Israel Resource Review 1st May, 2007


Contents:

Olmert's Hand Picked War Investigation Commission Issues Scathing Attack on Olmert
David Bedein


During the 34 days of Israel's war in Lebanon last summer, the Israeli Prime Minister's Cabinet Secretary conducted constant briefings with the media, repeating over and over the precise war aims of the Israeli government at the time:

1) Israeli army prisoners, Ehud (Udi) Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, kidnapped on July 12, 2006, must be returned to Israel.

2) The Lebanese army must be the only force deployed in Southern Lebanon; Hezbollah must be expelled from Southern Lebanon.

Yet in mid-August, after Israel pushed for and accepted a cease-fire without any of these conditions being fulfilled, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman conduct a press briefing to announce that war aims had been achieved as soon as the cease-fire resolution been approved by the U.N. Security Council.

This reporter then asked a simple question: How could Olmert contradict the previous statement of Israel's war aims? No answer was forthcoming. The Olmert government claimed that Israel had achieved its stated war aims by accepting a cease-fire - one that left Hezbollah in place and which did not lead to the return of the hostages.

This led to mass street demonstrations, led by the families of fallen Israeli soldiers and families of Israeli reservists who had been called up for service during the war. The demands of these demonstrations were for an official independent investigation of how the war was conducted and for the resignation of the Israeli government and military leadership.

Olmert agreed to a commission of inquiry - however, not to an independent commission of inquiry. Olmert appointed the commission, whose mandate was to investigate every aspect of decision-making in the war, yet without a mandate to recommend that any Israeli government official or Israeli military official be fired.

The universal expectation was that Olmert's handpicked panel would criticize the government and the army, without mentioning Israeli government and military leaders by name.

Therefore, the Olmert government and the public at large in Israel were taken by surprise by the intense, personal tone of Olmert's own commission of investigation.

"We determine that there are very serious failings in these decisions and the way they were made. We impose the primary responsibility for these failures on the Prime Minister, the minister of Defense and the (outgoing) Chief of Staff. All three made a decisive personal contribution to these decisions and the way in which they were made. However, there are many others who share responsibility for the mistakes we found in these decisions and for their background conditions . . .

"The decision to respond with an immediate, intensive military strike was not based on a detailed, comprehensive and authorized military plan, based on careful study of the complex characteristics of the Lebanon arena . . . ." And the conclusions of the commission were clear and unambiguous:

* "The Prime Minister bears supreme and comprehensive responsibility for the decisions of 'his' government and the operations of the army. His responsibility for the failures in the initial decisions concerning the war stemmed from his position and from his behavior, as he initiated and led the decisions which were taken.

* "The Prime Minister made up his mind hastily, despite the fact that no detailed military plan was submitted to him and without asking for one. "Also, his decision was made without close study of the complex features of the Lebanon front and of the military, political and diplomatic options available to Israel. He made his decision without systematic consultation with others, especially outside the IDF, despite not having experience in external-political and military affairs. In addition, he did not adequately consider political and professional reservations presented to him before the fateful decisions of July 12th.

* "The Prime Minister is responsible for the fact that the goals of the campaign were not set out clearly and carefully, and that there was no serious discussion of the relationships between these goals and the authorized modes of military action. He made a personal contribution to the fact that the declared goals were over-ambitious and not feasible . . . "

Bar Ilan University Prof. Ephraim Inbar, one of Israel's experts in strategic warfare, went a step farther, writing that "by denying the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) victory, they squandered an opportunity to destroy the bulk of Hezbollah's military presence in southern Lebanon, settle regional scores, enhance Israel's deterrence and strengthen Jerusalem's alliance with Washington."

Inbar went on to say that "Israel's intelligence organs had neglected to collect intelligence regarding Hezbollah's short-range Katyushas. And that Israeli military officials had considered such rockets as weapons of little consequence because of their inaccuracy and small warheads . . . ."

"The war showed Israel's northern population to be ill-prepared to withstand a large rocket barrage. Most of the short-range Katyushas fell in empty fields and caused little damage, but 25 percent of the nearly 4,000 missiles launched hit urban areas and paralyzed the whole of northern Israel, its main port, refineries and many other strategic installations. Over 1 million Israelis lived in bomb shelters and about 300,000 temporarily left their homes and sought refuge in the south."

Inbar also questioned why Israel did not strike Syrian targets to signal Israel's determination to deal with terrorist and proxy threats, enhancing Israeli deterrence.

Olmert, Peretz Still Will Not Resign: More Mass Demonstrations Expected

Even though Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz resigned in disgrace in anticipation of the personal conclusions of the Olmert's war investigation commission, Prime Minister Olmert and Defense Minister Peretz each announced that, in the wake of the commission's conclusion, that neither disgraced Israeli public official would resign.

Why? Because the commission did not explicitly demand their respective dismissals. Instead, the spokespeople of Olmert and Peretz issued a barrage of statements to the media that they would follow through on the commission's recommendations for improvement in communication and coordination between the Israeli army, Israeli intelligence and the Israeli government.

At the same time, Israel's leading investigative journalist, Yoav Yitzhak, revealed an internal strategic memo issued by Olmert's "Kadima" political party to all 29 Kadima members of Israel's Knesset parliament - to blame the Israeli defense forces for the failure, not Israel's political leadership. Over the next week, the Israeli reservists and families of the 118 Israeli soldiers killed in last summer's conflict plan new mass demonstrations to demand that the government resign as a result of the war commission's findings, which place direct responsibility for dysfunctional behavior during the war on the back of the full Israeli government, especially on Olmert and on Peretz.

These planned demos will not reflect a fringe element in Israeli public opinion. Polls taken after Olmert's war commission findings were published show that 65 percent of the Israeli population demands that the Israeli government resign as a result of the findings of Olmert's handpicked commission of inquiry into the summer 2006 war in Lebanon. David Bedein can be reached at Media@actcom.co.il. His Web site is www.israelVisit.co.il/BehindTheNews

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The Amir Peretz Paradigm: " . . . I know nothing about security."


by: David Bedein

On March 23, 2006, five days before the Israeli elections, I accompanied my second son, Elchanon, to the Israeli army recruitment center in Jerusalem, from where he was to begin his service in the Israeli army for the next three years. En route to the base, we encountered a minibus of candidates for the Israeli Labor party led by newly-elected party leader Amir Peretz, who descended onto Jaffa Road in Jerusalem to shake hands.

When Peretz greeted us, we asked him about the security situation. His response was quick and honest: "David, I know nothing about security. Ask the generals in my party. That is for them to worry about." Pressing the issue, this reporter asked Peretz how he, as a party leader, would deal with the current security threat to Israel.

Peretz reiterated once again that the only threat he could perceive was the internal socioeconomic threat, which, in his words, was "the only security threat that could possibly pose a danger to Israel."

Four TV crews caught Peretz in his passion - a former union leader speaking only on the socioeconomic issues facing the country, with no interest whatsoever in security matters.

Yet, only six weeks later, a man who declared that he knew nothing about security was appointed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as Israel's Minister of Defense, while Olmert left the labor-social welfare portfolio unmanned for the next ten months.

Less than four months later, when Olmert and his unusual appointee at the Ministry of Defense went to war with Hizbullah, their respective cabinet secretaries held weekly press briefings with the media. Olmert and Peretz's spokespeople repeated over and over that the Israeli government would not suspend its actions until:

1. The hostages, Ehud (Udi) Goldwasser and Eldad Regev are returned;

2. The The Lebanese army is deployed in all of southern Lebanon; and

3. The Hizbullah is expelled from southern Lebanon, as per UN Resolution 1559.

On August 15, 2006, after Israel accepted a ceasefire without any of the above conditions being fulfilled, Peretz dispatched his press attache to meet the media at the Beit Agron Press Center in Jerusalem. The attache announced that Israel's acceptance of the United Nations ceasefire signaled that the war aims had been achieved.

No one bought that - which is why a commission of investigation was formed.

At a time when almost all press attention focuses on the Winograd Commission's conclusions about Prime Minister Olmert, it might be most instructive to pay attention to what the commission states about the functioning of Amir Peretz:

"The Minister of Defense did not have knowledge or experience in military, political or governmental matters. He also did not have good knowledge of the basic principles of using military force to achieve political goals. Despite these serious gaps, he made his decisions during this period without systematic consultations with experienced political and professional experts, including outside the security establishment. In addition, he did not give adequate weight to reservations expressed in the meetings he attended . . . .

"The Minister of Defense did not act within a strategic conception of the systems he oversaw. He did not ask for the IDF's operational plans and did not examine them; he did not check the preparedness and fitness of IDF; and did not examine the fit between the goals set and the modes of action presented and authorized for achieving them. His influence on the decisions made was mainly [limited to small details] and operational. He did not put on the table - and did not demand presentation - of serious strategic options for discussion with the Prime Minister and the IDF . . . .

"The Minister of Defense failed in fulfilling his functions. Therefore, his serving as Minister of Defense during the war impaired Israel's ability to respond well to its challenges."

No investigation commission was needed to prove the point that Ehud Olmert picked the wrong man to head the Israeli Ministry of Defense.

The question remains: Where is the protest of the rank and file of Israel's Labor party and the public-at-large against a Defense Minister who acknowledged during his election campaign last year that, "I know nothing about security"?

Epilogue

Since assuming the office of Defense Minister, Amir Peretz has spent countless hours learning about American politics, to improve his ability to negotiate with the top brass of the American defense establishment. It would do well for Peretz to internalize the adage of the great American Commander-in-Chief Abraham Lincoln, who once said: "You can fool all of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time."

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The shock of No Confidence
Sima Kadmon (news analysis)
Correspondent,Yediot Ahronot


Up until yesterday evening the partial Winograd report troubled three people. As of this morning it needs to trouble us all. Not to trouble. To frighten. To shock.

Because according to the conclusions in the partial report, the failings in question were no mean failures. It is a true wonder that this country still exists. Because a country whose prime minister failed in exercising good judgment, whose defense minister failed to perform his duties, whose chief of staff presented a false representation and contributed greatly to the flaws and failures, whose General Staff suffered from a dearth of creativity and whose government voted without knowing what it was voting for-that is a country that has been forsaken. It is a country without leadership. It is a country that was let down by its army. It is a country whose government is miserable and whose ministers are not worthy of their status.

Judge Winograd might have placed a loaded gun on Olmert's desk, but he exposed a ticking bomb beneath our feet. We should not leave the soul-searching only to Olmert, Peretz and Halutz. We all need to do soul searching. Because we are not just talking about people who failed. The entire system failed. The preconception failed. The security conception failed. The premise that Israel would not begin a war failed. The faith that we would win every campaign shattered. It is sad to think, even insulting, but Nasrallah's patronizing appeal to our novice leadership on the first day of the war, telling them to think twice before they went to war-that appeal was the essence of the committee's recommendations.

The tragedy is that those are the things on which we are going to focus. On the questions of which individual is in which position. How can Olmert continue to serve even a single day in his job after what the committee said, and how much chutzpah the defense minister needs to stay in the Defense Ministry after what the committee had to say about him, and how aloof and arrogant Halutz is at Harvard towards the Israeli journalists.

And so, one after the other, we'll beat them over the head with a stick. Because otherwise, what are we supposed to do with this report? Where will we channel our loss of faith? And who can replace Olmert? Livni, who is even more inexperienced that he was? Ayalon, who never served even a single day as a cabinet minister? Barak, who was cited by the committee as sharing responsibility for the failings, or maybe Netanyahu, who has only become the leading candidate thanks to a state of leadership chaos? And if we replace Olmert with Livni or Netanyahu, what difference will that make when the government is the same government, the army is the same army, and the perception of reality remains unaltered?

It is precisely on that point that the Prime Minister's Bureau will focus in the next number of days. The alternative. Or, more accurately, the lack of an alternative. The report, his men will say, is very grave. Olmert would never treat it flippantly. But the question is whether under these circumstances the prime minister needs to dodge responsibility or perhaps on the contrary, that now is the time to enlist and to rectify. The question, his spokesmen will say, is not whether Olmert survives or not but whether the State of Israel is capable of taking the report and fixing that which needs to be fixed.

Olmert yesterday was determined not to resign. No one who knows him was surprised. Even though the severity of the report sent him and his aides into shock, it was clear to everyone that this prime minister wasn't a quitter. It isn't that he doesn't understand that there were failures. He is an intelligent man. He just does not think that if he goes the problems will be solved. His fundamental assumption is his certainty that he is better than any of the others. Who can lead better, he says to himself scornfully, Bibi? Tzippi?

Olmert's speech in the wake of the report was a gloomy end to a gloomy report. Olmert's face said everything. His eyes were like the eyes of a person with a terminal disease. I do not intend to resign, he said. But it is unlikely whether even he believes that he will survive until the final report. Not because of the coalition. Not because of his party. Not even because of the demonstrations that still await him. Simply because there is no other possibility. Simply because we have no where else to channel our lack of faith.

This piece appeared in Yediot Aharomot on May 1st, 2007

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Commentary on the War Commission Report
Arlene Kushner


To date, we are seeing the following in response to the interim Winograd report:

A special Cabinet meeting was held today. A committee, chaired by former chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, is being formed to examine ways to implement the lessons of the Winograd Report, with a report due in a month.

A meeting of the Kadima faction of the government will be held tonight. Many members are reluctant to take a stand until after this meeting.

A special meeting of the Knesset will be held on Thursday to discuss the issues.

Attorney Yossi Fuchs allowed no grass to grow under his feet. As he said he would do, he yesterday petitioned the High Court of Justice to require Olmert to resign.

~~~~~~~~~~

Eitan Cabel, who is secretary-general of the Labor party and served as a minister-without-portfolio in the current government, has submitted his resignation. He said yesterday that he stayed awake all night reading the Winograd report, and decided, "I cannot sit in a government that Olmert heads anymore." Calling his decision "ethical and principled," he expressed the hope that his resignation would generate a chain reaction.

Ami Ayalon, the frontrunner to win the primary this month for new leader of the Labor party, had at first declared that he didn't think Olmert had to resign. But after reading the full report yesterday he reversed himself.

MK Avishai Braverman and Danny Yatom, also of Labor, have called publicly for Olmert to resign.

A meeting of the central committee of Labor will be called in ten days, to vote on leaving the coalition. MK Ofir Pines-Paz is promoting separation from the coalition.

Meretz faction head MK Zehava Gal-On praised Cabel and called for all the remaining ministers of the government to follow his example.

~~~~~~~~~~

On Tuesday, MK Marina Solodkin of Kadima was the first member of her party to publicly call for Olmert's resignation: "the report that was published yesterday was so serious that according to what was written there, [Olmert] has to resign."

She was followed by MK Michael Nudelman, who said, "in a western country, after such a report, there would be no doubt that the prime minister must resign, but here we have a different tradition - we are country of chaos."

Coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzchaki (Kadima) is working to garner a sufficient number of Kadima members to effectively demand, during the special Knesset meeting Thursday, that Olmert resign. He feels strongly that Kadima is finished if Olmert doesn't go, and says if Olmert stays, he will resign.

With reports that other "top officials" of Kadima will also be calling for Olmert's resignation soon, there is a focus on Tzipi Livni and the enormous tensions brewing around her. YNet has cited a "senior source" within Kadima who claims that Livni has held private meetings with members of Kadima to discuss the possibility of her replacing Olmert -- first as leader of Kadima, and then as prime minister. That she was doing this in spite of protests by her aides that she was not trying to replace him points to her lack of integrity. She is an opportunist without principles and the very last thing this country needs now.

Livni has so far refrained from making a public statement. She will be meeting Olmert privately later today and then making a statement at a press conference. Olmert is said to be livid with her, and determined to block her aspirations.

The very latest reports are that Livni will call for Olmert's resignation and then resign herself if he refuses. (Actually, once she calls for his resignation, it is unlikely she can remain working with him in any event.)

~~~~~~~~~~

The position of Olmert -- who is fighting with his last breath to keep his post -- seems incomprehensible. There is a place for assuming responsibility for failure, recognizing that the country needs new faces, and bowing out with dignity. He seems incapable of doing this, which tells us a great deal about who he is. Word is that he is telling coalition members that their positions will be in jeopardy unless he remains. There are those Kadima members who are not yet taking a stand against him in order to allow him to work his way to a resignation gracefully; that resignation might be negotiated, so that it would not be immediate.

A poll was taken by channel 2 to ascertain what percentage of the Israeli populace would vote for Olmert as prime minister. Results: 0. This is not a typo. Zero. None. How could Olmert be so without self-respect, so oblivious to the national will, so obstinate, as to stay on in the face of this?

~~~~~~~~~~

Also particularly unconscionable, in my opinion, is the continued participation in the coalition of Yisrael Beitenu and Shas. Neither party is ideologically in line with the Kadima-Labor coalition. Both joined for their own narrow reasons. Now would be the chance to act for the national good, as their withdrawal would probably collapse the coalition. MK Tzvi Hendel (NU/NRP) is working on convincing the leading ministers from each party, Avigdor Lieberman and Eliyahu Yishai, respectively, to withdraw, so far to no effect.

~~~~~~~~~~

As we always need a bit of humor, I offer this (black humor perhaps): Unnamed "officials of Labor" have begun promoting Shimon Peres to take Olmert's place. "An experienced person who is trusted and accepted should be running the country during this period." Well . . . Peres is neither trusted nor accepted. He's a self serving has-been -- who bolted from Labor to join Kadima and who should have been retired eons ago. If this is the best we can do, we're in very big trouble. That doesn't it might not happen, though Peres is publicly still saying he wants to be president.

~~~~~~~~~~

There are reports at present that Peretz, about whom very little is being said, is considering resigning.

~~~~~~~~~~

Note: On Monday I reported that Attorney Yossi Fuchs says that basic law requires the whole government to resign, not just Olmert. He is not only a constitutional lawyer, he is a very fine human being whose integrity I respect enormously. He devoted enormous personal energy to trying to keep the gov't honest with regard to what was due those expelled from Gush Katif. And so, I figured that if he says so . . .

But then I began to see that various persons were referring to Olmert's resignation, rather than resignation of the government, and a replacement for Olmert, rather than formation of a whole new government. Because my own confusion was mounting, I checked with another lawyer whom I respect enormously. He has confirmed precisely what Fuchs said:

If Olmert resigns, the entire gov't is deemed to have resigned with him. The Acting President then has authority to appoint a member of the Knesset to form a new gov't, without going to elections.

However, as Kadima is the largest party at present, and Acting President Dalia Itzik is from Kadima, it is likely that someone from Kadima would be chosen. The questions remain as to who would be chosen and whether a coalition could be put together. (This depends in part on whether Labor would be willing to participate and whether Kadima members will sit still in the party or, in some instances, return to Likud).

If Olmert refuses to resign (an unlikely event considering the pressure on him), only a no-confidence vote would bring down his government and then the nation would likely go to elections.

If factions pull out from the coalition or members of Kadima bolt from the party, even if Olmert doesn't resign, the gov't would collapse and elections would be likely.

This is a vastly complicated situation, and I hope my explanation has helped a bit.

~~~~~~~~~~

Further notes:

There are differences of opinion surfacing regarding precisely what the Winograd Committee can and cannot do. It was not technically a governmental commission of inquiry when formulated -- which would have meant its being under the auspices of the courts. Rather, it was a review committee appointed by Olmert -- appointing such a committee being a way to diffuse anger directed at him -- that met privately. Five individuals, several over 80 years of age.

There was in fact tension between what the courts wanted (release of testimony) and what the committee chose to do. But Fuchs says the government had at some point endowed the committee with the power of a commission of inquiry, and I am reading that there will be recommendations that accompany the final report, something that would not be expected of a review committee.

There are those who said that Olmert was being politically clever, controlling the committee by making the appointments; many expected it to go easy on Olmert for this reason. But the committee has acquitted itself with full integrity, socking it to Olmert and company. And it turns out that Olmert has no leeway for protesting since the committee was set up by him.

The report that is being dealt with now, while referred to as an interim report, is more technically a partial report. It is looking at the decisions that led up to going into war, ending at a specific early date. The full report due out this summer, which is expected to be even more critical, will look at how the war was managed.

Justice (retired) Winograd, chair, made it clear on Monday that the committee decided on this partial report because no lessons were being drawn from the mistakes of the war; they decided it was time to shake things up.

~~~~~~~~~~

see my website www.ArlenefromIsrael.info

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The Iran-Hamas Alliance: Threat and Folly
Dr. Hillel Frisch


[What this means is that the Palestinian entity will be an Iranian entity]

Perspectives Paper No. 28, May, 2007 www.biu.ac.il/SOC/besa/perspectives28.html

Since the US invasion of Iraq, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran has taken on the behavior of a regional hegemon. Indeed, Ahmadinejad speaks and acts as if he is the new leader of the Third World. Iran is setting itself up as the leader of a Mideast "axis of evil" with radical proxies and allies. An important aspect of the new Iranian "hegemonic" reach is Teheran's growing alliance with Hamas. The marriage between the two dates back to January 2006, when both Iran and the Palestinian Authority (PA) held elections. Under Ahmadinejad, Iran has become an active revisionist state guided by radical religious conviction, while Hamas has captured almost complete control of the PA. This paper analyzes the implications of a radical religious coalition between Iran and Hamas.

Development of Iran-Hamas Ties

Iranian-Hamas relations went through three stages. In the late 1980s, relations between the two were only marginal, principally because Iran's attention was focused elsewhere. Iran's interests were in mobilizing Shiites in the Gulf, in supporting international terror, and in building up Hizballah with a sectarian-flavored radicalism. These actions grated on Hamas - a radical Sunni movement. Hamas also viewed Iranian support for the Jihad al-Islami, a different Palestinian faction, as a threat to its standing in the domestic Palestinian arena.

The second stage began with the invasion of Iraq in 1991 and its subsequent containment. Though US policy spoke of dual containment, the containment policy was imposed far more harshly on Iraq. Iran began to view itself as a potential regional hegemon, if not the leader of the Third World. It was the only regional power that was endowed with both a large population and plentiful natural resources. Even Turkey could not compete with that combination at a time when Egypt, the regional power in the 1960s and 1970s and Iran's natural foe, continued its relative decline under Mubarak. Iran began focusing on increasing state power and control over states guided by radical and fanatical conviction.

This change in Iranian self-perception from a religious Bolshevik revolution into a radical state power, or a Stalinization of Iranian politics, ushered in a new era of a warmer Iran-Hamas relationship. Hamas was invited to Teheran for major events. Iran began supporting the organization financially and Hizballah trained some of the 415 Hamas members, expelled by Israel in 1995 to Marj al-Zuhur, in the art of terrorism. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin repeated the egregious mistake of allowing the repatriation of terrorists, which ushered in a new era of terrorism. New heights of lethalness arose: the advent of the suicide bomber.

Yet even in the 1990s, Hamas was still a minor world player - a movement with an estimated 50 million dollar budget. The PLO-controlled Palestinian Authority stole the international limelight. Hamas' star, increasingly luminous before Oslo, began to dim as the PA took root. Hamas was forced to reduce terrorism significantly in the latter half of the 1990s, culminating in its expulsion from Jordan in 1999 and its bifurcation. Part of the organization was located in relatively distant Damascus (a fate that the PLO had also experienced); while the other branch operated in the West Bank and especially in the Gaza Strip.

During this period (1993 to 2000), Hamas also suffered from limited public support. Palestinian pollsters consistently found that a mere 14-18 percent of the respondents supported Hamas, while double the percentage of respondents supported Fatah. For this reason, Hamas refrained from participating in the Palestinian elections of 1996.

Iran found it far more worthwhile to invest in Hizballah, located in post-Taif agreement Lebanon, rather than Hamas. If it adroitly played its cards right, Iran could possibly dominate a state bordering Israel.

The Transformation of the Iran-Hamas Relationship

Changes on the world stage in the new century transformed the Iran-Hamas relationship for a third time. The 2003 invasion of Iraq, coupled with Palestinian violence since 2000, culminated in an electoral victory for Hamas in January 2006. Palestinian violence, but more critically the death of Arafat and Hamas' realization that it had been beaten by Israeli counterterrorism, caused the group to take the political realist route.

The election victory demonstrated that Hamas, in capturing a quasi-state, could help Iran become the power behind the proxies in its quest for regional hegemony. The new Hamas-led government increasingly gravitated towards Iran, as Iran increasingly cooperated with Hamas.

A Prognosis for the Alliance

Hamas, because it is in a more vulnerable position, is playing a more cautious game. Hamas appreciates the importance of Egypt as a lifeline to Gaza, and is being careful not to overly antagonize Cairo. Thus far, Egypt is cooperating with Hamas despite its alliance with Iran, because Egypt still regards Israel as a major threat, in a classical balance of threat calculation. This relationship could change, however, if Iran's power and Palestinian ties to al Qaeda terrorism in the Sinai, increase. The abduction of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston by groups possibly linked to al Qaeda in March 2007, and their involvement in numerous bombings of internet cafes and Christian centers in Gaza, might result in a change of attitude in Egypt towards the Islamic threat in general and towards Hamas in particular.

Hamas cannot disregard the implications of a potential moderate Sunni state alliance between Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. As Palestinian political analyst Abdullah Hourani recently noted in an issue of Majallat al-Dirasat al-Filastiniyya, Hamas hardly expressed enthusiasm for the Hizballah victory - partially because the triad between Iran, Hizballah and Hamas is characterized by jealousy, as is the case between most power-proxy relationships. The latter usually vie for the attention and benefits that the power has to offer. It is interesting to note that Iranian-Hizballah involvement in terrorism usually occurred with renegade Fatah groups rather than with Hamas.

Hamas also appreciates the value of its unity government with Fatah. Hamas faced the hostility of the nationalist and more secular Palestinian camp (Abbas and Fatah) combined with the opposition of the US, Jordan and Israel - a formidable array of foes. For these reasons, Hamas is wisely keeping open the exit option from the Iranian-Syrian alliance by avoiding the harming of US citizens and interests in Gaza, by refraining from international terror, and by refraining openly from identifying with al Qaeda.

Iran, by contrast, is heading towards disaster as it treads the same road taken by Muhammad Ali in the first half of the nineteenth century, Jamal Abd al-Nasser a century later, and Saddam Hussein in the 1990s. While Iran might have the motivation, it lacks the capabilities necessary to challenge a vastly uneven international playing field, in which power at the center in the past two centuries has only rotated between "northern" players rather than having diversified or spread more evenly. If the Soviet Union caved in to the United States, albeit after a long challenge, Iran, which is both less endowed with human and natural resources, can hardly challenge this basic fact of international life.

What Can Hamas Do?

Sooner or later, Iran will face the brute power of the United States - under either a Republican or Democratic administration, or before or after Teheran acquires the bomb - and the outcome will be all too apparent. By that time, Hamas might decide it better to join the West in negotiating peace, rather than being part of the attempt to beat it, and suffer defeat in return.

To achieve that peace requires a change in Hamas mindset, from a pan-Islamism and pan-Arabism of conquest, to a pan-Arabism of creative opportunity. The basis of this new pan-Arabism might be some form of Jordanian-Palestinian federation which will allow the Palestinians access to the opportunities they could derive from a more friendly relationship with moderate Jordan and the wealthy Gulf States.

At the present moment, the emergence of a more benign, "creative pan-Arabist" Palestinian orientation appears far-fetched. However, after the failures of successive Fatah-dominated governments, a Hamas-dominated government, and the present unity government, coupled with failures on the terror front, Palestinians, including Hamas, might reconsider a different approach, even though this change is hardly inevitable.

Dr. Hillel Frisch, a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a senior lecturer in political science at Bar-Ilan University, focuses on Palestinian and Arab politics.

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U.S. sets dates for Israeli, Palestinian moves
Reuters Wire, May 1st, 2007


[In other words, the Iranian/Saudi/Hamas backed PLO state is supposed to be on track. - DSB]

The Bush administration has drawn up an eight-month timetable setting dates for when Israeli and Palestinian leaders would complete steps meant to bolster prospects for peace talks, U.S., Israeli and Palestinian officials said.

The U.S. timeline, the first of its kind presented to both sides, includes specific dates for when Washington envisages Israel letting Palestinian bus and truck convoys travel between the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank, a demand that has raised some Israeli objections.

Washington, at the same time, has set dates for when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah would step up deployment of his forces and take specific measures to begin curbing rocket fire by militants, officials who have read the document told Reuters.

The security moves by Abbas could bring a backlash from the armed wing of the ruling Hamas movement and other militant groups behind the rocket attacks, which, according to the U.S. timeline, would come to an end before the end of 2007.

"Some of these (steps) are difficult," acknowledged Abbas aide Saeb Erekat. "But it's the right approach."

It is unclear how hard the Bush administration is prepared to push the parties to complete the list of so-called "benchmarks," which are to be implemented between mid-May and the end of December.

Diplomats said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was committed to the effort despite the hurdles, and that she hoped to draw up a blueprint, or "rubric," that both sides would commit to, possibly in writing.

Some Israeli officials have raised concerns that Israel was being asked to ease restrictions on Palestinian movements without assurances that Abbas has completing his own commitments on security.

"Both sides agreed to benchmarks," said a senior U.S. official involved in the discussions. "The benchmarks give everyone an incentive. One side gets security. The other side gets greater (freedom) of movement."

Another American official said initial reports that the benchmarks would exchange freedom of movement for increased security were inaccurate. "The purpose is to create a clear basis on which to help track these particular issues," she said.

Washington hopes these measures will create conditions for final status negotiations, but the obstacles are many.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has agreed to push forward with the benchmarks, could be forced out of office over his handling of last year's Lebanon war.

Olmert's government has so far refused to discuss final status issues with Abbas, whose Fatah faction has joined a Hamas-led unity government that does not recognize Israel or renounce violence as demanded by Western powers.

U.S. diplomats presented the list of benchmarks late last week to Israeli and Palestinian leaders but the details have not been publicly disclosed.

Israeli officials said most troubling for them was Washington's decision to set specific dates for when Israel would begin allowing Palestinian bus and truck convoys to travel between the territories.

"There is not conditionality. Even if they don't complete their obligations, we'll have to complete ours," a senior Israeli official said on condition of anonymity.

In November 2005, Israel agreed to the convoys as part of a broader agreement brokered by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. But the Israeli official said conditions had changed and that ruling Hamas group would use the convoys to extend its power to the West Bank.

In addition to allowing the convoys, the U.S. document sets specific dates for when Israel would remove roadblocks in the West Bank and extend operations at key Gaza border crossings.

It also includes specific dates when Abbas would increase police and troop deployments in the West Bank and Gaza, two officials familiar with the documents said.

Copyright 2007 Reuters Limited.

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