The occasional pauses between waves of Qassam missiles raining down on southwestern Israel’s Negev from Gaza in the past ten days are the subjects of speculation.
Why for instance, did Hamas hold its fire during the daylight hours of Tuesday, May 22, for instance? Or Wednesday May 23?
The official Israeli version is that the daily Air Force strikes against missile teams – ten have been eliminated so far – and Hamas missile workshops, are taking effect.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly heard a less optimistic explanation from high-placed Israeli military sources. The Hamas terrorist organization, which has reinvented itself as a close approximation of a militia (with 18,000 men under arms), is exhausted after fighting for two weeks against two adversaries, the Palestinian security services under the control of Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, and Israel. Their fighters needed a break for rest and recuperation, before getting to grips with the next stage of their offensives.
Those sources suspect Hamas is already into that next stage judging by its actions.
Hamas has handed out ultimatums to Egypt and Abbas (Abu Mazen) and is deep in preparations for an expanded offensive against Israel.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Palestinian sources emphasize that in this context, the term “Hamas” refers to the most militant wing of the organization, the command level which is composed of Ahmed Jabari, chief of the Executive Force and virtual Hamas C-in-C, his mentor, the lawmaker Khalil al Haya, who is the senior military tactician, Jabari’s deputy Nizar Rayan and the former Palestinian interior minister in Ismail Haniyeh’s government, Siad Siyam.
This group’s belligerence stands on two legs:
Iran: Two foreign military missions are present in the Gaza Strip under deep cover: a group of Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers and a team of Hizballah combat specialists from Lebanon. Both operate under orders from Tehran. Dozens of these imported experts teach Hamas fighters to shoot missiles and guide their steps in combat against the Israel Defense Forces.
Hamas belligerence stands on two firm legs
The Shura Council: Like all fundamentalist Islamic organizations with a military wing, such as al Qaeda, Hamas defers to the supreme authority of its Shura Council, which determines both religious and military strategy.
On Tuesday, May 22, the Hamas command junta finally pulled off an internal military coup. They won a council majority for pushing aside both prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and his political wing and hard-liner Khalid Meshaal who leads the radical wing from Damascus.
Jabari and his men seized control of Hamas’ television and radio station in the Gaza Strip and, of even greater importance, the positions of mosque preacher in all the Hamas congregations in the territory.
They accomplished the takeover with one hand, while engaging Abu Mazen’s Fatah in brutal factional combat and shooting missiles at Israel, with the other.
That done, Jabari and his clique were ready to deal with Abu Mazen and raise the stakes against Israel.
He presented Abu Mazen with a hard option: He must call off his men and end Fatah attacks on Hamas, or else Hamas would go public with a set of compromising recordings and transcripts of conversations held by Abbas’ senior partner Mohammed Dahlan and his minions with officers of the American CIA and Israeli Shin Bet, on ways of ousting Hamas from government and liquidating its leaders.
US and Israeli sources label this material “credible.” A big question hangs over how it reached Hamas’ hands.
Its publication would destroy Mahmoud Abbas’ credibility, but it would also make the Hamas-Fatah breach permanent, burning the bridges to restoring relations or any power-sharing arrangement with the Fatah leader. At the same time, if Abbas and his Fatah lose the war against Hamas, they and the Palestinian Authority will be excluded from Gaza for good. This means that any Palestinian state entity would be split between two government authorities.
Monday, May 21, Hamas military chiefs called Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal and reminded him of the unity government accord reached in January 2007 in Mecca. They accused Egypt of derailing the pact by arranging for American weapons to be consigned to Abu Mazen’s Fatah forces. Riyadh was asked to intercede and restrain Cairo.
(See separate article on a serious upset in Egyptian-Saudi relations)
With regard to Israel, Hamas’ fiery military chiefs have no such dilemmas.
A new batch of extended-range, anti-tank, anti-air missiles
Determined to resuscitate their suicide offensive inside Israel and the West Bank, they are also getting ready to start shooting improved missiles against Israel: an upgraded Qassam missile with a 19km range, more than double the present one and able to hit larger towns deeper inside Israel than Sderot; third-generation anti-tank missiles like the ones Hizballah used against Israeli tanks in the Lebanon war. Israeli intelligence believes that Hamas has acquired Metis M-9, ATGM Kornet and Sagger AT-3A for use against the Israeli tanks which roll into northern Gaza Strip to stamp out missile launchers or patrol the border.
From Gaza, Hamas is also gearing up to fire ground-to-air SA 7 Strela shoulder-borne missiles against Israeli aircraft and helicopters which, in the absence of a ground offensive, bear the brunt of military reprisals and preventive operations against terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip.
A striking feature of Hamas chiefs’ exchanges with Arab leaders and its threats to Israel is how unimpressed they are with Israel’s military might and Egypt’s clout. Cairo could if it wished isolate the Gaza Strip, cutting off incoming and outgoing passage and denying Hamas operatives access to the Arab world through the airfields of El Arish in northern Sinai and Cairo International.
But the Egyptians have not gone this far. Hamas’ military leaders have caught on to the fact that just as Israel is restrained by Washington from sending ground forces into Gaza, so too Cairo is constrained from isolating Gaza from the outside world.
Emboldened by this knowledge, Jabari and his clique are not afraid to take their offensive to extremes. Their self-assurance is further enhanced by Tehran’s virtually unlimited generosity with missiles, weapons, explosives and funds, which arrive in a steady flow via Egyptian Sinai from two sources: the Balkans, where Tehran has posted purchasing agents, and Sudan, at one end of the smugglers’ pipeline across Sinai to Gaza.
Some of the smuggler gangs are controlled by al Qaeda which is not averse to funneling Iranian war materiel to Gaza as long as it gets a kickback. This takes the form of part of the contraband, which al Qaeda diverts to its Palestinian Salafi cells, which are springing up daily in all parts of the Gaza Strip, and the faction of the Popular Resistance Committees which goes by the name of al Qaeda-Palestine.