New Palestinian Islamic party seeks to be moderate (& Money pours into Gaza)

March 22, 2007

* Contrary to repeated misinformation in the European media, financial aid to the Palestinians rose by 20% in 2006, according to The New York Times, and continues to increase sharply
* Palestinian militants install air-conditioning in preparation for war

This dispatch mainly concerns Palestinian issues.



* As a follow-up to yesterday’s dispatch, titled Why the elites are driving Tony Blair from office (& The Sun’s guide to Tel Aviv), Britain’s most popular daily paper The Sun continues its admiration for Israel in the run up to Saturday’s big Israel-England soccer game.

Today, the paper carries this “slideshow”. (The Sun also invites people to vote on whether England or Israel has the “hottest babes”.)

In an unrelated development, the so-called “beer ‘n’ babes” magazine Maxim will send photographers to Israel next week for a photo shoot of good-looking Israeli women. The Israeli foreign ministry hopes the magazine will help redefine Israel’s image. “All the surveys we have done show that the biggest PR problem Israel has is with males from the age of 18-35,” said Israel’s consul for media and public affairs. “This could all change now.”

The nine-person Maxim team, including photographers, a reporter, hairstylists and make-up people, will arrive for a five-day photo-shoot on Tuesday. The glossy magazine, launched in the U.S. in 1997, boasts a circulation of 2.5 million and claims to be the “#1 men’s lifestyle magazine in the world.”

On a more serious note, a group of England fans in Israel for Saturday’s match will tomorrow morning become the first organized group of soccer supporters to visit Yad Vashem. They plan to lay a St. George Cross wreath with cards from the supporters reading: “Never Forget” and “Never Again.” The London England Fans supporters group will also attend a 16-team children’s soccer tournament tomorrow afternoon in Tel Aviv with teams made up of Arab and Jewish children.

Around 6,000 fans are expected to travel from England to Israel for the match.



1. “Wasatia” is Arabic for “moderation”
2. UN under threat in Gaza
3. Fatah al-Islam and Fatah-Intifada clash in Lebanon, leaving two dead
4. Islamic Jihad work accident kills one and injures twenty
5. Financial aid to Palestinians rose by 20% in 2006
6. Hamas TV: Gaza evacuation will lead to destruction of Israel
7. New 12th grade Palestinian textbooks say destroying Israel is a religious duty
8. Unreported in the mainstream media: Libya threatens to deport Palestinians
9. Manchester University twinned with “Terror University”
10. “Palestinian militants install air-conditioning in preparation for war”
11. “New Islamic party seeks the center” (San Francisco Chronicle, March 21, 2007)
12. “Straight talk on Palestine” (Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2007)
13. “Children of Palestinian suicide bomber Rim Al-Riyashi on Hamas TV: Mama killed five Jews and she is in paradise” (MEMRI, March 15, 2007)
14. “Hamas digs in for war in Gaza” (The Australian, March 16, 2007)

[Note by Tom Gross]


A new Palestinian movement was launched yesterday directed at the more moderate sections of Palestinian society. It is called “Wasatia”, which means “moderation” in Arabic.

As Matthew Kalman writes in an exclusive article for The San Francisco Chronicle (attached below), it “is the first Islamic religious party to advocate a peaceful, negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a tolerant, democratic society at home.”

The new party, created by political science Professor Mohammed Dajani, director of the American Studies Institute at al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, hopes to “foster a culture of moderation and attract Palestinian voters who are moderate in their religious beliefs. The existing Palestinian Islamic parties breed radicalism and fundamentalism.”

They are expected to endorse a founding platform that blends verses from the Quran, extolling the virtues of moderation and tolerance, with calls for a negotiated peace with Israel and solutions to the economic, social and political problems plaguing Palestinian society.

In contrast to all other major Palestinian parties, it does not endorse the return of the descendants of Palestinian refugees to “return” to homes in what is now Israel.

Centrist parties won only six of 132 seats in the January 2006 Palestinian elections.


Palestinian Authority officials have admitted that Islamist gunmen have launched a campaign to expel or seize control of the UN Relief and Works Agency in the Gaza Strip. The officials said the militia have driven out nearly all foreign staffers of UNRWA as they seek to control operations in refugee camps in the Palestinian Authority.

On March 16, Palestinian gunmen attempted to abduct UNRWA operations chief John Ging, one of the few senior officials left in the Gaza Strip. The gunmen blocked an armed convoy and fired at least five times at Ging’s vehicle. Nobody was hurt and the gunmen escaped.

It is thought that the terrorists are attempting to gain access to hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and supplies for the refugee camps. The attacks have surprised UNRWA who thought they were immune from Palestinian attack after decades of giving money to Palestinians.


Gunbattles broke out between rival Palestinian factions in northern Lebanon on Monday. Lebanon’s state-run news agency said at least two Palestinians were killed and five wounded in the battle.

The clash between Fatah al-Islam and Fatah Intifada started after an argument between members of the two groups in the Nahr al-Bared camp near the northern city of Tripoli.

The situation has been tense since Lebanon’s Interior minister Hassan Sabei last week announced the arrest of four Syrian members of the little-known Fatah al-Islam group – an offshoot of the Damascus-based Palestinian Fatah-Intifada. Sabei said those arrested had confessed to being behind the February 13 bombings of two buses northeast of Beirut that killed three Lebanese people and wounded 20.


An explosion tore through the house of an Islamic Jihad terrorist in the central Gaza Strip on Monday, killing him and injuring 20 others. The militant was identified as 30-year-old Ala al-Hessi.

Islamic Jihad spokesman Abu Anass said al-Hessi was killed when explosives he was handling went off. Officials said children were among the wounded in the blast.

Islamic Jihad has continued firing Qassam rockets into Israel from Gaza despite the so-called ceasefire.

The new Palestinian unity government is not expected to prevent Fatah and Hamas from building up their militias. Both movements are rearming and training in expectation of major clashes in the Gaza Strip in the next few weeks. “The unity government will be in name only and meant to satisfy Saudi Arabia, who has promised plenty of money,” a PA security source said. “It will have almost no affect on what is taking place on the ground.”

In the last 24 hours, four Palestinians have been killed and many injured in internal fighting in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian sources in Gaza said they were unsure if these incidents were all related to factional violence, or family disputes. The clashes were sparked after a member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades was murdered.

A few days ago a member of the Palestinian military intelligence died after he was shot directly in the head by unidentified gunmen near Deir al-Balah cemetery in central Gaza.


One of the main stories in the New York Times (and also in the NY Times-owned International Herald Tribune) yesterday was that “Despite the international embargo on aid to the Palestinian Authority since Hamas came to power a year ago, significantly more aid was delivered to the Palestinians in 2006 than in 2005, according to official figures from the United Nations, United States, European Union and International Monetary Fund.”

It is a welcome surprise that The New York Times, which has traditionally sided with the more corrupt and dictatorial elements in Palestinian society, published this article. The Times went on to say that “While the United States and the European Union have led the boycott, they, too, provided more aid to the Palestinians in 2006 than 2005. Washington increased its aid to $468 million in 2006, from $400 million in 2005.” (Instead of going to the Palestinian Authority, much of the money was given directly to individuals or through independent agencies.)

This conflicts with the misinformation regularly broadcast by European-based media like the BBC, who have repeatedly told viewers that there is great financial hardship in the Palestinian territories.

Interestingly, a senior European diplomat was asked by The New York Times if the European Union would spend any more money on the Palestinians if it recognized the new Palestinian government, and the diplomat laughed and said, “We’d probably spend less.”

Salam Fayyad, the new finance minister in the Palestinian unity government, thinks the Palestinians received at least 250 percent more in direct support when cash from Iran and Arab nations is counted, as well as the amount smuggled in by Hamas officials after trips abroad. “I say the minimum for direct budgetary support was $880 million in 2006 compared to about $350 million the year before,” Fayyad said. He estimates total aid in 2006 was closer to $1.35 billion.

“These numbers are quite stunning,” said Alexander Costy, head of coordination for Álvaro de Soto, the United Nations special Middle East envoy, “given the relatively small size of the population of the Palestinian territory.”

Despite the huge financial aid the Palestinians are already receiving (much of it is being used to buy guns and other weapons), in 2007 the United Nations began a “humanitarian appeal for the Palestinians” doubling the amount requested in 2006 and third only in the world after Sudan and Congo, ahead of 18 other “disasters”.


Palestinian Media Watch reports that Hamas’s new al-Aqsa Satellite TV broadcasts have this month been repeatedly broadcasting a statement made in 2005 by Ahmad Yassin, the founder and former head of Hamas, in response to Israel’s plan to evacuate Israeli towns from Gaza.

Yassin’s message states that since terror was forcing Israel to leave Gaza, the Palestinians would now only have to keep up the terror in Israel’s other cities and Israelis would “run” from those as well.

“If death and murder chase them in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Netanya and everywhere among them, then they will say: ‘I want to flee and go back to Europe and America’,” says Yassin in a message currently being broadcast several times a day on TV in Gaza and the West Bank.

The message can be viewed here.


Palestinian Media Watch has also presented to the Knesset (Israeli parliament) Education Committee a report on new Palestinian schoolbooks that say that hating and working to destroy Israel is a religious duty.

The new schoolbooks were written by Fatah-appointed officials at the Palestinian Authority Center for Developing the Palestinian Curricula, and were formally released by the PA Ministry of Higher Education.

The report says that “Instead of seizing the opportunity to educate future generations to live with Israel in peace, the PA schoolbooks glorify terror and teach their children to hate Israel, vilify Israel’s existence and define the battle with Israel as an uncompromising religious war… the new PA curriculum is ingraining [hate] into the next generation’s consciousness, and packaging the war against Israel as existential, mandatory and religious.”

The 35-page report cites many examples of the delegitimization of Israel in the new books. As a result, Knesset Education Committee Chairman Michael Melchior (a member of the leftist Labor-Meimad party) said “You can’t have agreements while this kind of hatred is inculcated in the children… I intend to demand from Prime Minister [Ehud Olmert] that he present the findings [of a new report on the textbooks] to Abu Mazen [PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas] at their next meeting.”


Libya, as a form of protest against the policies of the new Palestinian government, is considering a plan to deport thousands of Palestinians from their homes.

The PA expressed concern about the possible Libyan move. PA Minister for refugee affairs Dr. Atef Adouan told the London-based newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi that, “We hope that the Libyan leadership will act wisely and with patience. Deporting the Palestinians from Libya would cause greater suffering.”

As commentator Michael Freund wrote on his blog, “you won’t be reading much about this in the mainstream press, nor will you hear nary a peep of protest from much of the left and its sympathizers over the cruelty and brutality of such a move.”


The student union of the University of Manchester (in England) has been twinned with al-Najah University in the West Bank after a motion was passed by the Manchester union last week.

Nineteen Palestinian suicide bombers have originated from al-Najah university, and in 2001, the university organized a display to celebrate and recreate the suicide bomb attack on the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem.

As part of the motion, a plaque will be installed at the entrance to Manchester University’s student union building heralding the new relationship with al-Najah. The motion was put together by an alliance of far-right Islamists and far-left socialists.

For more on the Sbarro pizzeria attack, see here.


I attach four articles below. The first, referred to above, is by Matthew Kalman. The second (from The Wall Street Journal) is by Khaled Abu Toameh, the Palestinian affairs editor of The Jerusalem Post. Abu Toameh, who is a longtime subscriber to this email list, comments, on behalf of moderate Palestinians, on the new Palestinian unity government. “The international community must demand an end to the era of ambiguity and double-talk. If the new government is opposed to terror, there is no reason why it should not state this loudly and clearly… There is no point in pouring millions of dollars on the ‘unity’ government as long as it’s not prepared to make a clear and firm commitment to halt terror and recognize Israel’s right to exist.”

For more on Abu Toameh, see: When was the last time you saw Khaled Abu Toameh interviewed on BBC or CNN? (Jan. 4, 2006).

The third item below, from MEMRI, is a transcript of an interview with the children of Palestinian suicide bomber Rim Al-Riyashi, which aired on Al-Aqsa TV on March 8, 2007. The interviewer asks the youngest child how many Jews his mother killed. It is worth reading this item in full.

(The MEMRI blog also points to a picture of a young Palestinian girl pictured with explosives on an online forum affiliated with the Hamas Website. The little girl is dressed in a combat vest and an al-Qassam Brigades headband with the caption, “Have you seen the new child martyr who will soon shake Israel [to the core]?” This picture can be seen here.)

The final article below reports that “Hamas is busily fortifying the Gaza Strip with the help of Iranian expertise and funding for what may be the fiercest fighting the embattled enclave has seen.” Abraham Rabinovich, writing in The Australian, says “A major clash with Hamas threatens to be far bloodier than the war with Hezbollah.”

“They’re digging bunkers and tunnels 20m underground equipped with air-conditioning. That’s something the Iranians taught them.”

-- Tom Gross



New Islamic party seeks the center
By Matthew Kalman
San Francisco Chronicle
March 21, 2007

A new Palestinian movement being launched today is aimed at the moderate middle of Muslim politics.

Wasatia – Arabic for “moderation” – is the first Islamic religious party to advocate a peaceful, negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a tolerant, democratic society at home.

The new party is the brainchild of political science Professor Mohammed Dajani, director of the American Studies Institute at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem.

Dajani hopes to build Wasatia into a movement with a social and political wing that will eventually compete with Hamas for the votes of what he calls the silent majority of Palestinians.

“Wasatia is a term from the Quran which means ‘centrism,’ ‘balance’ or ‘moderation,’” Dajani said. “The new party will foster a culture of moderation and attract Palestinian voters who are moderate in their religious beliefs. The existing Palestinian Islamic parties breed radicalism and fundamentalism.”

Dajani said most Palestinians are proud of their Muslim heritage and respect the religious identity of Islamic groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but many are uncomfortable with the fundamentalism of those groups – and after years of disastrous armed resistance, also are tired also of their extreme militarism.

“We want to foster a culture of moderation so that our children do not grow up just with the literature of hate and violence,” he said. “We want our children to grow up in a culture where people can co-exist in peace and harmony.”

Palestinian politics are now dominated by Hamas – a hard-line Islamic party that refuses to recognize Israel – and by Fatah. The two parties have just formed a power-sharing government.

The meeting this evening brings together Islamic religious leaders from several West Bank towns, former prisoners in Israeli jails, women, intellectuals and youth. They are expected to endorse a founding platform that blends verses from the Quran, extolling the virtues of moderation and tolerance, with calls for a negotiated peace with Israel and solutions to the acute economic, social and political crises plaguing Palestinian society.

In common with the mainstream Fatah movement, the Wasatia platform calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital. But in contrast to all other major Palestinian parties, it does not endorse the return of the estimated 4 million Palestinian refugees to their homes in what is now Israel.

“I would say to the refugees: ‘Move on with your life.’ We cannot let the past bury the future, even though it should always be remembered,” said Dajani.

Among the founders of Wasatia is Bashar Azzeh, a doctoral student in conflict system management who spent seven years studying and working in Kentucky before returning to the West Bank to work for a Palestinian development organization.

“The image of Islam in the United States is that it is extremist, but we have found that hardliners are not the majority among Palestinians,” Azzeh said. “I have been to the villages and talked to people. There is a feeling that people have tried violence, they have tried everything, and this is what we need now. People want a moderate political culture and an end to violence and ignorance. They want a reflection of what we are.”

Surveys suggest that many of those who swept Hamas to power in the January 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections were casting votes against the institutional corruption of Fatah. A poll by Near East Consulting found that 54 percent of Hamas voters also supported the peace process with Israel. “A moderate, centrist Islamic party will take support from Hamas voters who will not vote for secular parties,” said Hanna Siniora, a veteran Palestinian activist and publisher of the Jerusalem Times.

But Mahdi Abdel Hadi, director of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, said that centrist parties won only six of 132 seats in last January’s election.

“Without alliances with powerful elites in society, this new initiative will be born dead,” said Abdel Hadi.

Nicolas Pelham, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Jerusalem, agreed that Wasatia faces a major challenge.

“Political power relies on patronage,” said Pelham. “Those factions which do maintain some form of popular allegiance are those which can offer services and jobs and some access to the remaining centers of power or salaries.”

Dajani said that Wasatia will spend the next year building itself as a movement, undertaking voluntary work, creating new jobs and economic opportunities.

“Charity and voluntarism – this is Islam,” he said. “The creation of new jobs does not have to be related to arms and violence.”



Straight talk on Palestine
The new government still hasn’t renounced terror or recognized Israel.
By Khaled Abu Toameh
The Wall Street Journal
March 20, 2007

Even before the Palestinian “unity” government was sworn in Saturday at least five European countries announced that they would resume their business with the Hamas-led coalition.

The U.S. has endorsed Israel’s position on the Palestinian government--namely, that its political platform does not meet the conditions set by the so-called “Quartet” of the U.S., EU, U.N. and Russia for ending the boycott. Washington is now under heavy pressure from its Arab allies in the Middle East to deal with it.

But the U.S. should stand firm. The Palestinian government is not committed to the Quartet’s demands that it renounce violence, recognize Israel and abide by agreements signed with Israel in the past. The speeches delivered by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his new Hamas partner, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, at Saturday’s parliamentary session show that the Palestinians are determined instead to continue their strategy of double-talk.

Neither the president nor the prime minister openly called for an end to terrorism or for recognizing Israel’s right to exist. And to add to the confusion, the two men came up with a political program that contains many contradictions and ambiguities.

The wording of the program was drafted in such a way as to allow both Hamas and Fatah to argue that neither party had totally abandoned its traditional position. The equivocal tone is also designed to appease the Americans and Europeans. After all, the main goal of the new coalition is to get the international community to resume desperately needed financial aid.

With regard to the three main demands of the Quartet, the program leaves the door wide open for different interpretations.

On the issue of terrorism, the program states that the new government “stresses that resistance is a legitimate right of the Palestinian people... and our people have the right to defend themselves against any Israeli aggression.” But the program also says that the new government will “work toward consolidating the tahdiya [period of calm] and extending it [to the West Bank] so that it becomes a comprehensive and mutual truce.”

The program sets a number of conditions for halting the “resistance” – ending the “occupation” and achieving independence and the right of return for Palestinian refugees, as well as an end to Israeli security measures in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (including the construction of the security fence). In other words, Fatah and Hamas are saying that the violence will continue as long as Israel does not meet these demands.

Regarding Israel’s right to exist, the program does not even mention the name Israel. Instead, it refers to Israel as “The Occupation.” It also makes no mention of the two-state solution. Rather, it reiterates the Palestinians’ opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders.

Although the document declares that the “key to peace and stability is contingent on ending the occupation of Palestinian lands and recognizing the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination,” it does not specify which “lands” – those captured by Israel in 1967 or 1948.

Fatah representatives, of course, argue that the program refers only to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. Hamas, on the other hand, will be able to argue that the phrase “Palestinian lands” applies also to all of Mandatory Palestine.

Referring to the third demand of the Quartet--abiding by agreements between the PLO and Israel – the political program states that the new government will only “respect” agreements signed by the PLO.

Hamas leaders have already explained that there is a huge difference between “respecting” an agreement and making a pledge to fulfill it. In other words, Hamas is saying that while it accepts the agreements with Israel as an established fact, it will not carry them out.

Elsewhere in the program, the new government says that it will abide by unspecified U.N. and Arab summit resolutions, leaving the door open for Fatah to claim that this is tantamount to recognizing the two-state solution and all the agreements with Israel. Fatah will cite the 2002 Arab peace plan that implicitly recognizes Israel.

Hamas, on the other hand, can always claim that among the Arab summit resolutions that it intends to abide by is the one taken in Khartoum, Sudan, in September 1967. The resolution contains what became known as “the three no’s” of Arab-Israel relations: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations with Israel.

Although the program makes it clear that the PLO, and not the new Hamas-led coalition, will be responsible for conducting negotiations with Israel, it also seeks to tie the hands of President Abbas by stating that any “fateful” agreement must be approved by the Palestinians in the PA-controlled areas and abroad through a referendum.

The program, moreover, closes the door to any potential concessions on the problem of the refugees by emphasizing their “right of return to their lands and property [inside Israel].”

The international community must demand an end to the era of ambiguity and double-talk. If the new government is opposed to terror, there is no reason why it should not state this loudly and clearly.

If it recognizes Israel--as some of its members claim – then why not announce this in unequivocal language? The international community must insist that the messages coming out of the Palestinian leaders be the same in both English and Arabic.

There is no point in pouring millions of dollars on the “unity” government as long as it’s not prepared to make a clear and firm commitment to halt terror and recognize Israel’s right to exist.



Children of Palestinian suicide bomber Rim Al-Riyashi on Hamas TV: Mama killed five Jews and she is in paradise
March 15, 2007

The following are excerpts of an interview with the children of Palestinian suicide bomber Rim Al-Riyashi, which aired on Al-Aqsa TV on March 8, 2007.

To view this clip visit:

“How Many Jews Did Mama Kill?”

Interviewer: “Let’s talk with the two children of the jihad-fighting martyrdom-seeker Rim Al-Riyashi, Dhoha and Muhammad. Dhoha, you love Mama, right? Where did Mama go?”

Dhoha: “To Paradise.”

Interviewer: “What did Mama do?”

Dhoha: “She committed martyrdom.”

Interviewer: “She killed Jews, right?”

Interviewer: “How many did she kill, Muhammad?”

Muhammad: “Huh?”

Interviewer: “How many Jews did Mama kill?”

Muhammad: “This many...”

Interviewer: “How many is that?”

Muhammad: “Five.”

Interviewer: “Do you love Mama? Do you miss Mama?

“Where is Mama, Muhammad?”

Muhammad: “In Paradise.”

Interviewer: “Dhoha, what would you like to recite for us?”

Dhoha: “In the name of Allah the Merciful the Compassionate: ‘When comes the help of Allah, and victory, and you see people entering the religion of Allah in troops, then celebrate the praise of your Lord, and ask His forgiveness, for He is ever ready to show mercy.’”

Interviewer: “What else would you like to recite? You have read the surah, ‘When comes the help of Allah, and victory.’ What would you like to recite for us now?”

Dhoha: “‘Mama Rim.’”

Interviewer: “Recite the poem ‘Mama Rim’ for us. Recite anything. What would you like to recite?”

“I Want to Talk About Kindergarten”

Interviewer: “Muhammad, do you know how to recite?”

Muhammad: “Yes.”

Interviewer: “Go on then, recite something for us. What would you like to recite?”

Dhoha: “I just remembered.”

Muhammad: “I am in kindergarten.”

Interviewer: “Are you doing well in kindergarten?”

Muhammad: “Yes.”

Dhoha: “I am in kindergarten, I want to tell.”

Interviewer: “Go on then, tell us. You’re in kindergarten too? Are you in kindergarten, Dhoha? In kindergarten or at school?”

Dhoha: “In kindergarten.”

Interviewer: “That’s great.

“One should talk about the innocence of children...”

Muhammad: “I’m in kindergarten too.”

Interviewer: “You’re in kindergarten too.”

Dhoha: “I want to talk about kindergarten, I want to talk.”

“Rim, You Are a Firebomb, Your Children and Submachine Gun Are Your Motto”

Interviewer: “What would you like to recite for us? Have you heard the poem ‘Mama Rim’? Go on then, recite it for us.”

Dhoha: “Rim, you are a fire bomb.”

Interviewer: “Go on, recite it.”

Dhoha: “‘Your children and submachine gun are your motto.’”

Interviewer: “Muhammad, go ahead and recite...”

Muhammad: “I’m in kindergarten.”

Dhoha: “That’s it, I’m done.”

Interviewer: “OK, do you want to go to Mama?”

Dhoha: “Yes.”



Hamas digs in for war in Gaza
By Abraham Rabinovich
The Australian
March 16, 2007,20867,21390536-2703,00.html

Hamas is busily fortifying the Gaza Strip with the help of Iranian expertise and funding for what may be the fiercest fighting the embattled enclave has seen.

“They’re digging bunkers and tunnels 20m underground equipped with airconditioning,” retired Israeli intelligence officer Brigadier General Shalom Harari said this week. “That’s something the Iranians taught them.”

Since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza 18 months ago, hundreds of Hamas fighters have gone to Iran for intensive military training sometimes lasting months, according to Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin. Iranian experts have also reportedly reached Gaza.

Mr Diskin said on Tuesday that militants last year smuggled more than 30 tonnes of explosives into the Strip, mostly through tunnels from Egypt. According to an Israeli assessment, there are 120,000 automatic weapons in Palestinian hands in the 40km-long strip.

Mr Diskin told the Knesset foreign affairs and defence committee that Hamas had significantly upgraded its rocket arsenal. Some could now hit Israeli towns 20km away. Hamas had also acquired in recent months Russian missiles capable of penetrating heavily armoured tanks. Newly acquired anti-aircraft missiles would challenge Israel’s domination of the skies over Gaza for the first time.

Brigadier General Harari said: “Hamas and Iran have formed a strategic alliance. Iran sees Hamas as part of a pincer aimed at Israel.”

The other arm of the pincer, in Lebanon, is Hezbollah.

Like Iran, Hezbollah belongs to the Shia branch of Islam. Though Hamas members are Sunni, they share Iran’s fundamentalist ethos and its militancy towards Israel.

Iran is also funding militant groups in the West Bank, which borders Israel’s heartland. However, Israeli forces are still deployed in the West Bank and almost nightly arrests of militants have prevented Hamas from gaining traction.

Israel is closely monitoring developments in Gaza and has drawn up detailed plans for a large-scale incursion that it would like to press home before Hamas reaches Hezbollah’s level of military sophistication.

“Hamas wants quiet now so that it can continue its preparations,” Brigadier General Harari said. “But their build-up will oblige an Israeli operation, probably before the end of the year.”

A major clash with Hamas threatens to be far bloodier than the war with Hezbollah.

South Lebanon, where most of last summer’s war was waged, is a thinly populated rural area. Its residents were warned by Israel through leaflets and radio broadcasts to flee before their villages were bombed or shelled. Gaza, by contrast, is one of the world’s most densely populated areas, with few secure places to which civilians could flee. If Israeli forces wished to root out Hamas armories and rocket workshops, they would have to fight their way into built-up areas.

In all the years of skirmishing, Israeli troops have never engaged in significant house-to-house fighting in Gaza City or other urban locations.

Given the lacklustre showing of the Israeli Defence Force against Hezbollah last year, it is highly motivated to seek a decisive victory against Hamas. But international pressure could prove a restraining force if many civilians were killed.

Hamas has mined the approaches to Gaza’s towns and is expected to mine streets and buildings inside the towns when fighting appears imminent. It is also believed to have dug tunnels under the Israeli border fence to infiltrate fighters behind the Israeli lines.

Israel has drawn up plans for an orderly evacuation of settlements bordering the Gaza Strip when and if fighting starts.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.