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Palestinian Strategy - Terrorism Plus Diplomacy

After One Million Israeli Civilians Are Rocketed For A Week, Quiet Appears To Be Holding

Israel Agrees To More Egyptian Security Personnel Entering Sinai To Tackle Mounting Presence Of Pro-Al Qaeda Terrorists

IsraCast Assessment: Prime Minister Netanyahu Adopted Restrained Response To Palestinian Attacks In Order To Salvage Peace treaty With Egypt

Israel-Egypt border

 All quiet on Israel's new front with Egyptian-controlled Sinai and Hamas-dominated Gaza, but for how long? The eight days of violence, triggered by the deadly Sinai attacks that killed eight Israelis, has strained Israeli- Egyptian relations more than any thing else since the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in 1979. Israel's top analysts have been assessing the current state of affairs after the border clash and the Palestinian diplomatic steps at the UN for recognition of a Palestinian state on the lines of 1967. David Essing sums up the views of Dr. Dore Gold, a former UN Ambassador and head of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs who has documented Al Qaeda's recent move into Sinai.

 Amid the current chaos in the Middle East, the Palestinians have been conducting a two track approach - ruthless terrorism against Israeli civilians while seeking UN recognition as its latest 'peace loving state'. While Palestinian diplomats were gunning for the September showdown at the UN, Palestinian terrorists attacked from Sinai, machine gunning Israeli cars and buses. In the bloodiest case, they shot up a car with two Israeli couples inside then opened the doors and sprayed the four victims inside, for good measure. Before the seven terrorists were tracked down and killed, several Egyptian soldiers also died in the crossfire triggering a diplomatic row with Cairo. At one point, the military junta reportedly considered recalling its ambassador from Tel Aviv before it was agreed to set up a joint inquiry into how the Egyptian soldiers died. (The terrorists were dressed in black uniforms similar to Egyptian soldiers - this made it easier for them to travel through Sinai as well as tricking Israeli troops.) The Egyptian generals, under pressure from public opinion, simply ignored the deadly attack from their territory on Israel and demanded an Israeli apology for the death of the Egyptian soldiers, some of whom may even have collaborated with the terrorists.

Hamas Terrorists in Gaza Strip

Meanwhile, terrorists in Gaza terrorized Israeli men, women and children with a barrage of over one hundred rockets, night and day, for a full week. Israeli aircraft carried out pinpoint strikes on terrorists involved in the rocketing. Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned: 'The terrorists who launch the rockets will soon learn their heads will be separated from their torsos!' On the other hand, Israel has agreed that several thousand more Egyptian security personnel will be permitted to enter Sinai in order to crack down on the terrorists. ( Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin reacted such a step requires the approval of the Knesset because it runs counter to the demilitarization clause in the peace treaty.)

However, under the circumstances Israeli retaliation was restrained and even the Opposition Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz, the chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, demanded a tougher Israeli response. One opinion poll found that 61% of Israelis favored another IDF ground operation into Gaza to suppress the terrorism while 26% opposed such a measure. So why did Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who accused the former government of not finishing the 'Cast Lead Operation' of 2008, opt for a less drastic approach? The explanation has more to do with Egypt than it does with Gaza. The military junta is under mounting pressure for failing to improve the standard of living of the Egyptian people who overthrew Hosni Mubarak with the hope of improving their lot. This has not happened and Egyptians are angry so Israel serves as their scapegoat. Moreover General Mohamed Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council has taken a more conciliatory attitude to the Muslem Brothers at home and Hamas in Gaza.

Israel is now facing a major shift to a more hostile approach to the Jewish State away from the albeit cold peace of Mubarak, but that served as a cornerstone of Israel's overall security. For example, former Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al Arabi told a TV interviewer: 'The peace treaty between Egypt and Israel is not sacred like the Koran or the New Testament!' In Cairo, an angry mob turned on the Israeli embassy and one demonstrator tore down the Israeli flag, which so far has not been hoisted aloft. Therefore, Netanyahu and his security cabinet decided to turn over backwards in an effort to prevent a potential breakdown in relations with Egypt. The deterioration was triggered by the IDF failure to close the road along the Egyptian border, although it had had hard intelligence infomation that an attack from Sinai was imminent. Gen. Tal Russo, the head of Southern Command has admitted he erred in not doing so.

Although Israeli reinforcements had been deployed at in the area the night before, they stood down at dawn, apparently on the erroneous assessment that the terrorists would not attack in daylight. It appears to be another case of failing to implement a worst case scenario, similar to the interception of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara that tried to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza with over 600 'peace activists' on board, a number of them Turkish militants. The IDF did not envisage that they would react with knives and crowbars when Israeli naval commandos dropped onto the deck from a helicopter. That case, that led to the killing of nine Turkish militants and the injuring of several commandos has caused a worsening in ties with Ankara. (The Palmer Inquiry, conducted by the UN., has reportedly justified Israel's blockade on the basis of international law, although it does raise questions about Israel's use of force. It's publication has been postponed at Turkey's request). Turkey has demanded that Israel apologize officially but Prime Minister Netanyahu has refused, although he is ready to express regret for the loss of lives. An afterthought - the latest round of Palestinian rocketing from Gaza vindicates the need for the blockade to prevent even more lethal rocketry being smuggled into Gaza, that would undoubtedly be the case if Israel did not enforce the blockade. One can only wonder how Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan would react if Israel decided to send a humanitarian flotilla to aid the Kurds, who are demanding regional autonomy from the Turks. After his recent rapprochment with Hamas, West Bank President Mahmoud Abbas has yet to condemn the Palestinian attack in Sinai.

Dore Gold

In a Yisrael Hayom article entitled 'Al Qaeda Reaches Israel', Dr. Dore Gold noted that Iman al Zarkawi, the current al Qaeda leader has devised a strategy for shifting the organization's main thrust away ' from the distant corners of the Muslim world such as Chechnya, Afghanistan and Bosnia, they are only the training ground for the great wars to be waged in the heart of the Arab world, the Levant and Egypt'. Zarkawi also views Iraq mainly as a launch pad to neighboring states that will take the war to Israel's borders. Moreover, Al Zarkawi, an Egyptian, also wrote an article entitled 'The Road to Jerusalem Leads Through Cairo' that postulated the Arab regimes must be toppled in order to destroy Israel. Gold believes the new Al Qaeda chief sees the 'Arab Spring' as an opportunity for putting his strategy into practice.

Look at what has transpired in Sinai while the world has focused on Libya and Syria. In July, when the world media was focused on Libya and Syria, one hundred armed fighters, waving Muslim banners, attacked an Egyptian police station in Al Arish. Five Egyptians were killed. Previously, other Egyptian police stations were attacked in Sinai while raids were made on the Egyptian pipeline that supplies gas to Israel and Jordan. A declaration also announced the founding of a new organization called ' Al Qaeda of the Sinai Peninsula', although it was still premature to judge if such a genuine group exists.

At present, there are various Palestinian organizations from Gaza that are identified with Al Qaeda. Terrorists from 'Popular Resistance Committees', that carried out the attack in Sinai, has adopted Al Qaeda's ideology. In 2006, some of its members broke away to form the 'Islamic Army' and it sees itself as an arm of Al Qaeda. It abducted Western hostages in Gaza and demanded the release of an Al Qaeda activist in Britain. A combined unit of the Popular Resistance, the Islamic Army unit and Hamas kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006. In January, the Egyptian Interior Minister blamed the Islamic Army for the attack on the Coptic church in Alexandria that murdered twenty-five Egyptians. In addition, the Islamic Army was known to be plotting other similar atrocities in Egypt. Ambassador Gold concludes: 'Clearly Al Qaeda's mounting interest in Sinai poses a threat not only to Israel but also to Egypt. And although it is true that difficulties have cropped up recently in Israeli- Egyptian relations, it is reasonable to assume there are also joint challenges facing the two states as a result of the new reality and this will serve to preserve ties between them'.

But Prof. Eyal Zisser, a leading Israeli Arabist has added a cautionary comment. Zisser recalls the high command of the Egyptian army firmly supported former President Hosni Mubarak. However, when the generals realized that public opinion was so opposed to their Commander in Chief, they switched sides and even agreed that he brought to trial on a stretcher inside a cage.

David Essing

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