Since the second week of June, when the Palestinian Islamist Hamas snatched the Gaza Strip from Mahmoud Abbas in six days, there has been a trebling, at least, of al Qaeda cells streaming from Egypt to the Gaza Strip, along with many tons of weapons.
Western and Israeli intelligence sources tracking the movements of al Qaeda operatives from Sudan, Egypt and Sinai, report at least 30 members of the Egyptian networks have crossed the Sinai desert into the Hamas-ruled territory.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources report that the highest ranking operative in this exodus is Mohammed Fayed Ibrahim from Nebi Suweil near Cairo, whom Egyptian intelligence tags as the Egyptian network’s liaison man with Osama bin Laden.
The fresh influx has generated a new al Qaeda group in Gaza, which calls itself “The Brigades of Justice and Clarity.”
The leaflet reproduced with this article introduces the Brigades as the successor to the Salafi movement purportedly established in the Gaza Strip in 1991. It also claims that its members, fighting under ground, participated in the battles against Israel for many years; they are willing to come out into the open only now that Hamas has seized power.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror experts see this claim as a transparent ploy to fabricate a close relationship between al Qaeda’s Egyptian cells and the Palestinian national struggle.
While Hamas publicly disowns ties with al Qaeda and disapproves of its methods, its military wing, Ezza e-din al-Qassam, has appointed a liaison officer for the coordination of the expanding al Qaeda infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. Our intelligence sources report the movement’s spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri (as distinct from the government spokesman) has been given the job.
This high-ranking appointment would have been subject to approval by Hamas’ sponsors, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards al Qods Brigades in Tehran, and Hamas’ top men in Damascus. Abu Zuhri needed the go-ahead from the highest authority to provide Al Qaeda’s incoming cells with facilities for developing their logistic infrastructure and, in the interim, access to local Hamas intelligence and other services.
Al Qaeda’s smuggling networks boost arms deliveries
A high-ranking Israeli officer pointed to a clear link between the surge of al Qaeda personnel and the tons of weapons, explosives and military equipment flooding in from Egypt to Hamas-ruled Gaza.
If before Israel’s pull-out in 2005, hundreds of weapons and tons of explosives were smuggled in through Sinai, since then, more than ten thousand Kalashnikovs, plus heavy machine guns, thousands of tons of explosives and hundreds of mortars of all types have crossed the Sinai desert unhindered.
In addition, Hamas is receiving Grad surface missiles, anti-tank and anti-air missiles, mines, and IED and EFP roadside bombs manufactured by Iran and Hizballah.
Gaza is already awash with war materiel, until two weeks ago smuggled in by Iranian and Palestinian smuggling networks, supplemented now by the gangs serving al Qaeda in Egypt and Sinai.
The officer said the expansion is astronomical.
DEBKA-net-Weekly‘s military sources report that Egyptian special troop reinforcements have been transferred from the Suez Canal and deployed in dense formation along the border with Gaza, especially the Philadlephi border strip, to seal it off and cut down the flow of munitions.
These measures are no deterrent; neither is the US congressional decision Thursday, July 19, to freeze $200 million of Egypt’s annual $3 billion aid allocation until Cairo takes real steps to curb the flow of illicit munitions to Gaza.
Egyptian officers tried threats. They said they will flatten Palestinian houses and clear out the population a 150-meter broad belt on the Egyptian side of the border, so that the arms smugglers could no longer reach the border undetected or escape Egyptian ambush attacks. To show they were in earnest, they evicted 25 families from their homes inside this belt.
Israel‘s high command stands back
At that point, the evacuations stopped, deterred by a counter-threat from the smugglers to arm the occupants of the buildings slated for demolition with the means of resistance.
After years of turning a blind eye to Palestinian arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip through Sinai, Cairo now finds that all its tardy efforts are overwhelmed.
There are differing views in Israel’s high command to explain why the Egyptian-Gaza borders are as leaky as sieves, no matter what.
The prevailing view in the Southern Command is that Egyptian officers on the spot are on the take and tipping the arms smugglers off on the locations of Egyptian ambush forces. The smugglers then sidestep Egyptian patrols and deliver the merchandize right into Hamas hands.
The other view attributes the failures to the incredible inefficiency of Egypt’s armed forces. Officers and soldiers alike go through the motions of policing the borders; their deployment is patchy and ambush efforts lackadaisical.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report that chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi is firmly opposed to a military operation on the scale needed to knock out the Hamas-al Qaeda war machine, notwithstanding its menacing build-up.
He and prime minister Ehud Olmert refuse to heed the warning from, the OC southern command Maj. Gen Yoav Galant that the longer Israel puts off a large-scale ground action in the Gaza Strip, the more difficult it will be to deal with the peril. He compares its scale to that with which Hizballah confronted Israel on its northern border on the eve of the summer 2006 war in Lebanon.
Olmert has stayed out of the controversy between the two generals, while the new defense minister, Ehud Barak, a former prime minister and chief of staff himself, says he is still in the learning stage of the job and not yet ready to make decisions of this kind.