Israel’s instant acceptance of the Hamas ceasefire of Nov. 26 encouraged the 120 foreign military advisers who landed in the Gaza Strip in recent weeks in their efforts to help Hamas transform the Gaza Strip into a subterranean fortress for fighting the Jewish state.
The newcomers are officers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and elite units of the Syrian army as well as Hizballah terrorists. (See HOT POINTS Nov. 27).
Their updated judgments from the latest round of Israel combat in Gaza have reinforced the lessons Iranian war planners gained from the Lebanon War as applied to Syria, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and Iran’s war doctrines. These lessons will eventually be incorporated in the combat methods imparted to the pro-Iranian Shiite militias fighting in Iraq, Moqtada Sadr‘s Mehdi Army, the Badr Force and the Wolves Brigades.
Three important points stand out from these events:
1. The Syrian and Hizballah instructors attached to Palestinian forces in Gaza operate under the command and guidance of a Revolutionary Guards officers. There is therefore not much point in President George W. Bush seeking the cooperation of Syrian president Bashar Asad over Iraq, as per some recommendations in Washington. This consideration is over and above Syria’s suspected complicity in another assassination in Beirut, that of the young Lebanese Christian minister Pierre Gemayel on Nov. 21.
2. It is well worth noting that, aside from the Iranians and Hizballah, Tehran went to the trouble of choosing Sunni Muslims instructors for the Gaza Strip to avoid friction with the Sunni Palestinian population.
3. Originally assigned with training the Hamas Independent Intervention Force of 10,000 men, the delegation has also undertaken to instruct members of the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades – the suicide arm of Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah, factions of the Popular Resistance Committees, including the Army of Islam – an independent group linked to al Qaeda, which sometimes calls itself al Qaeda-Palestine – and the various Palestinian “fronts”, including the Popular Front and the Democratic Front.
The expansion of Iranian combat instruction to a broad gamut of Palestinian “resisters” means first, that control of the Gaza Strip has slipped out of the hands of Chairman Abbas to the interlopers from Iran, Syria and Hizballah, and, second, that the West Bank is the next target.
Hamas has begun transposing its foreign partnership format to the West Bank, thereby opening up the territory to Iran influence. Iran, Syria and Hizballah will then be able to hem Israeli in from South Lebanon in the north, the West Bank to the east and the Gaza Strip to the south.
The Iranian mission has organized its Palestinian operation into three main spheres.
Gaza Strip segmented into four commands
(See DEBKA Map attached to this article)
The Northern Command: the Palestinian towns of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya; The Gaza City Command; The Central Command – from southern outskirts of Gaza City up to Deir al Balakh – which commands the highway links between the North and the South; and The Southern command from Deir al Balakh up to the Egyptian border, covering the towns of Khan Younes and Rafah.
From 5,000 to 6,000 fighters have been attached to each of the four commands and split into battalions. These battalions are structured to be autonomous in combat, operating independently of direct commanders and the Hamas general staff which is headed by Gen. Ibrahim Jaabari.
This step removes the Hamas force still further out of Palestinian Authority control.
A new bunker-tunnel-trench network excavated
Revolutionary Guards military engineers and Hizballah construction contractors arrived separately in the Gaza Strip and, under the most densely-populated civilian districts, are carving out warrens of bunkers, tunnels and trenches, from which the fighting units of the four commands will combat Israeli raiding units.
Hundreds of these bunkers are in advanced stages of construction. The basements of residential blocs and all underground structures have been converted and fortified against air, artillery and tank fire. Each bunker has a stock of ammunition, food, water, medicines enough for 10 days underground.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources recall that, whereas in the Lebanon war, Iranian tacticians used natural vegetation for cover and dug Hizballah bunkers in rugged terrain far from civilian habitation, in the Gaza Strip they have reversed this stratagem and are locating the hidden fortresses under densely populated areas. The civilian inhabitants are thus used as camouflage and to tie the hands of the Israeli military whose routine orders are to avoid massive civilian casualties.
The only bunkers in open ground are dug alongside main highways and the hillsides overlooking them. They are ringed around with clusters of tunnels packed with explosives to be blown up in the path of advancing Israeli tanks.
Hamas’ surface missile arsenal will surpass Hizballah’s in Lebanon
The missile force provided Hamas and allied terrorist factions will be the largest short-range missile force in the Middle East.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources estimate that Hamas will command 20,000 missiles and rockets of different types by the time they are fully in place in the Gaza Strip during the first half of 2007. The Palestinian stocks will therefore outstrip the rockets available to Hizballah for the Lebanon war in July-August 2006.
Like the bunkers, the deadly weapons will be planted in the heart of residential districts – the largest stock of its kind ever embedded by any military body in a civilian population.
The obvious object of this ruse is to make it impossible for the IDF to destroy the menacing missiles without causing unacceptable civilian casualties.
On command, clusters of missiles and rockets will be launched in continuous barrages against Israel’s southern cities and villages, as far north as Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beersheba, by day or night. Instead of volleys of 6-10 missiles, each burst will consist of 100 to 120.
To keep the launchers supplied, Hamas has set up tens of new workshops across the Gaza Strip and trebled their output of missile and rocket components. The last rounds of Qassam missiles fired at Sderot last week were stamped with serial numbers and production dates – a sign that efficient and professionally organized production lines have replaced the makeshift workshops of the past.
An army of lookouts
This tactical innovation put into practice against the Israeli anti-missile operations that was curtailed by the Nov. 26 ceasefire was explored by debkafile‘s military experts. (See HOT POINTS below)