Syrian President Bashar Assad had more than one objective in bussing thousands of demonstrators to Israel's Golan border Nakba Day, Sun. May 15. Showing how easily he and his Hizballah partner could capture a village on the Israeli side of the enclave was only one. The other was to put a spoke in Egypt's wheel for transferring Hamas' command centers from Damascus to the Gaza Strip as part of its moves for taking the Gaza Strip and its Hamas rulers under Cairo's wing against Israel.
In the light of this contest, the case for renewing peace talks with the Palestinians, argued interminably between Israel's government and opposition leaders (despite the Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas's two-year refusal) has lost its relevance. The rejectionist Syria, Hizballah and Hamas are now calling the Palestinian shots, a fact which is not brought to the attention of the Israeli public.
Hizballah helped Syria organize the mass infiltration of Palestinians and Syrians into the Golan while using the same civilian Palestinian mob weapon to breach the Lebanese-Israeli frontier from Maroun a-Ras.
The fact is that Israel and the Palestinian Authority are adrift after losing Hosni Mubarak as their key Arab peace champion.
Saudi Arabia is up to its ears building a royalist Muslim bloc to counter the Muslim lineup President Barack Obama is in the process of fashioning with Israel's foe, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Israel's Binyamin Netanyahu and Abbas and their international lobbies have been shunted aside as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Turkey bid for regional dominance.
That is why Nakba Day had such little impact on the streets of the West Bank Israeli Arab towns. The main arena had shifted Israel's external borders with Syria and Lebanon with regional connotations.
DEBKAfile's military and intelligence sources disclose that, shortly between the Palestinian unity pact was signed between Fatah and Hamas on May 4, Egypt's foreign minister Nabil Elaraby and intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Murad Muwafi gave Hamas' Damascus-based leader Khaled Meshaal a guarantee: Cairo would hold Israel back from hitting the Gaza Strip in reprisal for Hamas' missile blitz, if this radical Palestinian group promised to halt all attacks on Israeli targets, whether raids on the Gaza-Israel border fence, the planting of bombs or mortar and missile cross-border fire.
For the first time in the 44 years since Egyptian troops abandoned the Gaza Strip in 1967, Cairo took military responsibility for this coastal enclave against the Israeli Defense Forces, a commitment which put Israel's relations with Egypt on a new footing, very much at the expense of its military standing.
That deal, rather than Israel's deterrent strength, produced the calm prevailing for the past two weeks on the Gaza-Israeli front.
Systematically shunned by Mubarak, the deal was the hidden trigger which set in motion the thousands of Palestinians sent by Damascus and Hizballah to mob Israel's borders and move into the Israeli Golan Druze village of Majd al-Shams on Nakba Day.
This chain of events, starting with the Fatah-Hamas pact in May, could have been averted if only a month earlier in April, Israel had taken military responsibility for its own security and destroyed Hamas' ability to shoot missiles and mortars at will into southwestern Israel. A defeated Hamas would have been less attractive to Cairo as a protégé and as the object of pursuit by rival Arab champions who exploited the vacuum created by Israel's military and diplomatic passivity and adherence to such outdated mainstays as its bygone strategic partnership with Egypt.
Still, Israel's policymakers fail to grasp the relevance of the intelligence laid before them: When Gen. Muwafi promised Meshaal to separate the Gaza Strip from Israel, which Israel had supposedly executed in its 2005 withdrawal from the territory he explained that he meant a "complete cutoff" whereas Israel had not gone beyond "disengagement."
Cairo has therefore undertaken not only to provide the Palestinian enclave with a military shield against Israel but also replaces Israel as the supplier of all its needs for fuel, flour, foodstuffs. Egyptian currency will replace the Israeli shekel as legal currency.
The Gaza Strip is therefore reverting to its pre-1967 Egyptian military occupation plus patronage of the fundamentalist Hamas, a step which neither Damascus nor the Iran-backed Hizballah can possibly accept because it displaces their influence with the Palestinians.
The failure at the top levels of Israeli government to appreciate the fallout from this contest left the IDF's Northern Command without the tools for predicting the Damascus-engineered assault on Majd al Shams. None of the officers imagined Syria would use Nabka Day to hit two targets: Israel and Egypt.