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The Slow (Civil) War of Attrition By: Micah Halpern
MicahHalpern.com | Thursday, June 14, 2007

The past few days have been particularly costly for the Palestinians. Dozens of Fatah members and an equal number of Hamas followers have been killed and dozens upon dozens have been wounded. Leaders from both sides in this struggle among brothers have been targeted. They are fighting not only for their cause, they are fighting for their lives.

The Palestinians are caught up in an ugly, bloody, deadly civil war.

Civil wars do not begin suddenly and they do not end with the cessation of overt hostilities. Modern day civil wars do not begin when one day, one side launches an all out war against the other side. Civil wars are not camp time color wars. In recent history the initial phases of civil wars have been marked by tensions and skirmishes, hostilities brewing and bubbling below the surface. The idea is to cause the other side pain and suffering but not so much so that they will feel the need for reprisal. The objective is not to escalate the tension, so they brew and bubble until they can no longer be kept in check - and then they boil over.

In a civil war neither the fighters nor the organizers nor the leaders are concerned with the effect that a long protracted conflict will have on the masses. They don't care about the effect it will have on their economy and markets. They don't care about the greater good of their society. They care only about wreaking havoc on the other side, the enemy. Civil war is the most costly and most destructive kind of war. It is a war of atrophy. Civil wars are known as the slow wars of attrition.

For sixteen months I have been observing Fatah and Hamas, watching closely as tensions escalated. For sixteen months I have been predicting this civil war. It came about as the natural, inevitable, next step as Hamas ascended to political power. Gone were the soup kitchens that fed hungry Palestinians. The doors were closed on the school programs that educated Palestinian youth. The money was needed elsewhere. The money was needed for guns.

In any civil war, and the Palestinian civil war will be no exception, victory is hollow. Civil wars and their tensions linger for decades even after they are resolved. Palestinians are used to infighting, they have a long history of internal fighting. But it was always kept under wraps and under control by Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian bully. Arafat pounded his people into submission, he unified them by way of an oppressive regime. Arafat prevented any alternative voice or power from emerging. And with Arafat's death came a dearth in Palestinian leadership.

Fatah and Hamas cannot maintain this war indefinitely. Both sides are equally brutal, ruthless and violent. Neither side has enough manpower, money or munitions. There are several factors that will cause the outward violence to come to a trickle if not a complete stop.

Public disgust and rejection will be a deciding factor.
Right now Hamas is quickly losing the public relations battle, but they do not recognize that reality. Right now Hamas has no time or patience or concern for public opinion and polls. It is a mistake on their part, perhaps a fatal mistake.

Numbers count in determining the victor. Victory can be predicted based on the number of weapons and the number of supporters who gather in the streets with their guns held high to rally in support of their side. The quality or the age of the weapons is almost irrelevant.

Successful strikes at high level targets will point to a winner. Whichever side succeeds in killing more high level military leaders will win. Hitting military leaders will cripple the other side not only psychologically but also tactically.

In recent battles Hamas used rockets to attack the house of a Fatah military leader in Gaza killing him and his brother. Fatah retaliated by kidnapping and murdering a Hamas leader and dumping his body outside the offices of Palestinian TV. The Fatah compound of Abbas in Gaza was hit with rockets and a Hamas TV station was taken over by Fatah. This war is escalating.

A cease fire will never last. Only a knock out or a massacre will change the situation. It is only a matter of time before there is a massacre or before one of the highest level leaders is assassinated - or both. In this environment, in this culture and in this kind of war, both are inevitabilities.

In the end Hamas will win. Or Fatah will win. In the end it makes no difference. The Palestinian people will have been decimated, raped by their own leaders.

Micah Halpern maintains The Micah Report.

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