Senior officials in Jerusalem reportedly believe a Gaza-style takeover of the West Bank by Hamas may be in the offing, citing intelligence estimates that show the Iran-backed terror group making a move for control of the Palestinian-ruled territory.
Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet security service both have information that Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal has ordered his supporters to prepare for a battle for control of the West Bank, the Sunday Times reported on Sunday.
The move is feared by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority’s ruling Fatah party, which has seen its popularity on the Arab street wane in the face of the more hard-line Hamas movement.
“We’re on the verge of catastrophe,” Tawfik Tirawi, a senior Fatah member, told the paper. “Hamas wants intifada and now only a spark is needed to light the inferno. Hamas will take over the West Bank.”
Jerusalem fears that a Hamas takeover of the West Bank would give Iran, which is allied with the group, a foothold on the border of Israel’s heartland, the report said. Reportedly, Iran is the driving force behind Hamas’s push to control the West Bank.
A source close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the paper that the prime minister is maneuvering to halt Iran and Hamas from gaining dominion of the territory.
“[Netanyahu] understands the geopolitical changes in the Middle East. No way would [he] give up an inch of the West Bank — he is convinced that the intelligence assessment about a [Hamas] takeover is solid,” the source said.
In 2007, Hamas broke with its rival Fatah, taking over the Gaza Strip by force and pushing out the armed wing of the secular Palestinian movement.
Both sides have made overtures toward unity in the past month, however, in the wake of Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel’s eight-day mini-war with Hamas.
Earlier this month, Hamas rallies in the West Bank cities of Nablus, Ramallah and elsewhere drew thousands, a sign of the movement’s growing influence in the territory.
The West Bank has seen an uptick in violence over the last month, since Operation Pillar of Defense, though the army says it is under control and not a harbinger of a third intifada.