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February 18, 2003

In Drive against Hamas, Mofaz Takes on Assad-Nasrallah Duo

Looks like showdown time, according to DEBKA , and this may be timed for American attack upon Iraq

The Israeli army has plainly stepped up its drive against the Hamas and Jihad Islami in the Gaza Strip and Mt. Hebron in the southern West Bank. Less visibly, in the same arena, defense minister Shaul Mofaz and chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon are locked in a complicated and grim showdown with Syrian president Bashar Assad and Hizballah chairman Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Israel’s most implacable Arab foes.

Neither side admits what is going on, but Israel’s military chiefs are racing to undo a devious plan set in motion by Assad and Nasrallah plan to transform the Gaza Strip and southern West Bank into the southern offshoots of the Syrian-Lebanese northern front against Israel, before the Iraq war fully erupts. They would thus exploit the Palestinian terror campaign to drag Israel into a full-blown regional conflict, without exposing their own territory and power centers to reprisal - or even laying themselves open to be charged as aggressors.

According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, Assad and Nasrallah are jerking the wires of Hamas and Jihad Islami groups in the Gaza Strip and Hebron, through those groups’ Damascus headquarters.

This contest lies behind the spiraling Israeli-Palestinian violence of recent weeks in these two regions as the US offensive against Iraq nears. To pre-empt the Syrian-Hizballah plan, the IDF can be expected to seize strategic parts of the Gaza Strip and its towns, in the same way as it has established a presence in most West Bank Palestinian towns, most recently Hebron.

Taking advantage of the diluted Iraqi military intelligence operation in the Palestinian arena - as a result of the rising pressure on Saddam Hussein and early stages of his regime’s disintegration - the Syrian-Hizballah duo has moved in to keep Palestinian terrorism rocketing. The momentum has swept up elements of the Fatah’s security organs, who interpret Yasser Arafat’s non-reaction as his blessing for their participation. Arafat’s operatives are attracted not only by the action, but by the influx of Syrian, Hizballah and Saudi funding into the Gaza Strip and Hebron region at a time when the Fatah war chest is empty. [more]