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Brig. Gen. Shalom Harari: 'Internal Palestinian Clashes Between Hamas And Fatah Likely To Continue In Coming Days'

'Israeli Easing Of Roadblocks Has Always Been Exploited By Terrorists - IDF Undercover Operations On West Bank Prevent Suicide Bombers From Penetrating Israel'

'Egypt Could Do Much More To Block Palestinian Arms Smuggling From Sinai in to Gaza Strip'

Over the weekend, the internal Palestinian bloodshed has soared in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. The Palestinian power struggle between Hamas and Fatah reached a new peak - seven Palestinians were killed when Hamas raiders attacked the home of a Fatah security officer in the Gaza Strip. More deadly clashes have occurred on the West Bank. Meanwhile, in the West Bank town of Ramallah an Israeli undercover operation to catch a wanted terrorist  is detected leading to a shootout that kills five Palestinians and wounds several dozen others. All this as terrorists in the Gaza Strip continue to launch two or three Qassam rockets daily at Israeli targets despite the current 'cease-fire' in Gaza. IDF Brig. Gen. (Res.) Shalom Harari, a senior analyst at the Counter-Terrorism Institute at the Herzlyia Center assesses latest Palestinian developments. Shalom Harari was interviewed by David Essing:

Q : We are speaking now with Shalom Harari. He is a brigadier General reserve in the Israeli Defense Forces and a senior analyst at the counter terrorism institute at the Herzliya Center.

First of all, Shalom Harari, in the latest Palestinian chaos in Gaza and the West Bank sometimes Palestinians seems to be killing more fellow Palestinians than the Israelis are. An example of this was on Thursday, when seven Palestinians were killed in a shootout between Hamas and Fatah. Where do you think this power struggle is leading, is it leading to a full scale civil war, do you think?

A : Not yet, according to my humble opinion, of course. It is still what we can call a fight between the intelligence systems and the different forces that are under Fatah of Abu Mazen from one side, and the Hamas on the other side, while the other small fractions like PFLP and the Islamic Jihad try to mediate between these two main "giants" that hold thousands and thousands of rifles on the street. So not yet. The potential is there, but I don't feel that in the next couple of days we are going to see it.

Q : All sides are exerting their power, but not willing to go all the way?

A : They are shooting hundreds of thousands of bullets on each other, I want just to remind you that in the last couple of days we heard about some millions of bullets that were imported by the PA from Egypt as a support and some two thousand rifles, that Abu Mazen have got from Egypt as a support for his loyal forces, so there is much more shooting. They sign time and again contracts between them and after two or three hours they break them.

Q : Is there any indication though as to who is getting the upper hand between Hamas and Fatah at this stage?

A : Basically the situation in Gaza is that Hamas should take the public - if you take the public opinion, no doubt that they have much more supporters. The Fatah basically. and we could see it in the last municipal elections and also the elections for the Parliament, no doubt that the Fatah has more rifles, more shooting machines, but at the same time the Hamas fighters are much more trained and get much more support from the public, so basically they have the upper hand in Gaza, while in the West Bank the Fatah basically has the upper hand. We see some kind of balance of threats between these two districts. While in Gaza the Hamas is daring more than the Fatah to attack and the Fatah gets more casualties, in the West Bank the Fatah retaliates and tries to tell the Hamas - if you do something in Gaza you are going to pay for this in the West Bank.

Q : Amid all this anarchy, Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has promised the Palestinian President Abu Mazen, that he will make gestures, that he will remove roadblocks and so forth. But is this not really a farce in light of the violence that we see coming from the other side, and the chaos there?

A : The idea is to try to help Abu Mazen, who calls for negotiations, at least publicly, although he is not doing anything in the field in order to fulfill his promises. So one might call it also a farce, I think that it was clever from the side of Israel to try and do it, but at the same time the problem is that even when you go and you make such concessions like opening of the roadblocks in the West Bank, after some days you have to close it again because of the efforts of the suicide bombers to cross here and there, and from our experience we know that this is a very short time concessions.

Q : They exploited that, in other words, they exploit these gestures for stepping up their attacks.

A : Sometimes yes, this is true.

Q : Now you mentioned the West Bank, and in the West Bank also an Israeli counter terrorism and undercover operation went a fault there when they were detected, and it ended in a big shootout with four Palestinians and several dozen others wounded. How effective are these counter operations in tying to pick out terrorists and interrogating them afterwards?

A : The results are speaking for themselves, meaning that if you take the efforts that are done from the West Bank, from the different cities, big cities mainly - Nablus, Ramallah, Jenin and other big cities, to launch terror pressures, mainly suicide bombers and you take the last half year, you'll see that although the efforts have grown tremendously from the side of the Islamic Jihad, Hamas and even some Fatah sections like Al Aqsa Brigades, the results were that we didn't see even one success of such operation inside Israel, and that means that this is very very successful. No doubt that the Palestinian population suffers from this, but again we always say that the life that we save out of these operations, the Jewish life, is much more important than the quality of life of the Palestinians.

Q : This incident in Ramallah on Thursday came at the same time almost that Prime Minister Olmert was meeting with Egypt's President Mubarak in Sharm el Sheikh, and Mubarak criticized this Israeli operation openly and overshadowed that summit. But, on the other hand, did they not take much more rigorous actions against their own terrorists a few decades ago when they had to confront the Muslim Brothers?

A : First of all Mubarak had to do it, because this is part of the Arab inside relations game. I think that Israel looks at it with some understanding, I mean he had no other choice but to do it, because he tries to appear as an honest mediator between Israel and the Palestinians. The second thing, to answer your question, no doubt that Egypt does much more strong and deep operations against the Muslim Brothers. You just have to look at the running line, the red line in Al Jazeera or other satellite stations that runs almost every two or three hours how they arrest - almost every day - a hundred here and forty there, and they put them to jail. And they are confronting a different riots of the Muslim Brothers. They just penetrated the University of Al Azar and arrested many Muslim Brothers that brought some show on the stage just because of doing this show. So Egypt is not less strong than Israel, not only against the Muslim Brothers, also against Al Qaeda sections inside the Sinai - something that looks much more like a battlefield, in Jabal Hillal and in other places, against these sections. The difference is that Israel is a democracy with open society, also to the mass media, while in Egypt I remember the two Egyptian generals that were killed in a battle in Sinai, and most of the people of the world have not heard about it, because they don't let any camera come close.

Q : When it comes to Sinai, though, Israeli officials are very critical of the Egyptians not doing enough in blocking the arms, which are being smuggled into the Gaza strip from Sinai.

A : This is true, wishing that Egypt shall do more, although President Mubarak says that they do the most that they can do and they are ready to try and find other ways, that's what he declared after meeting Olmert, Egypt is very weak in its treating this problem. Not all of it comes out of bad will, part of it is, if you ask me, because of lack of intelligence, which will take them a lot of time to build. Mainly the human intelligence, meaning espionage systems in the front-line and in the depth of the Sinai Peninsula. By the way, this lack of intelligence is not only concerning the smugglers of weapons to the Gaza strip, it is the same problem that they have with explosions and the operations of the Islamic Jihad, or the World Jihad as we call it, in Sharm el Sheikh and the south of the Sinai, the Egyptian areas. Egypt is working too slow and sometimes not with all of its efforts.

Transcript by Dar Translations
972-2-6414722 | dar_doc@smile.net.il


David Essing

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