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by Brig.-Gen. (res.) Shalom Harari



The Growing Influence of Iran

There is a growing strategic alliance between Iran and the radical Palestinian forces in the territories. Iran is seeking to surround Israel from three sides -- from the north, by rebuilding Hizbullah; from the West Bank, which has not been successful so far; and from Gaza.

Hamas feels that it has succeeded in breaking the siege that the Western world tried to put on it, and that it does not have to respond to the demands of the West. Hamas says that instead of depending on the West, it will build its society, economy, and army with the help of the Islamic world, mainly Iran. Iran is sending weapons and experts to Hamas, and is also training Hamas security forces. Hamas members are being trained in Iran, where they are learning various aspects of guerilla and terrorist warfare.

Iran is involved in supporting both the Islamic factions and Fatah, as well. Today, at least 40 percent of Fatah's different fighting groups are also paid by Hizbullah and Iran. Many Fatah members are sitting on the fence. They don't know which side to take and, in the meantime, Hamas is growing stronger with money sent from Damascus and Iran.

Egypt had sent 100 experts to Gaza half a year ago, but today only two generals are left, and even they prefer to spend most of their time in Tel Aviv, for their own safety.

Two Different Palestinian States

We are seeing the formation of two Palestinian "states" that behave differently -- one in Gaza and the other in the West Bank.

Look at how the new Hamas leadership rules in Gaza. Prime Minister Haniyeh does not speak from the parliament, a five-minute drive from his home. Rather, he makes his declarations from the mosque every Friday. Haniyeh and Abbas also differ in how they dress. Haniyeh comes dressed like a sheikh. The Arabs are masters of preaching and speaking, and are very aware of the images they project. The head of the government preaching from the mosque creates a new image -- of a new caliphate being built inside Gaza.

For the last twenty years, the Islamic bloc has had 40 percent support among the Palestinian people inside the territories. It does not have 62 percent support, which was the result in the parliamentary elections. Yet Fatah today is still disorganized and split, and it cannot translate its support into votes.

Abbas' threat to hold elections is an empty one. He does not have the ability to implement elections in the territories. If he cannot succeed in holding internal elections for Fatah, his own organization, he will not succeed in holding general elections in Gaza and the West Bank.

In the West Bank, Fatah still has much better control, but Hamas is trying to gain strength there. Hamas tried to build up its forces in Bethlehem and in the Hebron district but failed, both because Israel fought it and also because of pressure from Fatah.

Seeking a New Hamas-Friendly PLO

Abbas and the Arab states around Israel were ready to negotiate and compromise. Now there is no compromise. Hamas does not recognize Israel, nor does it recognize the position of Abbas as head of the PLO since Hamas does not recognize the PLO. Hamas says that in order for the Palestinians to unite, the PLO must change. Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal is trying to build a new PLO, either by taking over at least part of the control of PLO institutions or by building a parallel structure.

Hamas Prepares for War

We are seeing the continued growth of the Islamic forces in Gaza, especially after the war in Lebanon. Hamas thinks it can build a new southern Lebanon in Gaza, and this is what it is busy doing. With the support of Hizbullah, Syria, and Iran, arms and ammunition are flowing through Rafiah on the Egyptian-Gaza border every day, both above ground and through the tunnels, in order to build "Hamastan."

Hamas is increasing its Kassam rocket production and is also improving its rocket capabilities in order to be able to hit major Israeli cities such as Ashkelon, Ashdod, and others. If Hamas acquires 122 millimeter Katyusha rockets, it can reach the center of Ashkelon.

Hamas is seeking to build anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems that will neutralize Israel's current ability to easily penetrate Gaza, using new kinds of missiles that were used in Lebanon. It is also trying to fortify the cities in Gaza in which it has its main rocket and weapons factories, such as Rafiah and Khan Yunis.

If Israel again attacks deep into Gaza, Hamas hopes to confront it with something like what was seen in southern Lebanon -- reserves of Hizbullah dug in deep under the earth. They have air conditioning experts for the underground tunnels they are constructing. They have concrete experts to build bunkers. They have communications and intelligence experts. They have experts for every field connected to the development of weapons and rockets.

In Gaza there are between 80,000 and 100,000 automatic rifles and machine guns. This is the most armed people in the Middle East except for Somalia. In 2006, thirty tons of TNT was brought into Gaza. If the Arabs succeed in bringing in the latest anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets, then they will not only shoot at the Israeli army but at Israeli civilian targets as well, such as buses, because these rockets have a longer range.

The IDF will have to enter Gaza in a very wide-scale operation in the next year, if not in the next six months. The IDF prefers not to enter Gaza because of the high cost in Israeli casualties, but Israel has to defend its citizens. If there is a continuing military threat in the south that involves continued rocket fire into Israel which could hit a strategic target, then there could be an Israeli invasion of Gaza. At the end of the day, Israel will have to deal with the thr! eat of Hamas rockets. The big question is whether to do it now or wait, like Israel did in Lebanon -- and look at the results.

Brig.-Gen. (res.) Shalom Harari is a Senior Research Scholar with the Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. He served in the territories for twenty years as a senior advisor on Palestinian affairs for Israel's Defense Ministry.

This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on his presentation to the Institute for Contemporary Affairs (ICA) in Jerusalem on January 9, 2007. The Institute for Contemporary Affairs (ICA) is dedicated to providing a forum for Israeli policy discussion and debate.

This article was published by JCPA -- Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs ( -- and is archived as a Jerusalem Issue Brief in Vol. 6, No. 23, March 11, 2007. Subscribe to the Jerusalem Issue Brief list by writing an email to


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