Efraim Halevy, the former head of Israel's fabled Mossad intelligence agency, drives up to a briefing at a Jerusalem think tank in his own grey sedan. No one would guess that the unassuming, British-born gentleman who steps out of the car is the architect of Israel's controversial targeted assassination policy that has eliminated scores of Arab terrorists over the past several years.
Halevy, 73, headed up the Mossad between 1998-2002, years when Israel was dealing with Yasser Arafat as head of the Palestinian national movement. But Halevy identifies the current crisis triggered by the tunnel raid into Israel and the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, 19, as "the fatal moment, the ultimate moment of truth" for Palestinians.
For Halevy, the author of a new book entitled Man In The Shadows: Inside the Middle East Crisis (Weidenfeld & Nicholson) the manner in which Hamas leadership deals with the kidnap situation will reveal whether there's a future for real Palestinian governance or if the territories under Palestinian control will descend into further chaos and anarchy, ringing the death knell both for themselves and as future negotiating partners for Israel.
"The real question is whether the Palestine national movement has the power to create a structure of command, control and viable governance," Halevy states. "Are they capable of setting up a system of governance?" While Halevy won't predict the outcome, his analysis is that Hamas is now on the horns of a dilemma about the direction they will take. "All timetables have changed," Halevy asserts, noting that the ruling party would now be pushed to go one way or the other because a faction had chosen to instigate the well-planned tunnel incursion into Israeli territory. "We'll see all this unfold in the next 24-48 hours," he predicts.
Halevy paints a scenario where Khalad Mashal, the Damascus based head of Hamas' military wing could triumph over the so-called civil wing. There's a "real possibility Mashal will succeed in leading Hamas into a spiral of destruction over this issue," he asserts. If that should occur, the future will be an even greater question mark than ever, Halevy says.
But the former intelligence head posits that should the Gaza and Ramallah Hamasniks "get it together and overcome the threat from Damascus, Hamas could become a viable partner for negotiations with Israel." If they resolve the kidnapping, "we'll be in a new ball game," Halevy asserts. At that point, Hamas will have some degree of credibility and if they show that they will adhere to some basic norms of how a responsible government acts, it will be possible to deal with them, Halevy maintains.
At the end of the day, Halevy insists, the ball is in the Hamas court. "Hamas has to decide how to resolve the issue of the kidnapped soldier. Israel doesn't have to do anything. If they resolve it, a new situation will arise." As far as Halevy is concerned, there's no place for Israel to support one Hamas faction over another. "We don't have to save Hamas in any way. This is a test of authority for Hamas leaders."
Whether Hamas implodes or not, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert continues to push ahead with his "realignment" plan to transfer tens of thousands of Jews from Judea and Samaria. As former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's security advisor, Halevy supported the idea of leaving Gaza, but opposed the unilateral approach that meant "we got nothing, and the Palestinians see the withdrawal as a great victory." Today, Halevy acknowledges that the number of Kassam rocket attacks on Israeli communities has risen since the Gaza pullout and states categorically: "I don't see that any future realignment plan is worthwhile from a security point of view."