TEL AVIV: The Islamic movement Hamas has sent “tens” of men from Gaza for weapons and military training in Iran, Yuval Diskin, head of Shin Bet, the internal Israeli security service, said Monday.
“We know that Hamas has started to dispatch people to Iran, tens and a promise of hundreds,” Diskin told a small group of correspondents here in a rare on-the-record briefing. The training would last months, perhaps years, he said, adding: “I see this as the strategic danger more than any weapons smuggled into Gaza.”
Diskin’s agency is charged in part with understanding the Palestinian world, and in his view, the main Palestinian secular faction, Fatah, is continuing to fragment under weak leadership from the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and would lose another election, if held today, to the radical Hamas movement, which refuses to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.
“I’m not optimistic about Fatah,” Diskin said. “Fatah is disintegrated and nearly destroyed, with no strong leadership.” He had harsh words for Abbas, known as Abu Mazen. “Abu Mazen is a good negotiator but doesn’t know how to deal with internal party affairs — he has done nothing to revive Fatah, either its institutions or its military power,” Diskin said. “He wanted to become the national leader of the Palestinian people, but he forgot that he needs a strong Fatah to do it.”
The international isolation of Hamas and an embargo on direct financial aid to the Palestinian Authority it runs has convinced Hamas that it cannot govern alone without any international legitimacy, Diskin said. “But it also drove Hamas toward Iran,” he said, adding, “One of the bad fruits of the isolation of Hamas is the influence of Iran and its money.”
He predicted that, despite their current difficulties, Fatah and Hamas would agree on a unity government as laid out in principle in an agreement in Mecca on Feb. 8. He said that Hamas had “succeeded in all its goals in Mecca,” co- opting Fatah and retaining key ministries. He estimated the chances of reaching a unity government at 70 percent, but noted that both factions were rivals for power and wanted different things from such a government, which may not last.
“This is the ticking bomb inside the unity government,” said Diskin, 50, a former army commando and Shin Bet field operative. He said that clan rivalries could also rip a new government apart, but also predicted that the unity of the international community in boycotting a Hamas-led government would begin to crack.
Hamas, part of the larger Muslim Brotherhood, would never change its fundamental beliefs, Diskin said, and argued that Hamas’s offer of a long-term truce with Israel is designed to allow the movement to consolidate its control over the Palestinians and to mask a buildup of military armament and strength that will eventually be aimed at Israel.
He predicted a long struggle, arguing that Israel and Hamas would not reach “even a temporary political agreement,” but “maybe temporary cooling down periods.” Diskin said that Hamas was trying to organize itself in the West Bank but faced difficulties from Fatah, which is stronger there than in Gaza, and from the Israeli Army.
But in Gaza, he said, Hamas and Islamic Jihad were building an “internal military industry” to manufacture rockets and antitank weapons, were sending men to Lebanon and Iran for training and were building up their forces. They were also smuggling in weapons and explosives from Egypt, and that the Egyptians, now worried about terrorist cells in the Sinai, were only now beginning to work hard to stop the arms transfers.
Elements of what he called “global jihad” — “we don’t say Al Qaeda in Shin Bet,” he said — are creating “ties” and “connections” to local Gaza groups, especially to Mumtaz Dagmoush of the powerful Dagmoush clan, but Diskin refused to elaborate. He said that Shin Bet had no evidence that Al Qaeda or its followers were present and active in Gaza. In the north, Hezbollah is chastened by the summer war with Israel, Diskin said. “Hezbollah paid a very high price,” he said, and would not seek a new conflict with Israel this year.