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Maj. Gen. (res.) Shalom Harari: 'Qassam Rocket That Hits Crowded Israeli Kindergarten Or Synagogue Will Trigger Massive IDF Operation '

'Upcoming International Peace Conference Has Slim Chance Of Success Because Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Has No Control Over His Own Fatah Terrorists On West Bank'

'Palestinian Public Opinion Terrorized By Hamas'

Palestinian Terrorists

In spite of intense diplomatic activity scheduled for this fall, little will likely change in the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation. IDF Maj. Gen. (res.) Shalom Harari sees slim chance of the international conference achieving little more than vague understandings because Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas cannot exercise any control over his own West Bank terrorists. Meanwhile, the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip is locked in an escalating confrontation with Israel. This week a terrorist rocket scored a direct hit on an Israeli kindergarten in Sderot that was empty of children at the time. In an interview with IsraCast Gen. Harari, now an analyst at the Herzliya Center, warned that if a Qassam rocket hits a crowded synagogue or kindergarten it will trigger a massive IDF operation into Gaza.

Chances are not very high for the upcoming international conference on promoting a peace process between Israel and West Bank Palestinians lead by President Mahmoud Abbas - that's the assessment of Maj. Gen. (res.) Shalom Harari. At best it might be possible to work out some vague understandings on the nature of a future Palestinian state.Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, was incapable of controlling terrorist groups on the West Bank including his own Fatah organization.

Question: Has President Abbas succeeded in confiscating those illegal weapons from the West Bank terrorists as promised?

Harari: 'No not all. Some weeks ago Abbas promised that 200 fugitives of his own Fatah organization would hand in their weapons. These fugitives killed or were involved in the killing of Israelis - that was the agreement with Israel. But Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have no power to control their own people. The terrorists in Nablus, Jenin and Tul Kerem refuse to give up their weapons and if this was a Litmus test, Abbas failed it. It shows how weak the Palestinian leader is; he cannot impose his will on the West Bank terror organizations '.

Question: But what of Palestinian public opinion? How do you sense the feeling on the Palestinian Street about Hamas driving Abbas and Fatah out of the Gaza Strip last June?

Harari: 'No doubt the Palestinians have mixed feelings about Hamas today. Last year, Hamas won big in the Palestinian municipal and parliamentary elections. Maybe today a lot of public opinion on the West bank and in Gaza look differently at Hamas but the problem is that public opinion has not tools to express itself. Palestinians journalists live in fear of expressing their opinions: it is a terrorized society. I believe that if elections were held today, Hamas would get much less but still some 40%. It's not a matter of Hamas being so strong but of Fatah being so weak and fragmented. Even Fatah activists say so. The proof is that even after being violently forced out of Gaza by Hamas, Fatah has still failed to reorganize'.

Question: Aside from the upcoming diplomatic activity, all Hell seems to have broken loose along the Israeli - Gaza border. The IDF has stepped up its targeted interceptions of Qassam rocket squads, killing several dozen terrorists over the past few weeks. However, the terrorists still manage to launch Qassams at the Israeli town of Sderot- in fact one of them scored a direct hit on an empty kindergarten this week. The IDF appears to have adopted a new approach with new high-tech tactics to take out the terrorists. Will this enable the IDF to get the upper hand?

Harari: 'I'm not so sure it's a new approach or new high- tech tactics. It's more about implementing methods being developed by the IDF all the time. It is true they are of greater intensity recently but this is due to Hamas strengthening its forces with the aid of Iran. The Israeli policy is to drive the terrorists from the area of Israel's security fence along the border. Remember what happened along the Lebanese border before the war last summer. Hezbollah came right down to the border taking up positions there from where they could threaten to attack Israel or abduct IDF soldiers at any time and that's eventually what they did. We don't want to see a similar situation developing along the border with Gaza. Pushing the terrorists back from the Gaza border also makes it harder for them to tunnel under our security fence and infiltrate terrorists into Israel. Although Hamas may not be taking part in the launching of Qassam rockets, Hamas does fire mortars at Israel almost every day. Not only that, Hamas fires at the passages which Israel allows to remain open in order to supply food and humanitarian supplies into Gaza for the civilian population'.

Question: In fact, this week the terrorists actually fired at the Israeli power station which supplies electricity to the Gaza Strip. What do you make of that?

Harari: 'It's nothing new - the Palestinians like to shoot themselves in the foot time and again. Palestinian society is split in Gaza and even Hamas is divided.'

Question: Is there not a danger that terrorists in Gaza might eventually use the sophisticated Strella anti-aircraft missiles against Israeli helicopters flying counter- terror missions?

Harari: 'There has been intelligence information about such anti- aircraft missiles but I must say we haven't seen them ourselves. They were reported some three years ago and could pose a problem for helicopters operating against terrorists. The bigger danger would be if the terrorists smuggled them into the West Bank where they could threaten airliners flying over Ben-Gurion airport'.

Question: So in spite of the international peace conference this fall, is it likely we'll be seeing more of the same in the Israeli- Palestinian confrontation over the next few months?

Harari: 'Yes, there has been no real change in the Palestinian control of violence against Israel and Hamas and Fatah are likely to remain split in the months ahead. The terrorists will try to acquire more Syrian and Iranian weapons. There is a danger in what we call the strategic Qassam rocket that doesn't fall near a synagogue or kindergarten like the one in Sderot this week. Just imagine if a Qassam scores a direct hit on such a building filled with kids. Then it will not be a question about whether there will a massive IDF operation into Gaza but only about when it will launched'.

David Essing

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