is combined with a component it recently reinforced on the line of contact at the fence area. Since April, Hamas has realized that the arrival of tens of thousands of civilians to the fence serves its operational and propaganda needs. Massive and incessant demonstrations may weaken the IDF forces through confrontations with civilians, under whose cover Hamas may attempt to 'thread' Special Forces deep into the communities of the Gaza envelope. The civil effort on the fence is likely to serve Hamas in delaying the IDF forces when the troops attempt to cross it. The entry of forces into a mass of civilians poses a significant challenge, which could disrupt the entire maneuver and create a problematic mindset in the media.
There have been no dramatic changes deep inside Gazan territory – Hamas established the fighting tunnels, the bunkers, and the fortified positions. In principle, a thrust deep inside Gaza by IDF forces is not a dramatic challenge – the IDF is trained for combat in such fortified targets, including the development and use of weapons that enable more effective thwarting of the tunnels. But even deep inside Gaza the same potential exists for placing masses of civilians in the face of attacking forces, in a way that will disrupt them, while creating a media consciousness that will pit the international community against Israel. This, too, is not new to the army, but Hamas has recently gained confidence in mobilizing thousands for its benefit regarding IDF forces and this skill will come into play more forcefully.
In conclusion, the significant challenge facing the IDF in the next operation in Gaza focuses on the civilian element on both sides of the fence: On the Israeli side, the ability to strike at the home front coupled with the feasibility of an-Nukhba terrorists infiltrating into the surrounding communities; and on the Gazan side, an enhanced use of civilian mobs both along the line of contact and deep in Gaza, in order to delay the IDF moves, disrupt them and create a situation that would undermine the legitimacy of operating deep in enemy territory. There is no doubt that the IDF can cope well with these challenges – as a result of its training and force. All the lessons of Protective Edge are on the line here, and in the next operation the IDF will have to show that it has learned from its mistakes and ultimately also win."
ISRAEL'S SELF-DECEPTION: Amos Gilboa in Maariv contends that he hears time and time again that same old tune, "we are the strongest in the Middle East". But, he asks, will Israel really manage to cope with Hezbollah launching towards it even a mere 5,000 missiles a day?
"It is two days before October 6, the day the Yom Kippur War broke out 45 years ago. I want to expose here an event related to the Syrian front and to examine its lesson, which is relevant to today. It is already known to all that on September 25, 1973, Hussein King of Jordan met with Golda Meir and informed her that the Syrian army was in a position to launch an attack on the Golan Heights. When Golda asked whether Syria would go to war alone, without Egypt, Hussein replied negatively. 'Then there is nothing new in Hussein's words,' was the conclusion the following day after the meeting between the head of Military Intelligence and the top security echelon. An integral part of the view was that Syria would not go to war alone.
After all, we know that Egypt is not embarking on war, but little did we know that shortly after the Golda and Hussein parley, intelligence information was received that the objective of Syria is to reoccupy the entire Golan Heights; the preparations by the Syrian army for the attack and steps taken to quickly complete all these preparations.
The intelligence branch responsible for Syria, headed by Lt. Col. Avi Yaari, immediately prepared a special paper and submitted it for the approval of Military Intelligence. The gist of it was: Syria is completing final preparations before an attack aimed at conquering the Golan Heights. The top intelligence echelon castrated the paper, deleted most of it and decided that the Syrians were actually afraid of us, and clearly would not go to war without Egypt, and Egypt has no such intention.
What is the big paradox? The perception that Syria would not go to war without Egypt was indeed correct. And therefore, if the most reliable information indicates preparations for a Syrian attack on the Golan Heights, and we can see preparations on the ground, the obvious conclusion is of course that Egypt is also going to war. As Sherlock Holmes would say: 'Elementary!' The tragedy is that nothing was 'elementary' at the top levels of the intelligence, security and political establishment.
The root of all evil was in our self-deception: That we have the best air force and the best armor; that we are giants and the Arabs are zeros; that our conscription army can stop the enemy until the reserves arrive; that Egypt is conducting an exercise; that the Syrians are afraid of us. We were under a spell of self-deception.
Which brings me to today. I have a feeling that self-deception has a grip on us today as well, in all levels of the public sphere. I keep hearing that same old tune, according to which 'we are the strongest in the Middle East' and that 'there is no existential threat to us' (and I always ask myself: If we should sustain tens of thousands of dead and wounded, will that be a quarter-existential threat? half-existential?); and stop frightening us with the Iranians and with their rockets and Hezbollah's rockets; we have 'iron dome' and 'magic wand' and 'Arrow' missiles, which will know how to defeat the missiles of our haters; the greatest threat to us is not Iran and Hezbollah, but internal divisions, and so on and so forth.
You cannot ascertain what is truly correct and what is not, but the memory of the 1973 war haunts me. I am not at ease, and I do not know, for example, how the State of Israel will be able to cope if, one of these days, Hezbollah, under Iran's instructions, will launch at us 5,000 rockets a day, for example, some of which will be precise missiles on our hospitals. Are we still under the spell?"
ABU MAZIN EXPECTED TO RENEGE ON GAZA THREATS: Yoni Ben-Menachem on News1 writes that the PA chairman is supposed to decide this month on disengaging from Gaza and new sanctions, but he is capitulating under international and regional pressure.
"Residents of the territories are very disappointed with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud 'Abbas' recent speech at the UN General Assembly. It contained no good news about the crisis between the PA and the Trump administration, the impasse in negotiations with Israel and the achievement of Palestinian unity and reconciliation with Hamas.
In the UNGA the PA chairman raised the issue of the split between Fatah and Hamas and threatened to impose new sanctions against Gaza. In the territories there is criticism that 'Abbas raised an internal Palestinian issue on the international stage, exposing for all what is actually a national shame and a failure of Palestinian factions, who are having difficulty reconciling for 12 years running. The question now is: Where is 'Abbas headed, after successfully booby-trapping himself and thwarting a long-term truce between Hamas and Israel, which would improve the humanitarian situation of the 2 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian expectations were that 'Abbas would announce in his speech at the UN General Assembly the freezing of the Oslo Accords and especially the suspension of security coordination with Israel. This did not happen.
Egypt is trying to prevent an explosion in the Strip and a military confrontation between Hamas and Israel by raising new ideas before a Hamas delegation headed by Deputy Chairman of the Political Bureau Saleh al-'Arouri, which visited Cairo and held talks with senior Egyptian intelligence officials. 'Abbas, for his part, announced that he would convene the PLO's Central Council this month to discuss the overall relationship between the PA and Israel and Hamas and make decisions. Senior Fatah figure Jamal Muheisin said this week that 'Abbas might ask the PLO's executive committee to formulate mechanisms for implementing the decisions of the Central Council against Israel, but senior PLO officials believe that 'Abbas has trapped himself and will not dare to come out against Israel or against Hamas.
Fatah leaders are waiting for the Cairo talks to generate a miracle, and for Egyptian intelligence to succeed in convincing Hamas to agree to convene the PLO Central Council in order to reach agreement on a formula that will enable the PA to return to Gaza with full authority, thus preventing the need to deal with imposing new sanctions on the Strip. Miracles seldom occur, as they have failed to occur in the past in the relationship between Fatah and Hamas, and a breakthrough will not be attained in the Cairo talks. The Hamas delegation will hold consultations with the Hamas leadership and with its Shura Council, 'Abbas will be asked to dispatch a Fatah delegation to Cairo and the discussions will continue for a few more weeks.
'Abbas has opened fronts against the Trump administration, against Israel and against Hamas, and he continues to face challenges on these three fronts because it serves him from a domestic political perspective. Senior Fatah officials believe that the status quo will be maintained on all three fronts. 'Abbas is expected to roll the hot potato into the lap of the PLO's central council to gain time, and then, as is his wont, not implement the decisions that will be made.
The PLO Central Council serves as 'Abbas's rubber stamp. He appointed its members. This is a dictatorial regime in which 'Abbas is the only one who makes the real decisions, not the PLO or Fatah institutions. Egypt and Israel are exerting strong pressure on 'Abbas not to break the rules of the game regarding Gaza and not to impose new sanctions on it. The Fatah leadership believes that 'Abbas fears that he will be accused of inciting a new war between Hamas and Israel, which will have many victims, and therefore he will find the appropriate excuse for postponing the imposition of new sanctions at this point on the 2 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip.
'Abbas has brought himself to a crossroads where he must make a decision, but as usual he has defense mechanisms which he keeps for himself to avoid a decision that may endanger his political survival. 'Abbas is an expert in 'dragging his feet' and maintaining the status quo, while spreading threats he cannot implement. He knows full well that a military confrontation between Hamas and Israel will not bring about Palestinian unity, nor the PA's return to control the Gaza Strip. The current Israeli government is not interested in reoccupying the Gaza Strip and bringing down the Hamas regime. Neither will imposing new sanctions on Gaza bend the Hamas regime or instigate an 'Arab Spring' against the Hamas leadership, which has succeeded in channeling the anger of Gazans against the PA. 'Abbas will continue to dribble the ball towards the United States, Egypt, Hamas, and Israel, without making bold decisions and without breaking the rules of the game. Like every Arab dictator whose goal is to maintain his chair, and for who all means for achieving this end are legitimate."
'ABBAS/HAMAS RIFT THREATENS TO BLOW UP IN ISRAEL'S FACE: Amos Harel in Haaretz claims that while Hamas cells cross into Israel at night and airborne firebombs are still being launched, the real time bomb is the infrastructure in Gaza.
"Once again it is a race against the clock in the Gaza Strip to head off yet another military escalation. As Haaretz reported on Thursday, Qatar agreed – after considerable arm-twisting – to allocate $60 million to purchase diesel fuel for the Strip’s sole power plant. The move, which was negotiated by United Nations Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov, should enable the generating plant to double the number of hours it supplies electricity from a daily average of four to eight, thus easing one of the main factors in the latest flare-up of tensions with Israel.
The Palestinian Authority, however, continues to create obstacles, threatening to block the contracts to purchase fuel from Israel for the West Bank, while further cutting its spending on electricity for the Strip. As such, three tanker trucks carrying diesel oil were turned away from entering Gaza Friday morning. In light of the sensitivity of the matter, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot ordered troops to be reinforced along Israel's border with Gaza. In recent weeks, Hamas has been turning up the heat along the fence with nightly protests and the deployment of new 'night units' to sabotage Israel's construction of its anti-tunnel barrier. It now seems that Hamas' actions could, for the first time, delay the completion of that barrier, even if only slightly.
Media coverage of all of these events has been limited. In the wake of the panic set off by the wave of incendiary balloons launched from the Strip into Israel over the summer, the government and the army are now cooperating in an effort to damp down coverage of Israeli military operations at the border. The decline in reporting has not, however, diminished the growing anxiety in Israeli communities near Gaza, and the nightly attempts to breach the border clearly have the potential to be far more dangerous than the airborne firebombs. The rift between the two main Palestinian camps, Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Fatah in the West Bank, draws Hamas closer to a confrontation with the Israeli military. Israel, which has not joined the efforts to rebuild the Strip during the three-and-a-half years of relative calm since the 2014 Gaza war, is now paying the price of a conflict in which its role is relatively small.
In a rare interview with Italy's La Repubblica, Hamas' leader in Gaza, Yahiya as-Sinwar, conveyed complex messages. He is not looking to go to war with Israel, he said, 'but in the current situation, an explosion is inevitable.' It is easy to understand why Hamas is not eager for war. The most recent Israeli operations in the Strip, and especially Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, drove home the fact that the destruction they caused there dwarfed any gains for Hamas. Furthermore, no one is stepping up to bankroll the enclave's rehabilitation.
Even so, Israel's troop reinforcements in the South reflect the depth of its apprehensions regarding an escalation of tensions. The IDF is struggling to come up with an effective response to the nightly outings by Hamas cells East of the border fence, most of which return to the Strip unharmed. Deploying additional forces should contribute to this effort as well. But the real ticking time bomb is the infrastructure crisis in Gaza. If the PA succeeds in peeling off even the tiny bandage that Qatar and the UN placed on a gaping wound, the crisis will continue to worsen. Israel cannot afford to wake up one day to find itself with a Mediterranean Yemen under its nose – a humanitarian disaster zone that the international community has given up on fixing."
NO QATARI FUEL AID INCREASES DANGER OF VIOLENCE: Avi Issacharoff in The Times of Israel writes that Palestinian sources say Ramallah warned it would boycott Israeli fuel and told fuel workers in Gaza not to show up to work, as 'Abbas tightens the stranglehold on the enclave.
"For the umpteenth time in recent months, Israel has received proof that severed relations between Jerusalem and Ramallah and between Ramallah and Gaza could significantly compromise security on the Gaza border. Palestinian sources said Thursday that threats made by the Palestinian Authority to an Israeli gas company and to UN employees have delayed the planned transfer of emergency Qatari-funded fuel to Gaza. The latest fracas shows how attempts by the U.S. administration and by Israel to deal directly with Gaza – actually with Hamas, the terror group that runs the Strip – are time and again hindered by the PA and its president, Mahmoud 'Abbas.
As Haaretz reported Thursday, in recent days it was agreed in a meeting of donors to the Strip that Qatar would pay for fuel for Gaza's sole power plant, under a UN-brokered deal that seeks to end the severe energy crisis gripping the Palestinian enclave. According to a Palestinian report, Qatar will invest $60 million, which should be enough for six months in which Gazans will enjoy eight hours of electricity every day, instead of the current four. Yes, that still means power for only a third of every day, but in Gaza terms that would be real improvement. Such a step could help calm tensions on the border and reduce the danger of imminent war.
The move was promoted by three men: Qatari envoy to Israel and Gaza Mohammed al-'Emadi, UN envoy to the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov and the head of Israel's National Security Council Meir Ben Shabbat. The diesel fuel was supposed to enter Gaza on Thursday morning through the Kerem Shalom crossing. However, according to Palestinian sources in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority contacted the Israeli gas company that provides diesel fuel to both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and threatened to boycott it and stop all purchases if it transferred the fuel to Gaza. The PA warned it would start buying all its fuel and gas from another country, such as Jordan.
The sources also said PA officials called UN employees in Gaza who were to physically transfer the fuel and threatened that they would pay a 'heavy price' if they showed up to work. In other words, the PA blocked an improvement in the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, primarily to make clear to the whole world that it must be involved in any step regarding the territory. 'Abbas has repeatedly warned that there can be no two separate entities ruling Palestinian lands, stating that if the PA is not handed complete control of the Gaza Strip, Hamas will have to take full responsibility for the territory.
The PA's actions bring us to Hamas leader in the Strip Yahiya as-Sinwar's interview with Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth through an Italian journalist, in which he said he did not want war with the Jewish state. Predictably, Sinwar's office denied Thursday morning that he was aware he was speaking to Yedioth, saying the interview was given to Italian newspaper La Repubblica and that his staff had checked that the journalist, Francesca Borri, was not Israeli or 'Jewish.' But that trick by Hamas's leaders is old and familiar. At the end of the day, what is important is the message. Sinwar wanted to warn that both sides are on a slippery slope to an inevitable war. Though he urged an end to the blockade to prevent such a war, his message does not necessarily involve a demand for specific action by Israel, but rather that Israel force the PA into relieving its chokehold on Gaza.
Israel maintains the blockade to prevent Hamas from importing weaponry. In about two weeks, the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee will convene and possibly resolve to completely halt all its payments to Gaza, which currently stand at $96 million a month. In such a scenario, even the stalled Qatari aid of some $60 million will not stop the Strip's collapse and the war that will follow."