Hours after Hamas accused Israel of engineering the murder of the abducted Italian pacifist Vittorio Arrigoni
in the Gaza Strip Friday, April 15, two Grad missiles exploded in the port-towns of Ashdod and Ashkelon – just five days after Israel agreed to the Palestinian extremists' plea for a ceasefire.
debkafile's counter-terror sources report that the Hamas seized the opportunity to exploit the Italian's kidnap and murder by Al Qaeda's Al-Tahwir Al-Jihad to go back to its missile barrage.
Arrigoni had been living in the Gaza Strip for three years after arriving aboard one of the pro-Palestinian, anti-blockade vessels. The Al Qaeda group, suspecting him of spying for the West, is believed to have tortured him to death. Shortly after his body was found in a derelict building near Gaza city Friday, Hamas spokesmen came up with the charge that Israel had engineered his murder in order to deter more pro-Palestinian flotillas in whose organization Arrigoni was involved from setting out for Gaza.
Israel disdained to answer this accusation of the lowest form of terrorism, which even Al Qaeda had never ventured to utter. However, this silence gave Hamas the pretext it sought to resume its missile offensive.
debkafile's sources report that Hamas was prompted by four considerations:
1. The Netanyahu government's haste and lack of forethought in granting the Hamas appeal for a ceasefire were taken as a sign that Israel had cold feet about meting out the military punishment Hamas had earned for the missile-mortar blitz it had directed on seven Israeli towns and several villages.
To avoid hammering the aggressors, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak chose to pose with the Iron Dome anti-missile, using its successful debut to argue that defense was enough.
At first, Hamas was also impressed by the effectiveness of the anti-missile weapon Israel had developed, fearing it would neutralize its ultimate weapon for terrorizing whole Israeli civilian populations.
But Palestinian tacticians soon realized that the two Iron Dome weapons in place in the cities of Ashkelon and Beersheba were nowhere near enough to shield up to a million Israelis from their missiles. And so after taking a breather for some adjustments to limit the Qassam and Grad missiles' vulnerability to the new Israeli defense system, Hamas put the ceasefire behind it.
Now they are ready to put those adjustments to the test by a new round of fire.
2. Hamas was disappointed by the feeble impact of its blitz last week on Arab and Palestinian opinion. Instead of isolating their arch-rival Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, it fell flat and receded even further from most minds after the ceasefire went into effect on April 10.
The Arab world was left unmoved by the spectacular Hamas fireworks display, excepting only Arab League secretary Amr Mousa who called ineffectually for a UN no-fly zone over Gaza although he had failed to deliver a single Arab aircraft to Libyan air space.
Hamas may well resort to escalated violence to ease its sense of isolation and neglect in the Arab arena which is otherwise engaged.
3. With a large anti-Israel flotilla due next month on showcase voyage to Gaza, Hamas needs to drum up a dramatic and protracted military threat. A calm front with Israel would not serve this interest.
4. By an odd coincidence, Al Qaeda's abduction and barbaric murder of peace activist Vittorio Arrigon in the Gaza Strip coincided with a new military decree the Egyptian Sinai governor Gen. Said Sultan issued ordering all Bedouin tribesmen to hand in their weapons by the end of April. This would be the first time in Sinai history than any of the peninsula's rulers had succeeded in disarming the indigenous tribes.
The Supreme Military Council in Cairo has concluded that its is essential to do away with Bedouin military capabilities and the infrastructure they provide for Iranian-Hamas-Al Qaeda smuggling networks. Failure to do so would place the new regime's own survival at risk, a realization which Israel has been too slow to appreciate for its own security.
For Hamas, this means it is left with two weeks before the Egyptian army challenges its armed expansion into parts of northern Sinai. The obvious way to ward off a showdown with Egypt is to provoke a major military confrontation with Israel over the Gaza Strip. Cairo would then have to bide its time for tackling the armed marauders making free of Sinai until it was over.