Back in April, amidst growing tension and factional fighting in Gaza between Fatah and Hamas, I pointed out that the US was, indirectly, a party to the conflict insofar as the Bush administration was providing support to Fatah security forces.
At that time, Haaretz reported (available via the Daily Times of Pakistan) on disagreements over US and Israeli support for Fatah. The disagreement ostensibly concerned differing assessments of the strength of Fatah relative to Hamas.
The Americans believe that strengthening Abbas loyalists and deploying them in friction points along the north of the strip and Philadelphi route in Rafah will eventually improve the security situation.
Western officials who studied the battle near the Karni crossing last Tuesday concluded, contrary to the IDF’s assessment, that Abbas’ forces had performed well despite their losses and had succeeded in warding off a larger Hamas force. They found that Hamas had not won a decisive victory in the battles in the Strip and urged taking steps to strengthen the pro-Abbas forces…
[Israeli] Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh is the main advocate for helping to strengthen the Abbas loyalists…
The IDF believes that Hamas has a considerable advantage over Fatah in the confrontation with Fatah in the Gaza Strip. “Hamas men are trained, equipped and more resolved than their Fatah counterparts, even if the latter outnumber them in weapons,” an IDF source said.
Ephraim Sneh was earlier quoted in the Washington Post, defending Israeli support for Fatah:
“The idea is to change the balance, which has been in favor of Hamas and against Fatah. With these well-trained forces, it will help right that imbalance.”
Now, Sneh appears to be have suffered a double loss.
Within the Israeli Labor Party, Sneh is closely aligned with the outgoing Defense Minister and party leader, Amir Peretz. In the most recent Labor Party primary, Peretz backed Ami Ayalon who subsequently lost the bid for party leadership to Ehud Barak.
Will Ehud Barak endorse Sneh’s dangerous game?
Sneh’s strategy appears to be crumbling. Hamas appears to be winning decisive victories against Sneh’s Fatah allies.
In fighting today, Hamas continued its near-complete armed takeover of the Gaza Strip and seized the southern town of Rafah, according to witnesses and security officials allied with the rival Fatah faction.
In Gaza City, two out of four key Fatah-controlled security compounds have fallen to Hamas…
Earlier, Mr Abbas ordered his best troops to strike back at Hamas Islamists as they tightened their grip on Gaza.
The decision by Mr Abbas, who is backed by the west, to commit the presidential guard came as Hamas said it captured the Gaza City security compound. Until now the US-financed presidential guard has been told to maintain a defensive posture against what appear to be coordinated attacks by Hamas.
Hamas’s seizure of the base would deal a severe blow to Fatah and Mr Abbas…
The Council on Foreign Relations, among others, is already describing the emergence of “Hamastan.”
Having helped trigger the confrontation between Fatah and Hamas, Washington is now hoping its go-to-guy in Egypt, Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman can persuade Hamas to stand down, even as victory appears imminent. Good luck with that.
As I have previously suggested, the US has tried to exploit civil war in Gaza as part of a proxy war between the US and Iran.
It is for this reason that Israeli Prime Minister Olmert has suggested that the fall of Gaza to Hamas would have “regional implications.”
The Jerusalem Post reports that Cairo is allegedly pointing fingers at Iran.
According to the report, Cairo blamed external elements with igniting the fighting, hinting that Iran was behind the escalation in Gaza…
In an interview with the London based Al-Hayat , senior Fatah official Samir Mashharawi was more explicit in his claims that both Syria and Iran were behind Hamas’ attempted coup. In the interview, cited by Israel Radio, Mashharawi claimed that the two countries had transferred millions of Dollars to Hamas, and that the Islamic group was using the money against the Palestinians people in trying to establish a “Hamas state” in the Gaza Strip.
Is Iran rising to the challenge? Perhaps. Hamas certainly is. But it was the US-backed Fatah forces who were first deployed into “friction points” to try to escalate tensions in Gaza.
That is looking increasingly like a major blunder.
In the battle between Sneh and the IDF, the defense establishment looks like the winner:
The defense establishment is to hold meetings next week in an effort to prepare recommendations for a new policy in the Gaza Strip, in the wake of what seems to a Hamas conquest of the area.
The general assessment in the Israel Defense Forces is that there is a new reality in the Strip and that Hamas has defeated Fatah in the battle for power.
Israeli political sources said Wednesday that the Hamas takeover requires that Israel reexamine its ties with the Gaza Strip, and whether it will continue its economic ties, the infrastructure links – providing of fuel and electricity from Israel.
Sneh’s US-backed plan to use Fatah forces against Hamas may have been a cynical and naive gambit, but the IDF is unlikely to adopt a softer line.
Barak may want to prop up Olmert’s government. But a Hamas victory in Gaza will surely bolster the position of Israeli hawks, not least Likud leader Benjamin Netanhahu.
If so, then the proxy war in Gaza may quickly become a far more explosive regional civil war in the Middle East.