Hamas Stays in Power, Its Arms Access Blocked by Massive Barrier

The United States, Egypt and Israel have in the past week outlined out a plan for ending the Gaza conflict in a ceasefire.

Hamas will stay in office as the ruling power in most of the Gaza Strip, except for the divided town of Rafah on the Gazan-Egyptian border, which will be governed by the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).

Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) will withdraw from the embattled enclave.

To allay Israel's concerns about Hamas replenishing its depleted missile and rockets stocks, like Hizballah after the 2006 Lebanon war, effective mechanisms will be put in place.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources described the projected mechanisms as the most powerful arms-smuggling preventatives ever designed. They are to consist of the following elements:

1. The US, Egyptian and Israeli armies will form a joint intelligence-military command center to coordinate its various components.

The command center has not yet decided on a site, size of manpower, or source of funding.

2. A four-line barrier will block the path of arms supplies to Gaza – the two outer lines controlled by American forces, the inner two by Egypt.

The outermost US line will monitor the Persian Gulf, Horn of Africa and Red Sea; the next, the Mediterranean and Aegean, Black and Adriatic Seas.

A new US intelligence agency will gather data on the arms smuggling plots hatched in Iran, Syria, Hizballah and by arms traffickers in Europe, the Persian Gulf and Africa. An American naval force in the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and Mediterranean will be empowered to detain weapons cargo ships and search them for contraband. Israel will supply intelligence and naval backing.


Iran designs bobbing sea containers to smuggle arms


This mission will demand naval, marines and air resources and a special naval intelligence outfit operating at sea to keep track of Iran's extraordinarily ingenious methods of smuggling arms and missiles to Hamas.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources reveal one of the most elaborate:

A special office at Iran's Persian Gulf port of Bandar Abbas has been assigned with coming up with these ruses. For one, it hired experts on Mediterranean currents and designers to contrive special bobbing arms containers. These containers are dropped overboard by Iranian cargo ships out at sea, where they sink to a depth previously calculated to catch the current that will carry them to points close the Gaza coast. There, an automatic mechanism shoots them to the surface to be picked up by Palestinian fishermen.

Each of these Iranian freighters has a sea currents expert aboard to guide the captain to the precise spot for dropping the containers.

That is only one Iranian ruse for beating international controls on their arms shipments to Hamas. They all demand a huge expenditure. This and the lengths to which they are prepared to go to get arms to their Palestinian protegee is a measure first, of how highly Tehran rates its strategic ties with Hamas and the Gaza Strip and, second, of the inventiveness of Iran's intelligence and military engineers.

The first of the two inner barriers to be controlled by Egyptian military and intelligence will cover the Philadelphi border corridor and the Egyptian half of Rafah.

They will be manned by a force trained to deal with smuggling tunnels.US, German and possible French military engineers may be invited to assist in detecting the tunnels and bunkers.

The second barrier will cover the southern exit from Rafah up to 15-20 km inside Sinai.

Most of this encircling belt consists of desert sand dunes empty of habitation. The plan is to seal it off as a sealed military zone accessed by a single road and hedged in by checkpoints for searching incomers.

This barrier is specifically designed to block the Gaza Strip to the entry of heavy Iranian Grad and Fajr missiles. Too big to transit tunnels, these weapons must be ferried by trucks.


A vastly costly, elaborate enterprise


Tuesday, Jan. 13, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's son and heir Gemal (Jimmy) was dispatched by his father to Rafah to confirm that the blockade is workable. Gemal Mubarak is also leading the back-door Gaza ceasefire talks with US defense secretary Robert Gates and Israel's defense minister Ehud Barak.

The scheme poses major difficulties: If Cairo is ready to play along – which Israeli defense ministry official Amos Gilead will find out in his talks with Egyptian officials Thursday, Jan. 15 – it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, which the US may have to lay out. Furthermore, it will require the 1979 Israel-Egyptian peace treaty, an essential element of which is the demilitarization of Sinai, to be heavily revised.

After fighting three wars with Egyptian forces in Sinai, Israel has always stood fast against revising this treaty, especially with regard to the size of Egyptian military units permitted in the peninsula.

Under its terms, Egypt is allowed to maintain no more than a single division without heavy arms.

Gemal Mubarak estimates that to maintain its outer line against arms smuggling to Gaza, Egypt will have to deploy at least two armored divisions in Sinai with fighter planes and assault helicopters for air cover.

This will present Israel with a quandary: Is it worth trading the Hamas missile threat for a formidable Egyptian military presence in Sinai?

DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources estimate that even if all these perplexities are solved, getting the complex, ponderous arms-smuggling mechanisms in position and operating synchronously will take a year to eighteen months. That is more than time enough for Hamas with Iranian help to fully replenish its arsenals and get its armed forces back on their feet.

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