The Hamas blitzkrieg
By Walid Phares

June 27, 2007

 Hamas' blitzkrieg in Gaza was "ordered" by the Tehran-Damascus "axis" to make the peace and democratic processes in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Palestine crumble. These putsches (as well as Hezbollah's) were parallel to the perceived weakening of America's resolve against the two regimes. Last year's congressional elections were read by the axis not in terms of partisan results but in terms of divisions affecting U.S. foreign polic

The offensives led by Hezbollah and Hamas immediately after publicizing the Baker-Hamilton report are the evidence. When advice to the U.S. president recommended "talking" to Iran and Syria about the "future of the region," followed by a visit to Damascus by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the axis gave the green light to the spring offensives

Hamas' putsch pre-empted its opponents. The brutality was part of psychological deterrence: beheadings, torture, executions and other horrors. These repugnant images were never seen by Palestinians before, even at the hands of whom they believe were worse enemies in Israel, Jordan and Lebanon over four decades. The jihadist massacre of Palestinians created shock among the civilians in Gaza and beyond. Hamas wanted this Talibanesque-style to serve as a deterrent, but no one can guarantee future reactions. However, the Gaza "Taliban" will consolidate its grip as a prelude to destabilizing the West Bank and transform the enclave into a bastion for jihad with the following actions:

* Levy an army of 60,000 fighters with Iran, Syria and Hezbollah expected to provide weapons and training.

* Establish many "Fallujahs" in the strip in anticipation of an "outside" offensive: no-surrender urban fortresses to deter any would-be attacker.

*Deploy batteries of missiles while using the population as human shields.

* Use civilian travel to the West Bank to insert cells inside the Palestinian Authority territories.

* Link up with supporters within the camps in Lebanon, in Jordan and among Arabs inside Israel.

*Activate overseas cells (including in the United States and the West) to deter American and international potential action in the future.

* And last but not least, the Gaza Taliban could become the recipient of future Iranian non-conventional weaponry, including tactical nuclear deployment.

Western response is strategically obligatory but not necessarily automatic. The rise of such an entity between Israel and Egypt, with access to the Mediterranean, is a direct threat to Arab moderates, the U.S. and Western presence and the peace process.

So what can be done and by whom? The Israelis have the military might, but shouldn't rush to Gaza alone, unless dramatic events arise for it would, according to projections and lessons from Lebanon, give Hamas what it wants, and that is legitimacy. The Palestinian Authority units would logically be the ones to move in but they are too weak now. An international force (with U.S. backing) would be resisted by the jihadists, both locally and internationally and with barbaric terror. Egypt has vital interest in removing a terror regime from Gaza. The Sinai bombings in recent years were only a prelude to what is to come if such an "emirate" is established. But Egypt needs Arab backing, which will be opposed by Syria, and ironically by Qatar, too the new champion of the Islamists in the region.

But a strategic response to "Hamastan" is possible under a set of conditions, including international coordination, different attitudes in the region's capitals and significant strategic enhancement in America and Europe.

Hamas will consolidate its "acquisition" with Iran and Syria, moving to protect the new status quo and to waste as much time as possible. Two games will go on: One is to deepen the defenses of Gaza; two is to deny the threat. Khaled Mashal, the Syrian-based boss of Hamas, used generous al Jazeera airtime to assuage fears. "Yes, we are Islamists, but we aren't establishing a religious state (yet)," he said, repeating what the Islamic Courts said in Mogadishu earlier this year.

"We have good relations with Iran and Syria, but that doesn't mean anything," he continued. Then he offered a panoply of psychological gadgets: Continue to recognize Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian president; "work" on liberating a British hostage; welcome Arab initiatives; display the Palestinian flag higher than Hamas'; make sure the "struggle" is still on, as the group pledged it will continue the fight against Israel.

In fact, attacking Israel is Hamas' insurance against the Palestinian Authority's containment. Thus, it is important that the Salam Fayyad government press for an isolation of Hamas. The key to such success is in the hands of a united Abbas-Fayyad effort, but Fatah's negative past needs to be addressed by radical reforms before the Palestinian Authority is upgraded to full partnership in the war on terror.

The immediate future of Hamastan demands keen skills from Washington and Brussels, to calibrate the response to the regional Syrian-Iranian threat. And until the fog of uncertainties disappears, "Palestine'' is now divided between Taliban and mujahideen.

***Walid Phares is director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a visiting fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy.