DEBKAfile Special Report May 31, 2011, 9:54 AM (GMT+02:00)
A 120mm mortar shell smuggled into Gaza
According to updates reaching debkafile’s military sources, the number of missiles Hamas has managed to stockpile in Gaza passed the 10,000 mark in early May – despite Israel’s partial blockade of the Gaza Strip. It is growing at the rate of some 30 new projectiles of many types smuggled in every two weeks. On April 9, the Palestinian fundamentalists shot 133 rockets at seven Israeli cities before Israel granted a ceasefire in lieu of an operation for smashing this arsenal.
Firing at the rate of 150 missiles a day, Hamas is currently capable of keeping southern Israel under constant attack for 66 days running.
When Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee May 30 about the Palestinian Hamas’s expanding control of Egyptian Sinai, he omitted to mention the arms smuggling tunnels which openly flout Israel’s blockade. The interaction between the Gaza Strip and Sinai and the effect it has of undermining Egypt’s sovereign control of the strategic peninsula, which he also mentioned, is an old story going back years.
What has changed since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in February is that the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoot Hamas have both gained traction in Egypt proper.
But Israel and its military continue to hold back from stemming the arms flow, now including anti-tank and anti-air missiles, into the Gaza Strip, just as they never interfered with Hizballah’s acquisition of thousands of advanced rockets from Iran and Syria.
Before the current ceasefire, Hamas demonstrated in a single day, Saturday, April 9, that its improved missiles could hit the fringes of Kiryat Gat 21 kilometers from Gaza and Rishon Lezion, double that distance.
The country, all parts of which are covered by the two Hamas-Hizballah missile arsenals, was not informed by the prime minister, Defense Minister Ehud Barak or Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz about the deal which induced Hamas to hold its fire for now.
While Hamas was presented simply as scared off by the threat of a major IDF operation, debkafile’s intelligence sources disclose that it was the consequence of a quiet deal offered Jerusalem by Egypt’s military rulers at a time that scores of rockets were raining down.
Those rulers asked the Netanyahu government if they could assure Hamas there would be no big Israeli operation as a means of persuading them to accept a ceasefire: A four-point plan for the Gaza Strip’s immediate future was attached to the Egyptian proposition:
1. Egypt would broker a reconciliation pact between the warring Palestinian factions, Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah and the extremist Hamas. And indeed this pact was signed a month later on May 4;
2. Egypt would gradually relieve Israel of responsibility for keeping the enclave supplied with fuel, foodstuffs, medicines and other essentials. This contradicts the official claim that the opening of the Rafah crossing from Gaza to Sinai Saturday, May 28, is to be restricted to persons not goods.
3. Egypt will maintain a large intelligence center inside the Strip. This means Cairo is going back to controlling security in and for the Gaza Strip, a function which lapsed under Hosni Mubarak. Hamas will therefore profit twice: once from an Egyptian-guaranteed Israeli pledge to refrain from attacking the Gaza Strip plus an Egyptian military shield for the territory.
4. Cairo will tell Hamas that its handling of intra-Palestinian affairs is contingent on two Hamas commitments: a total stoppage of missile fire on Israel and the restart of negotiations for the release of Gilead Shalit, the Israeli soldier it has held captive for five years.
The Netanyahu government was assured that the ceasefire would go into effect the instant this deal was accepted. The prime minister decided to accept the Egyptian package, thereby initiating a period of calm for the eight-day Passover festival and his four-day trip to Washington – even though Hamas had never directly undertaken any commitment toward Israel and Cairo alone was party to the truce.
The upshot of this deal is that, after firing an anti-tank missile April 7 at an Israeli school bus – and so causing the death of a 16-year old Israeli boy – and terrorizing a million civilians in their homes week after week, Hamas comes out clean as a whistle and safe from Israeli retribution. It can also keep on smuggling arms to the Gaza Strip through its Sinai tunnels because the military rulers in Cairo avoided any commitment to combat this illegal flow.
All in all, Hamas’ prospects in Egypt are bright. The Muslim Brotherhood has every chance of rising to power in the parliamentary and presidential elections taking place in three months. Israel has no guarantee that the new rulers will honor the April 2011 commitments offered Israel by the provisional military rulers.
The only fly in Hamas’s ointment is internal: Its unity accord with Fatah is stalled for now by a huge row between Hamas-Gaza and Hamas-Damascus over who gives the orders. This dispute is also a function of the Gaza faction’s growing assertiveness under Cairo’s protection and the Muslim Brotherhood’s wing.
And if letting Hamas off the hook were not enough, Brinks vans continue to carry roughly $13 million in cash from Israel into the Gaza Strip every month to avoid censure for starving the Gazan economy of cash, even though the money besides lining the pockets of its rulers finances the smuggling tunnels through which arms reach the enclave and which also provide them with a second source of profit.
Hamas is not just gaining momentum in Egypt but most of all in the Gaza Strip itself.