In many ways, the four-day Israeli clash of arms (from Friday March 9 through early Tuesday March 13) with the Palestinians of Gaza – Jihad Islami this time – was a dress rehearsal for its expected military confrontation with Iran and its allies later this year. All the fighting elements – diplomatic, military, intelligence and cyber warfare – came into play in miniature.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence sources divide their conclusions from this episode between its tactical and diplomatic aspects and its military side, in order to assess the respective performances of Israel, the US and Iran.
Israel’s diplomatic and strategic showing was below par compared with its military and intelligence performance, which too was problematic.
As for the Americans, for the first time in 60 years, they opted to stay out of an Israeli-Palestinian conflict of this type, apparently nursing their contretemps in Syria, where Bashar Assad looked liked becoming unassailable.
Iran profited from the weaknesses of its adversaries and caught Israel napping.
Friday night, March 9, its Palestinian proxy, the Jihad Islami, took everyone by surprise by assuming responsibility for avenging the targeted killing by an Israel air strike of the secretary general of the tiny Popular Resistance Committees, Zuheir al-Qaisi, and the passenger in his car, another terrorist called Ahmed al-Hanani.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu personally ordered the assassination while still in Washington last week. It turned out to be a grave miscalculation. Neither he nor Defense Minister Ehud Barak or the top IDF command had foreseen that the Jihad Islami would for the first time take the lead of an anti-Israel Palestinian operation.
It happened because Tehran, which keeps a close eye on the goings-on in and around the Gaza Strip, sensed a chance for creating havoc and told Jihad Islami to start shooting dozens of missiles, including Grads, against Israel.
As the missiles hailed down on the towns and villages of the southwest, the IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz tried belatedly Tuesday, March 13 to defend the decision to kill al-Qaisi by explaining that his death had prevented a major, strategic terrorist attack from Sinai. He did not elaborate.
Jihad Islami is a special ops brigade of Iran’s Al Qods
Our counterterrorism sources say that this claim hardly fit the case since the threat had been current from late August 2011, when the Jihad and Committees first started posting terrorist cells in Egyptian Sinai ready for cross-border raids into Israel. The first one left eight Israelis dead.
That menace had kept a major Israeli highway to the southern town of Eilat closed for eight months and tied down an entire combat brigade on the Israeli-Egyptian border.
Defense Minister Barak and Gen. Gantz admitted later that the terror alert was still in effect even after Al-Qaisi was gone.
Jihad Islami was first created in the 1970s by certain radical Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood factions dissatisfied with the organization’s operations against Israel and up in arms against the peace accord their government had signed with Israel.
Then, inspired by Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, Jihad Islami turned itself into a militia to fight for a sovereign Palestine to displace the Jewish state. Over the years, its ideological character blurred until, in 2005, it evolved from a fundamentalist organization into a highly trained and organized military force.
After the war between Israel and Hizballah in 2006, Islamic Jihad underwent another change, fully militarized now as the Palestinian special forces segment of Iran’s Al Qods Brigades. It came under the direct command of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Lebanese chief, customarily Iran’s ambassador to Beirut, who answers to the supreme commander Gen. Qasem Soleimani.
Today, this arcane, dedicated force is thought to number some 3,500 fighting men.
Jihad missiles also targeted IDF bases
Israel’s leaders were so taken aback by seeing Jihad Islami spearheading a Palestinian attack at Tehran’s behest, that it took them 24 hours to recover. During that time, droves of rockets cut through the air over southern Israeli towns and villages without pause. This taught Iran that Israel was not prepared for a sudden preemptive attack and would need a day or more to pull its act together.
The heavy barrage upset the lives of a million Israelis overnight, although they were disciplined enough to stay in shelters and avoid fatalities. It was presented as targeting civilians alone. But unbeknownst to the public, the rockets also sped toward Israeli military and air bases in central Israel with a view to disrupting military action. Some connected.
The prime minister and his ministers were in for more than one surprise: Their customary application to Washington to intercede with Middle East contacts, especially in Cairo, to stop the aggression, was greeted with a blank refusal. Manage on your own, they were told, or go to Cairo yourselves to try and work something out together.
This rejection was found all the more surprising when Washington knew the trouble had emanated from Tehran.
An ephemeral ceasefire – at best
In the event, Israel turned to the military rulers in Cairo with a request to use their influence for getting the missile offensive stopped. The Egyptian generals responded by cobbling together a ramshackle ceasefire. It was accomplished by telling each of the interested parties a different version of the terms agreed.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources say that each version contained elements which the addressee wanted to hear: Israel chose to believe Egypt’s assurance that the missile fire would stop; Jihad Islami was told Israel had guaranteed to halt the targeted assassinations of its high-profile terrorists; Hamas, the go-between with Jihad Islami, sought an Egyptian promise to restore the Gaza Strip’s electricity supply.
In fact, the Cairo had pulled off an exercise in multiple deceit so obviously full of holes, that the three parties would have known, had they wanted to, that the ceasefire was ephemeral.
Tuesday night, March 13, after the “ceasefire” was to have been in force for 24 hours, Jihad Islami leader Ramadan Shalah said there would be no truce unless Israel halted the targeted killings.
The missiles kept on coming from the Gaza Strip Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. When asked directly what had been agreed about the targeted killings, Israeli spokesmen were evasive.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood secretly resolves to mend its fences with Iran
Why did the Israeli prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff go along with Egypt’s sale of the same dodgy article to three different clients for different currencies, knowing it would fall apart as soon as it was used? And even more perplexing, what induced them to accept a deal which gave Tehran the advantage of claiming credit for an inconclusive conflict with Israel and a free license to violate the truce at any time?
Flawed evaluations appear to have led them astray.
Israeli official spokesmen insisted throughout the missile episode that Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, had stayed out of it and was indeed keen on keeping things quiet.
Hindsight, say DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence and military sources, showed a different picture.
From a second look at regional events in the past two weeks, Washington and Jerusalem are beginning to realize that Tehran played both Jihad and Hamas. The former was tasked with launching a missile offensive against Israel – and if possible also a major terrorist attack. Hamas would then play its part by using the turmoil to return to the Iranian fold.
The missing piece in the puzzle which kept US and Israeli intelligence looking in the wrong direction was the Muslim Brotherhood’s hole-in-the corner maneuvering.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Egyptian sources reveal here that the Sunni Brotherhood, the dominant political force in post-Mubarak Egypt, secretly decided two weeks ago to mend its fences with Shiite Iran, causing a major upset for the United States and Israel.
The Palestinian Hamas, which has long enjoyed Tehran’s support, was chosen as their facilitator.
Hizballah, Hamas, Jihad resolve on a sequel to the Gaza clash
And so while the US, Europe and Israel were misled by the misapprehension that Hamas rulers of Gaza had turned away from Tehran and were heading for the pro-Western Arab camp, they were in fact in fast motion in the opposite direction.
March 5, five days before the first missiles were fired from Gaza, a Hamas delegation headed by Deputy Politburo Chief Mousa Abu Marzouk (who was portrayed by Western media as pro-Western) sat around a table with Hizballah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah, the most extreme of Iran’s terrorist leaders, to formulate what they called euphemistically “a plan to resolve the developments in Syria” and “cooperate to find the right channels to improve Iran’s ties with the Arab countries, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, which would be based on trust.”
By week’s end, US and Israeli intelligence had learned about two decisions reached at the Beirut encounter:
1. They had settled on Hizballah opening a second front against Israel from Lebanon if the Gaza clashes persisted beyond a certain point. This would ease Israeli military pressure on the Palestinians.
2. Hizballah, Hamas and Jihad Islami would jointly launch a sequel to the Gaza confrontation.
As the rocket fire continued, a leading Hamas member from Gaza, Mahmoud A-Zahar, arrived in Tehran at the head of a delegation. The makeup of the delegation was revealed by our sources as including more leading lights of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood than members of Hamas.
The Brotherhood has clearly embarked on its initial steps for mending its ties with the ayatollahs under the secret guise of a Hamas mission.
In four months time, a Brotherhood candidate can expect to win election as Egypt’s president.
Using the sound and fury of the Syrian crisis and the Gaza showdown, Tehran has managed to cement its alliance with Damascus and Hizballah and move on toward its expansion by tagging on Egypt and the Gaza Strip.