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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Haniyeh bows to Israeli threats, orders 'halt' to Qassam fire

Maybe Hamas isn't completely irrational after all.

HaAretz is reporting this morning that Hamas has bowed to Israeli threats to target their leadership and has called off the Kassam fire. How long it will last and why the threats weren't made sooner is a subject that we can talk about another time. In the meantime, let's see what happened and hope this holds. But already this morning, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhari denied that 'Palestinian Prime Minister' Ismail Haniyeh ordered an end to Qassam attacks.

The other Palestinian organizations are ignoring the change in Hamas' position and are expected to continue firing at Israel. Islamic Jihad fired a Qassam rocket at a strategic infrastructure facility near Ashkelon on Wednesday, causing no casualties, as we continue to live on luck. And it goes without saying that Hamas will do nothing to stop anyone else from shooting at us.

The warning from Israel reached Haniyeh, who asked Ahmed Jabri and several other top Hamas operatives to stop the rocket fire. Jabri, who answers directly to Khaled Meshal, the Hamas political leader in Damascus, responded: "I don't take orders from you. I'll consider the request."

Haniyeh said he was not ordering the military wing around, but giving it the full picture. I guess Haniyeh knows who wears the pants in Hamas. He left the meeting without getting a commitment. However, it appears that Jabri is now willing to cooperate, having consulted with Meshal.

Senior IDF officials said Wednesday that Hamas' primary incentive in stopping the rocket fire was the concern that Israel would target top Hamas leaders. The officials said that it appears that Hamas has decided that it has completed the current phase of its campaign against Israel, and that the public support it would get for continuing the rocket fire was not enough to warrant the risk of an Israeli response.

According to the military officials, Haniyeh and his associates thought their hold on power was being endangered. The Hamas decision to hold its fire means, they said, that Hamas has returned to the temporary status quo: Both Israel and Hamas refrain from attacking each other, while Israel continues to fight the smaller Palestinian groups, led by Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, which have not committed to the security lull. As if there is any real difference between them other than the uniforms. A baseball player is a baseball player regardless of whose uniform he is wearing.

Nonetheless, the officials said, it is quite possible that the abatement will be short-lived. Based on the description, I would say it's quite likely it will be short-lived. Another round of fighting could be sparked by civilian casualties on either side or by infighting between Hamas and Fatah. If that happens, Israel is likely to respond harshly out of a concern that the relative restraint it showed this time around has eroded the balance of deterrence. We can only hope.

Update 11:15 AM

Three Israelis were wounded this morning - one with light wounds from shrapnel and two others from shock - when Hamas' Islamic Jihad proxies fired four Kassam rockets into Sderot.

Hamas released an 'official statement' indicating that it has no intention of adhering to the previously reported cessation of Kassam fire. The organization added that it fired two Kassam rockets early Wednesday morning.

The Israel Defense Forces, however, said it had information contradicting Hamas' claims of Kassam rocket fire on Wednesday. Which of course means that we will use that as an excuse not to target their leadership.


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