Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Izzadine al-Qassam (the military wing of Hamas) and two other groups took part in a well-planned assault on an Israeli army outpost along the Israeli-Gaza border on Sunday. Two soldiers were killed, four wounded and Corporal Gilad Shalit was kidnapped and taken back into the Gaza Strip.
The incident highlights a growing rift within the Hamas movement. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and P.A. Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar reportedly were working to free Shalit. But Israel blames the Damascus-based "political" leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, for giving the orders to attack the outpost and abduct a soldier.
Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres said that Hamas has two leaders - and the ones in the Palestinian areas are not controlling the situation. "There are apparently two headquarters -- one here, one in Syria...and the leaders who reside here, or in the West Bank or Gaza, are totally helpless," said Peres in an interview with CNN.
The leaders in Palestinian areas "apparently didn't give the order to capture the soldier but they are also incapable of releasing him," Peres said.
The former chief of the Israeli secret service, Ephraim HaLevy, called this is the moment of truth for Hamas - a moment that could bring about the organization's collapse if its leaders make the wrong decisions.
"The Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian national movement is facing its ultimate moment of truth," HaLevy told diplomats and journalists at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
The question is whether the Palestinian national movement has the power to create a viable structure of government and chain of command, said HaLevy.
Hamas swept to power in parliamentary elections in January, surprising Israel and the international community.
The Quartet - the U.S., European Union, Russia and United Nations -- set three conditions dealing with the Hamas-led P.A.: recognize Israel, abandon terror, and abide by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
Hamas was able to set up a government but it did not exercise authority and could not bring the extremist factions under its control. Hamas tried to circumvent the international conditions and thought it had more time to "get its act together," said HaLevy.
HaLevy said he doubts the Hamas-led government initiated the kidnapping of the soldier, but it doesn't matter now, he added.
"As a result of this event...all timetables have changed and Hamas doesn't have any more time to get its act in order," he said.
There is a "deep divide" between Mashaal in Damascus and P.A. (Hamas) Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza, said HaLevy.
There is "a strong possibility that as a result of events that will take place in the days to come, Mr. Mashaal will succeed in destroying the Hamas movement," said HaLevy.
"There is a distinct possibility that Hamas will enter into a spiral of destruction over this issue."
If that happens, then the Hamas administration will disintegrate and the there will be chaos in the territories, said HaLevy.
On the other hand, if the local leadership triumphs over the Damascus leadership and the P.A. succeeds in solving the problem of the kidnapped soldier in the way a sovereign government should, then Hamas will have a degree of credibility and it will be a "new ballgame," he said.
Mashaal, whose patron is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was a target of an Israeli assassination attempt in 1997. The Mossad tried to poison him, but Jordanian officials foiled the plan.
Justice Minister Haim Ramon said that Mashaal was a candidate for a targeted assassination. "He is definitely in our sights...he is a target," Ramon said in a radio interview. "Khaled Mashaal, as someone who is overseeing, actually commanding the terror acts, is definitely a target."
See Earlier Story:
Hamas 'Diplomat' Has Ties to Iran and Syria (16 Feb. 2006)
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