Keeping Hamastan Afloat

Keeping Hamastan Afloat

By P. David Hornik | 4/22/2008

When recently Israel’s government agreed to let Russia provide 25 armored personnel carriers to the Palestinian Authority, there was a lot of unhappiness in Israel’s defense establishment—and for good reason. They remembered how back in 2001 Israeli forces had to destroy about ten of the APCs in Gaza that had been supplied to Yasser Arafat there in the 1990s.

And as became clear in Gaza on Saturday, not all of those older APCs had been eliminated. Early in the morning one of them rammed through a fence between southern Gaza and Israel near the Kerem Shalom border crossing, and was quickly followed by two jeeps—disguised as Israel Defense Forces jeeps—carrying explosives that blew up an IDF watchtower and wounded 13 IDF soldiers. 


Still another APC approached a crossing slightly further north and was blown up by an IDF tank.


It was what the head of Southern Command, Major-General Yoav Gallant, called Hamas’s most ambitious attack since the 2005 disengagement. Carried out under the cover of fog and a mortar barrage, the attack could have taken a much higher toll in killed and kidnapped soldiers without the quick response of the Israeli forces at the scene.


Various motives have been ascribed to the attack. Apart from the aim of killing Israelis—always popular not only with Hamas but among Palestinians generally—Hamas is said to be frustrated at its failure so far to get Israel to release large numbers of terrorists in return for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped in a 2006 attack also near Kerem Shalom. Hamas is believed to be eager for further kidnappings to up the pressure on Israel.


Hamas is also said to be trying to break Israel’s partial blockade of Gaza. The Kerem Shalom crossing is used to transfer humanitarian supplies into Gaza. Almost two weeks earlier non-Hamas Gazan terrorists attacked the Nahal Oz fuel terminal just north of Gaza, from which Israel pumps fuel into the Strip, and killed two Israeli civilian workers there.


More likely, though, than an attempt by Hamas and its comrades to force Israel to end the blockade is an attempt to force Israel to make it total, in the hope of causing a true humanitarian crisis in Gaza resulting in greater international sympathy for Hamas and possible international intervention. Israel has indeed closed some of the crossings temporarily, but appears to be planning to reopen them while tightening controls.


In other words, the situation is rich in the bizarre and morally absurd as Israel fights to supply food, fuel, and so on to a hostile population whose elected representative—a terrorist organization—fights to prevent the supplies from getting through. The two Israeli civilians killed at Nahal Oz could be said to have died for the cause of supplying Gaza. Last Thursday in yet another incident terrorists fired at a fuel truck there.


Yet Israel, while bracing for further border raids, is still refraining from a large-scale operation against Hamastan even though 2008 has seen mounting casualties. The previous seven years of rocket and mortar attacks killed only about a dozen Israelis (though injuring many more and terrorizing thousands). But this year a total of eight soldiers and three civilians have already died in stepped-up ground attacks by Gaza terrorists or in engagements with them (along with one civilian killed in a rocket attack).


However, it is said that Israel —barring an attack that would be judged truly intolerable in scope—still wants to hold off on a strategic move against Hamas because of too many grandiose events coming up. Next month President Bush is supposed to visit, and he’s expected to be looking for “progress in the peace process” and not for background noise of Israel waging a serious war on terror in Gaza.


And later that month Israel will be celebrating its 60th anniversary, also considered too gala an occasion to be spoiled by such hostilities. After that it will be summer—ideal weather for war with its long days and short nights, and some Israeli analysts say that is when Israel will finally act against the growing, Iranian-backed and supplied menace on its southwestern border.


Meanwhile, as bad-boy ex-president Jimmy Carter proclaimed Hamas to be peacefully disposed toward Israel, it was also reported on Monday that “defense officials said Israel did not plan to alter an earlier decision to permit the PA in the West Bank to receive 25 APCs from Russia, despite the use of an armored vehicle in the Kerem Shalom attack.”


As current PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat’s successor, prepared to leave for this week’s visit to the White House, President Bush could rest assured that his PA was once again being “strengthened” in an approach probably only slightly less loco than what Carter himself would favor.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Tel Aviv. He blogs at He can be reached at

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