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HAMAS BUILDING POPULAR ARMY

IDF Chief Of Staff Yaalon: 'Hamas Is Building Its Strength Faster Than Palestinian Authority'

'In Lebanon, Cracks Are Emerging Between Hezbollah And Its Iranian And Syrian Sponsors'

MKs From Left And Right Praise The Outgoing Chief of Staff For His Outstanding Role In The War Against Terrorism

Outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon

Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon has briefed the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for the last time as IDF Chief of Staff. Yaalon focused on the rising power of Hamas vis-vis Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and 'cracks' developing in Lebanon between Hezbollah and its Iranian and Syrian sponsors. The Chief of Staff was praised by both sides of the House for containing the Palestinian wave of terrorism launched by Yasser Arafat in September 2000.

'Hamas is now building a popular army - its strength is growing faster than that of President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority'. That's the assessment of the outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon in his final briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The Cairo agreement was enabling the terror organization to participate in Palestinian political activity while allowing it to keep its weapons. General Yaalon had no doubt that Hamas poses a threat to the Palestinian Authority.

Current Calm: The Chief of Staff called it 'fragile' but he hoped it would stabilize. Some progress was seen in the PA's attempt to maintain the cease-fire but it was moving too slow in achieving the Abbas goal of 'One Authority One Gun!' A key issue was the PA's commitment to disarm fugitives wanted by Israel for terrorist activity. The PA had tried to back out of this understanding. However, Israel's refusal to hand over control of more Palestinian towns was bearing fruit in that the PA was making a greater effort to confiscate the weapons of fugitives.

Future Developments: What happens after the Disengagement was an open question depending on different factors. The Chief of Staff said: 'What concerns us most is that Israel carries through with the disengagement while the terrorists build up their arsenals and then trigger an explosion!'

Northern Front: Since July 2002 at the height of the terrorism, the IDF had succeeded in containing Hezbollah attacks. This was achieved through calibrated reactions, creating a balance of deterrents combined with political activity that had induced Hezbollah to act with greater restraint.

Syria: The Syrian evacuation means a weakening of Syria's control over Lebanon, although Syrian intelligence was still trying to pull the strings internally. The Lebanese are now asking many questions about Hezbollah which they view as still representing Syria, Iran and also having its own agenda. Hezbollah was receiving a lot of money to combat the opposition in Lebanon that seeks independence and General Yaalon said it was hard to say if the Lebanese will prevail in their quest for freedom.

Last Week's Attacks: From south Lebanon, two attacks were mounted by Palestinian groups the third by Hezbollah itself which calls the shots in the area. The Chief of Staff said: 'Hezbollah was trying to justify its existence in the Lebanese election campaign'. At the same time, Hezbollah was also feeling the pressure of Lebanese calls for restraint and cracks were now emerging between the terror organization and its Iranian and Syrian sponsors. General Yaalon went on to say: 'Lebanon may now possibly enter a process of dismantling Hezbollah from its weapons and 'expelling the Iranians from Lebanese soil'. Moreover, 'a disengagement' between Lebanon and Syria could be in the offing. However, the Chief of Staff also said these are also open questions and the situation in Lebanon could go one way or the other.

Parting Words:

Chairman Yuval Steinitz: 'You were a very good Chief of Staff in not only fighting the tough war against terrorism but also in implementing long term planning.'

Speaker Reuven Rivlin: 'You deserve a medal from the Knesset - during the tough times you appeared before the committee because you value democracy above all else'.

MK Ephraim Sneh: 'I hope you will never be in a place where you will long for the snakes you spoke of in Tel Aviv.'

MK Ehud Yatom: 'We heard three versions about why Defense Minister Mofaz and Prime Minister Sharon did not extend your term. I'm not saying I don't believe theirs; I do say I believe yours.'

MK Amram Mitzna: 'Your achievements will be judged by the public. Mofaz in a moment of weakness couldn't rise above himself and did what he did.'

MK Uzi Landau: 'You said what you wanted, not what the politicians wanted to hear and you paid the price because they were not ready to listen.'

MK Effy Eitam: 'You and Shabak Chief Dichter were fired in disgrace. You're a victim of a tired out Prime Minister'.

MK Danny Yatom: 'I was once your commander in the IDF. You have been a courageous and cool commander with the ability to talk to all ranks'.

MK Omri Sharon refused to comment.

Lt. Gen. Yaalon: 'I thank all of you for the parting words and strengthening my hand. But let me tell all of you, I keep doing push-ups and my arms are strong!'

David Essing

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