Amid the clamor about the need for Israel to agree to a Palestinian state, the one that already exists is quietly boosting its military capabilities. Haaretz reported yesterday the Hamas state in-all-but-name in Gaza is the beneficiary of the chaos of the collapse of the Qaddafi regime in Libya. The paper says that some of the late dictator’s arsenal of Russian-manufactured missiles have been successfully smuggled into Gaza and given Hamas forces a credible anti-aircraft capability. This means not only could the terrorist stronghold be better able to fend off Israeli efforts to deter terrorism, but the Islamist regime may now be equipped to threaten aviation over southern Israel and in particular the city of Eilat.
While Secretary of State Clinton has said the United States will aid the new Libyan government to keep track of their military hardware, the cow may be already out of the barn door on this issue. More to the point, the buildup in Gaza may not only have shredded Israel’s ability to defend its border but also undermined the current balance of power in the West Bank.
Those who advocate far-reaching Israeli concessions in order to entice the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank back to the negotiating table treat Hamas’s sovereignty over Gaza as a minor detail. But the weakness of the PA and its Fatah ruling faction vis-à-vis Hamas is not just a function of the terror group’s ability to extort Israel, as was seen in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal. Missiles were fired at Israel from Gaza this week for the first time since Shalit’s release. Israel responded, but in the future, that may not be as easy as it once was. The Islamist group’s ability not only to exercise functional sovereignty in Gaza but to project military force into Israel via missile fire constitutes greater leverage over Palestinian public opinion than whether or not Israelis are building houses in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem or the West Bank.
Qaddafi’s missiles that are now pointed at Israel have made the notion of Hamas statehood more than theoretical. The main question that Israelis — and those Americans seeking to influence Israel’s government — may be facing in the future is not whether they want a Palestinian state but whether they are willing to let the one in Gaza expand its reach into the West Bank.