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Friday, October 14, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Israel sees Hamas strengthening its military
with release of insurgents

TEL AVIV — Israel's intelligence community has acknowledged that Hamas would grow stronger in wake of the return of its military operatives to the West Bank.


Officials said Hamas would restore its military infrastructure in the West Bank as well as in Jerusalem in wake of Israel's agreement to release more than 1,000 insurgents in exchange for a soldier abducted in 2006. At the same time, they said, the Palestinian Authority and the ruling Fatah movement would face a decline in influence amid the Hamas deal.

"They [Hamas] will grow stronger and Fatah will be weaker," Israel Security Agency director Yoram Cohen said.

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In a briefing on Oct. 12, Cohen said Hamas would benefit from the release of at least 200 operatives, Middle East Newsline reported. He said Israel could not rule out that the insurgents would resume attacks on the Jewish state.

"We can't guarantee that the released prisoners won't conduct terror attacks," Cohen, who acknowledged that ISA had until recently opposed the exchange, said. "But this is the best deal we could get."

Israel said the leadership of the Hamas military wing in the West Bank would not be released. They were identified as Ibrahim Hamid, the commander of the entire Hamas network, Abbas Sayid, Hamas chief in Tulkarm, and Hassan Salameh.

At least two Hamas military commanders were part of the Shalit deal. They were identified as Zahar Jabarin and Yehya Sanwar, both of whom were said to have been founding members of the Izzedin Kassam military wing.

Officials said Fatah was stung by Israel's decision not to release Marwan Barghouti, sentenced to five life terms for ordering the killing of civilians nearly a decade ago. Barghouti, who seeks to replace PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, has sought to expand his political influence from an Israeli prison cell.

Under the agreement, mediated by Egypt, Israel would allow 110 Palestinian insurgents to return to their homes in the West Bank. Officials said the released detainees would be unable to enter Israel or leave for abroad for a decade and must report to the Israel Army every month.

"That does not mean that they will not be active," Cohen said. "But the security risk will be reduced. We chose those who present security challenge we are capable of dealing with."

But National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau, who voted against the agreement in the Cabinet, said the prisoner release would encourage Hamas and other Palestinian militias to attack Israel. He said the abduction of Sgt. Gilad Shalit in 2006 from his army base near the Gaza Strip was the result of previous lopsided prisoner exchanges.

"This is a great victory for terrorism," Landau said.

A leading former military officer dismissed the Israeli terms for the Palestinian release. Former Israeli military chief rabbi Brig. Gen. Avichai Ronsky, who spent years in special forces, said the Palestinians allowed to return to the West Bank would soon disappear and escape Israeli monitoring.

"The moment they are released, they will become untraceable," Ronsky said.

Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon agreed. Ya'alon, one of three ministers who voted against the release, said many of the Palestinian insurgents freed in the prisoner exchange in 1985 returned to operations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, adding the same could take place now.

"The quiet now in Judea and Samaria [West Bank] is about to change," Ya'alon, a former military chief of staff, said.

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