Israel has passed a stern warning to the Palestinian Jihad Islami shooting missiles from Gaza for the third day to expect Israel punishment on a different scale from the current surgical air strikes if they dare fire the Fajr surface missiles supplied them by Iran, debkafile reports. The warning was relayed Sunday, March 11, through Egyptian Intelligence Chief Gen. Murad Muwafi who is working with Washington to halt the Gaza violence.
The Iran-backed Jihad has in its arsenal Fajr 5 missiles whose range is 110 kilometers and Fajr 3 which has a 60-kilometer reach. They bring into range Israel’s urban, commercial and population hub cities between Tel Aviv and Rehovoth, which are outside the range of the Grads and Qassams, more 110 of which were fired from Gaza since Friday.
Military sources told debkafile that the Jihad terrorists are aiming for a spectacular, multi-fatality strike in a major Israeli city before ending this round of violence on order to strut as victors in Palestinian and Middle East public eyes. This ambition has been frustrated for three days by the Israeli invention, the Iron Dome interceptor of short-range missiles, which has saved important towns like Beersheba and the ports of Ashdod and Ashkelon from casualties and serious damage by intercepting the Grads before they land.
Islami Jihad tacticians are thought to be wracking their brains for some gadget capable of disarming the Iron Dome batteries.
They efforts of Gen. Muwafi to negotiate a ceasefire are complicated by not knowing whether Jihad Islami went into action against Israel on its own initiative – although the victim of Israel’s targeted killing Friday, March 9, was not one of its members, only the Popular Resistance Committee’s chief Zuheir al-Qaisi – or on instructions from its masters in Tehran and Damascus to promote their own interests.
The general assumption in Cairo and Washington is that the Jihad chiefs jumped in at first without asking for permission. But after 110 missiles pounded Israeli without incurring serious retribution, the decision about carrying on passed to Iran and Syria.
Both have an interest in a relatively low-intensity Palestinian missile offensive continuing against Israel.
Tehran sees it as a card to play at the nuclear talks with the six powers opening in Istanbul next month. It would show them that Iran is capable of generating a war situation in the Middle East without risk of a confrontation with the United States.
The Assad regime would typically use the Gaza Strip violence to turn the glare of international and Arab publicity away from its savage crackdown on the opposition and show the Israeli military to be the real persecutors of Arab civilians.
Gen. Muwafi’s queries have brought no responses from the Palestinian side and so it is hard for the American and Egyptian mediators to judge which way the wind is blowing in Damascus and Tehran.
Amid the uncertainty about the players behind the Gaza violence and their motives, debkafile’s military sources foresee a Palestinian war of attrition stretching out into the next couple of months. Unless halted by a ceasefire, it could escalate sharply if Jihad introduces Fajr missiles to its operations and./or if Israel decides to send its army into the Gaza Strip and finally root out the missile threat Palestinian extremists have been wielding against Israeli civilians for a decade.