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Thursday, October 26, 2006

There is going to be a war in Gaza, but who is going to fight it?

Tonight is the end of Eid-el-Fitr, the Holiday of the Sacrifice. Last night, I told you that I thought that a 'Palestinian civil war' could start as early as tomorrow. But the truth is that the Fatah-Hamas conflict is only one of three possible conflicts that could break out in Gaza tomorrow morning. In this morning's Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens points out two other possibilities: Israel against the 'Palestinians' and possibly Egypt, or Egypt together with Hamas.

There is a map in the Wall Street Journal article. You should all look at it, because it is the first map I have seen that makes clear exactly where and what the Philadelphi corridor is. If you look at the map, you will understand why a 400 meter strip of land could make such a big difference.
Last week, Egyptian police in the Sinai intercepted a shipment of 200 crates of guns and ammunition headed for the town of Rafah, which straddles the seven-mile Egyptian-Palestinian border. Also last week, the Israeli army (IDF) discovered 13 smuggling tunnels running under the border in addition to the 12 discovered since June. Israeli intelligence estimates that in the past year at least 19 tons of explosives have been smuggled through these tunnels into Gaza, plus some 15,000 Kalashnikov rifles, 1,000 RPGs, and quantities of Katyusha rockets, Strella antiaircraft missiles and Russian-made Kornet and Metis antitank missiles.

All this is in addition to an indigenous Gazan military industry that produced the hundreds of short-range Kassam rockets that have rained continuously on southern Israel for two years. And it explains why Israeli military planners feel they need to deal Gaza a punishing blow sooner rather than later, when the Palestinians might be in a position to bloody Israel the way Hezbollah did last summer. "We are going to make a massive ground operation in Gaza," warns Yuval Steinitz, until recently chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, in a recent interview. Underlying the remark is the sense that the IDF will not allow itself to be surprised again by events, much less humiliated twice by ostensibly weaker foes.

Mr. Steinitz points an accusing finger at Egypt, which agreed last year to step up its efforts to stop the weapons smuggling in exchange for Israel abandoning its aggressive border patrols along the so-called Philadelphi Corridor. "The Egyptians are violating and betraying all the agreements," he says. "They are doing to us what Syria is doing to the U.S. in Iraq. . . . Their real policy is to let Israelis and Palestinians bleed together."

Talk to the Egyptians, however, and you get a different story. In public, the Egyptians generally neither acknowledge nor deny that they are letting the smuggling happen: Acknowledgment risks alienating the U.S. while denial risks enraging their own public opinion. In private, however, Egyptians admit that they condone and perhaps even participate in the smuggling, but only to arm and strengthen Fatah. The arms to Hamas are being shipped, supposedly against Egypt's wishes, from Iran via Syria and Hezbollah.

Here, then, is the third circumstance: The rise of Hamas, with ties to Iran and potentially a secure territorial base of its own, is an even greater long-term threat to the brittle regime of Hosni Mubarak than it is to Israel.
Personally, I'm betting on the 'Palestinian' civil war, followed by an Israeli offensive if the 'Palestinians' don't do a good enough job of killing each other. I don't think Egypt's public will stand for a war between the Egyptians and the 'Palestinians.' But read the whole thing.

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