Hamas missile upsurge erodes Israeli deterrence, dashes ceasefire hopes

Ten Palestinian missiles struck Israel from the Gaza Strip Saturday, Feb. 28, including two heavyweight Grads aimed at Ashkelon. The number since Israel halted Operation Cast Lead Jan. 18 has risen to eighty – 81 Sunday night with a direct hit which set a Sderot home on fire.
debkafile‘s military sources directly correlate the upsurge of Palestinian rockets attacks on Israel and the setbacks in securing the release of the captive Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit with defense minister Ehud Barak’s dogged insistence on the imminence of an Egyptian-brokered long-term ceasefire.
The figures are irrefutable, the ceasefire is receding and the message from Cairo is plain. The Egyptians say the rockets will keep on coming and the Israeli soldier stay missing until the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah reach an accord on sharing power, which is Cairo’s top priority.
Israel is not offered any say in this process; neither is Hamas required to abandon violence or its ruling ambition to destroy Israel. But the Palestinian Islamists’ conditions for a deal are largely addressed to… Israel. Hence the pressure-by-missile.
Cairo optimistically forecasts a “successful” outcome later this month; other Arab sources mention April-May. But Barack and his envoy to Cairo Amos Gilead seem to have no qualms about Cairo’s linkage of Palestinian missile fire and a Palestinian unity accord, although this makes Ashkelon hostage to a Palestinian factional reconciliation. And what happens if the Palestinian deal falls through, as it has before?
For more than a month, therefore, Israeli retaliation for the missile attacks has been muted, restricted to the harmless aerial bombardment of empty buildings and smuggling tunnels in Gaza.
This tactic contradicts the promises Barak and foreign minister Tzipi Livni made that Israel would respond instantaneously and effectively to Palestinian aggression from Gaza, if the military operation of January failed to bring the promised “new security reality” to southern Israel.
Sensing this weakness in Israel’s stance, Hamas which has quickly recovered from its hammering at Israel’s hands is moving forward on three fronts:
1. An upsurge in missile attacks: Saturday, two newly upgraded 170mm Grad missiles were launched against Ashkelon. One went through the fortified roof of a schoolroom where no lessons were held because of the Sabbath.
This attack on an important Israeli port-city made nonsense of the defense minister’s claim that Israel’s deterrence capacity was in place.
2. Iran is smuggling larger quantities of weapons to Hamas via Sinai than during the days prior to Operation Cast Lead: 50 improved Grad rockets, different types of anti-air missiles and tons of explosives were delivered in the last two weeks.
That takes care of another solemn promise (delivered by Amos Gilead) that, if Israel agreed to a Cairo-brokered unilateral ceasefire last month, Egypt would reciprocate with strenuous action to stem the smuggling of arms to Hamas through its territory.
Our sources add that Tehran, which took that promise seriously, had planned alternative, more expensive and roundabout smuggling routes. Now Iran sees it can save itself the trouble and go back to shipping arms via Sinai to Gaza relatively undisturbed.
3. Hamas is digging its heel in harder than ever before on the release of Gilead Shalit. This tramples yet another of Barak’s assurances, this one endorsed by the outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert, that the military offensive would bring his freedom closer. Hamas has made it clear that the price for his release is up and still rising.

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