Jerusalem – “Hamas is getting stronger day by day in the Gaza Strip, and in spite of the blows being inflicted by the IDF on its capability to launch Kassams (rockets), our evaluation is that the organization is striving relentlessly to increase the range of the rockets, which is indeed expected to increase,” is what Israel Defense Forces Southern Command Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant Tuesday told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
General Galant’s review focused on a dire prediction of what is likely to happen in the south in the next few months. “Hamas is building up its strength all the time,” he said. “They are certainly studying the Lebanon war and are trying to apply the lessons learned from it. Hamas is determined to seize control of the Gaza Strip and to oust Fatah. They have begun to establish military formations as an answer to those of Fatah. They are smuggling in anti-tank rockets, Grad rockets, explosives and other military equipment. There is also a system of military production and manufacture of munitions. Millions of dollars are being smuggled in through Rafah. It is reasonable to assume that within a short time, Hamas will have an organized force consisting of thousands of well-armed terrorists. It will be on the scale of a division.”
General Galant warned: “If there is a deceptive calm which forces us to reduce the level of our military activity, the (Palestinian) organizations will take advantage of the lull to improve their organization. The IDF and Southern Command have answers to things which might develop. There are different gradations of activity, and each gradation has its own price tag.”
Hamas Fears IDF Will Rescue Gilad Shalit In Southern Gaza Strip
The Palestinian news agency Maan Tuesday quoted Hamas sources as saying that the delay in the release of Gilad Shalit is due to the fears of the kidnappers that Israel will play some last-minute trick. Hamas is asking for an Egyptian guarantee that the IDF will not rescue the soldier as the kidnappers are bringing him out of the place where he has been kept hidden, on his way to the Egyptian border. Hamas fears that Israel would then refuse to release the terrorists whom it has promised to free.
Hamas is demanding that International Red Cross representatives be present during the exchange. Israel refuses, and its persistent rejection of this demand has heightened the fears of the Palestinians.
The sources say that Hamas trusts the Egyptians, but not the Israelis, “who are known for their empty promises and non-fulfillment of promises and commitments,” as the Hamas sources put it.
Maan also reports that Israel and the Palestinians have completed a final version of the deal. Hamas is demanding the release of dozens of terrorists sentenced to long jail terms who have already served a large part of their sentence. It appears that Israel has accepted this demand, even though these terrorists fit the definition of having “blood on their hands.”
Hamas sources noted with satisfaction that this will be “the first prisoner exchange in the annals of Palestine which will take place on Palestinian soil.”
U.S. Will Soon Try To Promote Diplomatic Process
U.S. intelligence official John Negroponte will arrive in Israel this week for a visit, as the guest of Mossad Director Meir Dagan.
Israeli officials believe that the U.S. will soon try to promote a diplomatic process.
Negroponte is responsible for all the U.S. intelligence branches, and is considered one of the most important people in the administration in Washington, and one of those closest to President Bush.
Negroponte will meet with several senior Israeli officials, headed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He will also meet with the directors of the Mossad, the GSS and IDF Intelligence. The visit is of great importance in light of the Israeli-American coordination with regard to dealing with the Iranian threat.
Negroponte is coming to Israel directly from Egypt, where he arrived in conjunction with a Hamas delegation that is discussing the deal for the release of Gilad Shalit. U.S. sources said that Negroponte’s visit is not connected to the talks for the release of the kidnapped soldier.
Diplomatic sources say that the U.S. administration is thinking about adopting a new agenda in the Middle East. President Bush has appointed former secretary of state James Baker to head a special committee for formulating recommendations on U.S. policy in the Middle East.
Israeli Foreign Ministry officials believe that the U.S. will seek to promote a new agenda, in a move that will try to jump-start a regional process. A senior diplomatic source said, “let us not be surprised if the Americans convene an international conference.” Sources in the Foreign Ministry say, “there are increasing signs that the Quartet will play a more dominant role in formulating an international initiative and will push to promote the peace process in the Middle East.”
U.N. Plan For Israeli Withdraw From
U.N. Special Envoy to the Middle East Terje Larsen, in charge of matters concerning Lebanon, is working to prepare a plan for an Israeli withdrawal from the area known by Hezbollah as the “Shaba Farms.”
To draw up the plan, the U.N. has engaged the services of a cartographer who will conduct precise measurements and topographical photographs, which will determine what exactly those “Shaba Farms” are and how much land is involved. Up until now, no government or other body has possessed accurate and updated maps of the area. The cartographer is expected to begin working in mid-November, but will not conduct on-site measurements.
Larsen’s activity is in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which Israel has adopted. In the resolution, article 10 states:
“10. Requests the secretary general to develop, in liaison with relevant international actors and the concerned parties, proposals to implement the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, and resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), including disarmament, and for delineation of the international borders of Lebanon, especially in those areas where the border is disputed or uncertain, including by dealing with the Shaba farms area, and to present to the Security Council those proposals within 30 days.”
Until now, there were no clear borders for the Shaba Farms, the Lebanese name for Mt. Dov. Sources in Israel estimate that the area covers about 40 square kilometers, beginning at the Blue Line, the line to which the IDF withdrew in the year 2000 in compliance with the rulings of United Nations cartographers, and ending at the Siyon stream.
There are no inhabited villages in the area except the Alawite village of Ghajar, which lies on the southwestern slopes of the area.
The matter is causing concern in Jerusalem, because Larsen’s activity is based on the speech of the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem at the last session of the U.N. General Assembly, in which he declared that the Shaba Farms are Lebanese territory. In the case of Mt. Dov, Muallem’s speech prepared the ground for the Lebanese argument that the area is Lebanese sovereign territory, as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah maintains. The U.N. involvement in demarcation of the border constitutes a significant victory for Hezbollah, because it places the issue back on the political and international agenda.
Political sources in Jerusalem say that, when the demarcation is complete, there will be growing international pressure on Israel to withdraw from the area and hand it over to the U.N. to enable Syria and Lebanon to settle the issue of sovereignty over the area between themselves.
Haniya Leaving Gaza Strip For First Time Since Becoming PM
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya will leave in a few days for a tour outside the Gaza Strip, for the first time since becoming prime minister. His bureau chief Mohammed Madhin said Tuesday night that Haniya will visit a number of countries in the Middle East. Tuesday, Haniya received a message from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and another message from the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Abdullah. Both of them thanked Haniya for his good wishes on the occasion of Saudi Arabian Independence Day.
Stage Mock Raids
For the first time since the cease-fire with Hezbollah in July, Israeli fighter-jets have staged mock attacks on Lebanon.
At least eight Israel Air Force F-16 multi-role fighters flew over Beirut at low altitude in the biggest show of force since the 34-day war ended on Aug. 14. The F-16s dived toward suspected Hezbollah targets in Beirut and southern Lebanon.
Security sources said the fighter-jets did not fire missiles or release bombs. They said the mock attacks served to warn Hezbollah against rebuilding its forces.
Hezbollah has demanded an increasing stake in the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has warned of labor strikes and huge protests unless Siniora fulfills the demand of the Iranian-sponsored movement.
The United Nations has opposed Israeli overflights in Lebanon. The French contingent of the expanded peace-keeping force has introduced anti-aircraft systems in southern Lebanon.
Israel has accused Iran and Syria of continuing to pour weapons into Hezbollah. The U.N. has acknowledged that Lebanon has failed to cooperate in providing details of the weapons flow from Syria.
Arms To Iran
The British government has acknowledged arms sales to Iran and Syria.
A British Foreign Office report said the government has granted licenses for dual-use equipment to Iran and Syria. The report said the exports include components and technology that could be used by the militaries of the two Middle East states.
Iran spent about $350 million, or 180.5 million British pounds, on a range of British dual-use systems. The Foreign Office cited aircraft engines, machine tools and chemicals.
The British Foreign Office said Syria has ordered nearly $200,000 worth of dual-use items from Britain, including chemicals as well as technology to produce toxins. The purchases were said to have taken place between October and December 2005.
The report cited British arms and dual-use exports to Algeria, Israel, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. In all, Britain sold military or dual-use components to 19 out of 20 countries deemed “major concern.” The exception was North Korea.
The Foreign Office said Libya ordered 42 million pounds, for about $80 million, in dual-use technology from Britain. Algeria reportedly received 33 million pounds worth of weapons over the last year.
©The Bulletin 2006