Palestinians Step up and Upgrade Missile Threat

A Qassam missile fired from the Gaza Strip landed in the southern Israeli Negev early Saturday, July 31, after two days of heavy barrages against Sderot and local kibbutzim. No casualties were reported. In all July, Gaza Strip terrorists fired 61 Qassam missiles across the border, killing two Israeli civilians and injuring a score. The mounting threat has raised the demand to expand the IDF presence to outside the Beit Hanoun sector so as to cover additional launching sites in the northern Gaza Strip before there are more casualties.
debkafile‘s military sources add:
When defense minister Shaul Mofaz gave Israeli troops a free hand to halt the hail of missiles, he ran into the limitations posed by Israel’s approaching disengagement from the Gaza Strip. The cabinet will be asked Sunday when it convenes in Jerusalem to determine how far the IDF may drive into the Gaza Strip to stamp out the threat – without placing Sharon’s planned evacuation in question, a quandary that may prove insoluble.
In any case, Arafat has raised the stakes.
Russian-made S-5 unguided aircraft rockets were part of the Egyptian haul earlier this month of a large shipment of missiles, stopped before they were smuggled to the Palestinians through the Rafah tunnels. The S-5 would be an important boost to the Palestinian arsenal; some may still defeat attempts to stop them and reach the Gaza Strip – either through the smuggling tunnels or by other routes, especially after Israeli troops are pulled back.
debkafile reveals the Palestinians are planning to convert these Soviet-era 20-25-km range rockets into surface missiles capable of hitting southern Israel’s key cities of Beersheba, Ashkelon and Ashdod. The rockets were originally Soviet-designed for use by the Mi-24 helicopter, the Russian equivalent of the American AH-64 Apache, in Afghanistan.
In Palestinian hands, they would upgrade the missile threat beyond that posed by the hit-or-miss home-made Qassams, even the improved Nasser version.
Since Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon, the Hizballah have lined up some 13,000 missiles along the Israeli border. But the Shiite terrorist group is subject to certain outside constraints before it can shoot missiles into northern Israel. Arafat faces no such restrictions. Smuggled into the West Bank and deployed along the new defense barrier route ordered by Israel’s High Court, the new surface missiles could easily target Ben Gurion international airport and even the northern outskirts of Tel Aviv.
As to where Arafat found his new weapons, debkafile‘s intelligence sources postulate a number of possible suppliers: old stocks in Yemen, Sudan or Syria, sold with the knowledge of their governments or officers making a private buck. Another more menacing albeit roundabout alternative is their withdrawal from the large stores maintained by Saddam Hussein’s air force and army by Baathist insurgents, in token of their old ties with the Palestinians, or by al Qaeda elements fighting in Iraq, who would have used their Hizballah connections to smuggle them through southern Iraq and the Gulf emirates and on by sea to the Mediterranean coast of Egyptian Sinai.
The second possibility would explain why Egypt decided for the first time to seize a shipment of weapons bound for Rafah through Palestinian smuggling tunnels in Sinai and why Cairo hastened to report the seizure to Washington and Israel. Out of concern for its own stability, Egypt is making every effort to contain the Iraqi guerrilla-al Qaeda terror war from reaching a finger into the Sinai peninsula.

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