Monday, August 31, 2009
Hamas leaders' priority is ending Gaza embargo rather than settling Shalit affair
DEBKAfile Special Report
Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a timely statement Sunday, Aug. 30, dismissing the torrent of press reports from various foreign sources claiming that a prisoner swap for the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit was imminent. DEBKAfile's Middle East sources disclose the real object of Hamas leaders' shuttle between Gaza, Cairo and Damascus as being a desperate attempt to lift the embargo clamped down on the Gaza Strip. Hamas leader Mahmoud a-Zahar and its military chief Muhammad al-Jabari were ready to reciprocate by guaranteeing the stoppage of arms smuggling through Egyptian Sinai.
This quid pro quo was discussed at length, together with a proposal in some Egyptian intelligence circles to set up joint Egyptian-Hamas patrols to monitor border traffic across their common border and close down the arms smuggling tunnels running under the12-kilometer Philadelphi border strip. If this arrangement worked, Cairo would pledge a flow of essential foodstuffs, medicine, fuel and building materials into Gaza.
In Israel, this prospective deal was greeted with mixed feelings, according to DEBKAfile's military sources. While quite happy to be hand over to Egypt the burden of supplying Gaza Palestinians with essential supplies,
Israel does not trust Hamas to keep to its side of a bargain and expects its military leaders to find alternative means for running war material into the Gaza Strip.
A-Zahar and Jabry traveled to Damascus to lay the plan before Hamas' political bureau chiefs and explain its critical importance for the future of Hamas' rule in the Gaza Strip.
Since the onset of the Ramadan month of fasting last month, Gazans are grumbling more bitterly than ever before about their hardships, which are exacerbated by frequent electricity outrages induced by fuel shortages.
The Hamas government's dilemma is acute: Maintain the posture of "resistance" and pay the price of an embargo, or look after the needs of the population at large and not just its fighting forces. The Palestinian extremists now have their back to the wall because Egypt is finally taking effective action to block the tunnels which are Gaza's lifeline not only for arms but also for vital goods to stock the shops.
Our sources disclose also that last Wednesday, Aug. 26, a large US military delegation took a close look for the first time at Egypt's anti-smuggling measures at the Philadelphi Strip tunnels along its full length. The delegation, consisting of engineering, communications and intelligence officers, gave the Egyptian operation high marks.
The presence of American officers on the other side of the Gaza border most certainly added to Hamas leaders' sense of being caged. An Israeli source disclosed later that Gilead Shalit comes up in every conversation between Hamas and Egypt, but not so far at the top of the agenda.