Israeli bombers struck Palestinian targets in Gaza city, Deir el Balach in the east and Rafah in the south Friday night, July 30 – in the wake of attacks by a Palestinian Iranian-made Grad missile which damaged a high-rise apartment building in Ashkelon, leaving 17 people in shock, and missile-mortar fire on the Eshkol farm district.
Hamas central Gaza commander Issa Batran who was also in charge of Qassam missile manufacturing was killed, 8 gunmen were injured in the Israeli air bombardment of the "Nasser Compound" command center at Tel Al-Hawa where a training school for a new class of Hamas officers has been set up.
debkafile's military sources report that this was the first Israeli attack on a Hamas military target since the January 2009 Cast Lead operation. It took place after Hamas announced the compulsory call-up of all men aged 18 to 25 for a new Palestinian Popular Army for stepping up its confrontation with Israel's armed forces, with the help of the new officers' training facility.
Hamas launched the military-standard Grad missile (as distinct from the homemade Qassams) Friday to show off its new strength and inform Israel that henceforth it faces an enhanced Palestinian challenge from Gaza.
According to our intelligence sources, the new Hamas militia is structured on the same lines as the Lebanese Hizballah. Both are armed and sponsored by Iran and regularly manipulated in pursuit of Tehran's regional objectives.
For the officers training center Israel demolished Friday, Iran shelled out $250 million.
Creating a well-armed Palestinian militia in the Gaza Strip was Tehran's first move to counter the impact of the visit Saudi King Abdullah and Syrian President Bashar Assad paid to Beirut Friday. More undoubtedly lie ahead.
Israel knew about the buildup in the Gaza Strip but Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and defense minister Ehud Barak chose to keep it dark so as not to interfere with the prospects of direct peace talks with the Palestinians.
This restraint proved unproductive.
Thursday, July 29, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas discussed the new Hamas army with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and intelligence minister Gen. Omar Suleiman in Cairo, shortly before the Arab League Monitoring Committee convened to determine the future of peace talks with Israel.
The outcome was an equivocal committee decision to leave the option of direct talks to Abbas, so long as they led to a final accord within a specified time frame.
By this decision, the Arab League left Abbas free to continue to stonewall the US and Israel on peace talks as he has done for the last eighteen months. The result is that the prospect of direct talks is as remote as ever, whereas the expectation of escalating violence from the Gaza Strip has risen.
In establishing the new Hamas militia, Tehran had a second motive: the need to re-establish itself as the foremost champion of Palestinian extremists after being outshined by its ally, Turkey. Prime Minister Tayyep Erdogan won kudos as the only Muslim ruler espousing Hamas when he sent the "aid" flotilla for breaking the blockade on the Gaza Strip, which Israel intercepted on May 29.
Early Saturday, July 31, the Israeli defense minister met UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York to discuss the rising threat from Gaza. Ban responded by calling on Israel to remove all further restrictions on the Hamas-ruled territory.