The announcement Nov. 13 of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire in the three-day Palestinian missile offensive from the Gaza Strip coincided with one of the harshest anti-Israel statements ever heard from Cairo – and not by chance. It came from Muslim Brotherhood headquarters and accused “the Zionist occupier” and “racist state” controlled by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman who are on "the far-right fringes,” of “spearheading” out of election considerations a "military escalation against occupied Gaza and the occupied Golan Heights.”
The statement’s conclusion – “We will never allow an Israeli attack on Gaza” – gave the game away, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and intelligence sources say. And the sequel proved it wrong.
Little did Egypt’s Cairo rulers expect that within 24 hours, the Israeli Air Force would be raking the Gaza Strip and its missile sites, after US and Israeli national security advisers Tom Donilon and Yacov Amidror had agreed on targets. They both accepted the need to break the back of Hamas’s military capabilities and root out the clandestine Iranian-Hizballah presence in the Gaza Strip and Sinai.
Had Cairo seen where its Gaza initiative was going, the government there would have been ready with effective counter-measures, such as severing relations with the Jewish state and opening recruitment centers in Egyptian cities for volunteers to sign up to fight alongside the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas authorized by Cairo to use upgraded weapons
However, just as Hamas was caught unawares, so too was Cairo. The Muslim Brotherhood then discovered that the conduct of policy by means of a two-tier governing system, whereby the elected president Mohamed Morsi is manipulated from behind by Brotherhood strongmen who run the show, is no task for the inexperienced.
But until that lesson, Cairo’s Islamist rulers felt they could safely incite Palestinian terrorists groups in the Gaza Strip into reviving their on-and-off missile war against Israel to advance their goals.
Most of the hundreds of various types of rockets and missiles fired from Saturday, Nov. 10, were standard Grads. Only this time, the Palestinians began using their newly acquired 120-mm SK-Katyusha multiple-launch missiles fired from mobile launchers smuggled into Gaza from Libya. They acted on orders from Brotherhood headquarters in Cairo, neither of them reckoning on a serious Israeli reaction.
To keep Israel quiet, Egyptian deputy chief of military intelligence Gen. Mohamed al-Assar was assigned with the standard device of brokering a ceasefire, which had always worked well in the past.
Israel’s inner cabinet of nine, which met Tuesday Nov. 14, to decide on Israel’s response, was confronted with intelligence implicating the Egyptian MB as the source of the directive to Hamas to escalate tensions by firing a MILAN anti-tank missile whose MIRA thermal sight sensor enables it to lock onto target to achieve a direct hit and chase its target for 2 kilometers.
These ATGMs were brought into the Gaza Strip attached to minivans from Libya via Egypt.
Israel embarks on counter-missile offensive. Hamas hits Tel Aviv
Hamas subcontracted a cell of the Popular Resistance Committees to shoot an IDF jeep on patrol outside the Gaza Strip from the Sajiya quarter east of Gaza City and then return the ATGM.
The attack took place on Saturday, Nov. 10 and kicked off the three-day missile barrage. Four Israeli soldiers were injured.
It was Hamas’s first demonstration of upgraded armory for clashes on the Gaza border fence, the debut of a mobile guided missile launcher as well as a minivan converted to a SK-8 Katyusha carrier.
While Brotherhood headquarters orchestrated the attack, President Morsi was given the task of contacting Washington and Jerusalem to organize a ceasefire.
This division of labor in Cairo was put before the nine Israeli ministers meeting Tuesday to determine how to confront the violence from Gaza. They therefore approached a decision with extreme caution.
Wednesday night, Nov. 14, Israel embarked on a long-awaited counter-terror air offensive dubbed Pillar of Cloud (after the Biblical pillar that guided the Children of Israel). It started with the elimination of the master-terrorist Ahmed Jabari, commander of Hamas’s military arm, Ezz e-din al-Qassam, and architect of the movement’s paramilitary militia. His car was hit in Gaza City. It continued with systematic air strikes to wipe out long-range and medium-range missiles and launchers, military infrastructure and additional high-profile terrorist commanders.
Hamas, declaring that Israel had opened the gates of hell, hurled hundreds of missiles at Israeli towns and villages without let-up through Wednesday night and Thursday. The first three Israeli civilians were killed by a rocket. When the missile radius expanded Thursday night to towns like Rishon Lezion and Holon near Tel Aviv and then to Tel Aviv proper, the IDF mustered elite ground units at jumping-off points outside the Gaza Strip.
Washington comes aboard
Before going on the offensive, the Netanyahu government lined up the necessary support.
To throw Cairo off the scent, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak borrowed the Egyptian rulers’ two-faced tactic: On the one hand, they pretended to accept the Brotherhood’s direct interest in Gaza and authority for brokering a ceasefire. But on the other, they quietly presented the administration in Washington with a detailed plan for a major operation aimed at the following objectives:
1. To disable Hamas as a fighting militia competent to act as key link between the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the Lebanese Hizballah. Washington was convinced by the documentation attesting to the secret mutual defense accords Hamas had concluded with Iran and Hizballah, binding each of the signatories to come to its ally’s aid in time of war.
Pen was put to paper on these accords in the second week of September, when a secret Hamas delegation headed by Mahmoud a-Zahar and Marwan Issa, deputy of the the late Ahmed Jabari and head of the Hamas military wing’s special operations unit, visited Tehran and Beirut.
Breaking up Cairo’s budding ties with Hizballah and Iran
2. A major Israeli operation in Gaza would compel Cairo to turn to Washington in order to stop it. To win American interest, the MB would have to show it had abandoned its budding alliance with Hizballah and Iran.
President Morsi is still waiting for President Barack Obama to schedule his visit to the White House and hand over the expected “gift from the American people to the Egyptian people” of $450 in cash. The Brotherhood also hopes the US president will finally approve a $4.5 billion International Monetary Fund loan without the strings of an obligatory economic reform program, which the Brotherhood contend is inappropriate for Egypt’s style of government.
3. The onus would be on Cairo to convince Washington that it is not bent on colonizing the Gaza Strip. The Brotherhood has some explaining to do about why in the past month the Egyptian Interior Ministry suddenly began approving Egyptian citizenship and passports for thousands of Gazans.
The US and Israel are also interested to hear how the political asylum Egypt granted Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzouk after he fled Damascus morphed into permission to set up a Hamas military headquarters in Cairo. Though smaller than his Damascus outfit which employed 1,000 people, it hired 200 staff.
A protracted Gaza war is predicted
The Brotherhood’s plan to use a Palestinian rocket offensive to make a grab for Gaza has been stymied for now. The Israeli operation has put the MB on the spot by cutting deep into the unbridled expansion of Hamas’s military capabilities.
Given the scale of the Israeli offensive and its objectives, no source in Washington or Jerusalem would venture Thursday night, Nov. 15, to guess when it would end.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and Washington sources say that the further the Muslim Brotherhood yields to Washington, the shorter Israel’s Operation Pillar of Cloud will be.
During the mass funeral conducted in Gaza City Thursday for the late Ahmed Jabari, Hamas named his deputy to succeed him as head of its military wing. Issa, who headed the Hamas delegation in September to Tehran and Beirut, returned home an ardent fan of the ayatollahs.
By appointing a pro-Iranian successor to Jabari, Hamas is trying to counter the drift toward the United States of its masters, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. This appointment therefore portends a protracted war in Gaza.