The Gaza Strip was singled out for the Netanyahu government’s first major campaign because of a double Palestinian mistake: Hamas pushed out the military envelope against Israel too far while it was still the weakest cog in the radical terror machine Iran is building in the Middle East.
The radical group ruling the Gaza Strip began attacking Israeli forces in late October, interspersing those attacks with hails of missiles on population centers with new, advanced weaponry.
Hamas was not acting on impulse as it has often in the past.
Iran’s Al Quds commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani was discovered to have secretly sent Mohammed Jabari, commander of the Hamas military wing, orders to launch a cross-border campaign of terror against Israeli military forces. The orders were routed through Iran’s liaison chief Gen. Hossein Mahadavi for relaying via Hizballah’s internal security director Wafiq Safa to Jabari’s pro-Iran deputy, Marwan Issa.
Israel’s four decision-makers, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, decided to move fast and pre-empt Tehran’s plans for building a strong outpost in the Gaza Strip, before it was too late. The population of southern Israel was clamoring harder then ever to put a stop to the missiles.
Orders accordingly went out from Jerusalem to launch the Gaza campaign on Wednesday, Nov. 14.
Tools of Hamas trade: Bomb tunnel, guided missile, Katyusha, Fajr
Related events moved up to that climax through the following sequence:
1. On October 23, an Israeli captain of the Givati Brigade approached the border fence in the Kissufim sector of central Gaza to open the gate for the unit under his command to pass through to the narrow 300-500 meter cordon sanitaire on the other side. As he touched the gate, a large bomb exploded gravely injuring him. Both arms and one leg were blown off.
That was the signal for Hamas operatives hiding in the sand dunes nearby to let loose with cross-border anti-tank missiles and mortar fire.
On November 8, for the first time in six years, Hamas detonated a secret tunnel running under the Gaza border. It was packed with explosives at the Israeli end, rigged to blow up against the armored vehicle used by IDF engineers when they surveyed the ground for hidden explosive booby traps.
By sheer luck, all four dismounted from the vehicle moments before the detonation – otherwise none would have survived the blast.
But the four Givati soldiers riding two days later in an armored command jeep near Kibbutz Nahal Oz were less fortunate. They were all seriously injured – two lost their eyesight – when their jeep was struck by a newly imported MIRA guided missile fitted with a MILAN anti-tank thermal sensor for precise targeting and capable of chasing its target for two kilometers.
A rocket shipment for Hamas’ Round 2 was destroyed in Sudan
Hamas subcontracted a Popular Resistance Committees cell, which it uses for denying culpability, for this operation. The guided missiles were recently delivered to Hamas in Gaza. They were purchased by Hizballah agents in the Libyan towns of Tripoli and Benghazi and delivered mounted on minivans which drove through Egyptian Sinai to the Gaza Strip.
IDF hit back for the MIRA attack with an artillery cannonade against Hamas headquarters in the Sejaya district of eastern Gaza, bringing forth Hamas retaliation against Israeli locations with another high quality weapon recently smuggled in from Libya, mobile 120mm SK-8 multiple-rocket Katyushas.
Incoming intelligence input revealed that Hamas had launched the latest round of its current offensive, flaunting its new hardware, on orders from Tehran.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Gen. Soleimani it was time to activate the mutual defense pacts Hamas signed with Iran and Hizballah in the second week of September, when Hamas strongman Mahmoud a-Zahar and Jabari’s deputy Marwan Issa visited Tehran once and Beirut twice.
US and Israeli intelligence analysts estimated that the Iranian leader wanted to punish Israel for the devastating attack on the Iranian-Sudanese weapons factory and stores at the Yarmouk Complex near Khartoum.
That complex was the main source of Iranian Grad and long-range Fajr rocket supplies to Hamas and Jihad Islami. Fifty long-range Fajr 5 rockets were already packed ready for shipment to Gaza via Egypt, the largest consignment Iran had ever smuggled through to the Gaza Strip. It had been prepared for the next stage of the Palestinian Gaza war on Israel.
(The Egyptian angle in this episode is of prime importance and will be reviewed in a separate article)
Israel gains US approval for its Gaza plan
All this intelligence focusing on Iran’s destabilizing hand was parceled up and delivered to Washington last week by Israel’s National Security Adviser Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, shortly before President Barack Obama set off on his Asian tour. Amidror put it before Obama’s National Security Adviser Tom Donilon – together with a proposed plan of action.
Israel proposed embarking on a major military operation for dismantling Hamas’s military and intelligence connection with Iran. Time was pressing, said Amidror, because if the process was not stopped, Hamas would soon develop into Iran’s main clandestine channel to the Muslim Brotherhood rulers of Egypt, with worse in store: Hamas’ growing military capabilities and intelligence cooperation with Tehran would soon encompass the Egyptian military and march on to swallow up the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and seize control of the seven West Bank Palestinian command brigades which keep PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in power.
To arrest the Egyptian and Palestinian slide into Iran’s orbit, Jerusalem proposed the following plan:
After completing the first stages of the operation, Washington and Jerusalem would turn to Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi and ask him to broker a ceasefire between the IDF and Hamas.
Egypt to promise to block Iranian arms routes to Gaza
It was agreed that the ceasefire terms would also cover Egyptian military and intelligence agencies assuming responsibility for blocking the smuggling routes of Libyan weapons through northern Egyptian towns on the Suez Canal and of Iranian weapons from Sudan via the Sinai Peninsula.
Israel maintained that President Morsi is so desperate for urgent US financial assistance and loan guarantees totaling $10 billion that he is no position to deny Egyptian cooperation in stopping the arms flow to Gaza.
By the end of the second week of November, Israeli intelligence and its proposed plan of action were on President Obama’s desk. He signed off on the Gaza operation on two conditions:
1. Israel would not try and reoccupy any part of the Gaza Strip.
2. The IDF would make sure to keep Palestinian casualties very low – both among Hamas and Islamic Jihad rank and file and the civilian population.
Israel thereupon launched its Operation Pillar of Cloud on November 14 with the targeted assassination of Ahmed Jabari, head of the Hamas military wing, by a drone aided by precise intelligence. The operation was not designed to smash Hamas government in Gaza but to knock over Iran’s military channels into Gaza and, more importantly, Egypt.