Israel’s Operation Cast Lead aims to stop Hamas from launching rockets from the Gaza strip at the Jewish nation’s soft underbelly and prevent the terror group from obtaining more powerful rockets from its Iranian sponsor. But the hidden agenda in this crisis is Tehran’s manipulation of its terror proxies to prevent Israel from attacking Iran’s atomic weapons program.
Iran is arming Hamas and terror proxy Hizballah in Lebanon with long-range rockets that eventually will threaten Israel’s major cities and the Jewish nation’s nuclear facilities at Dimona. That situation could create a “Mexican stand-off” between Tehran and Jerusalem. That is an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would cause Tehran to unleash its proxies to attack Israel’s key cities and Dimona.
Israeli leaders have said they will not tolerate an atomic Tehran. But that milestone is now within Iran’s reach and likely Israel is preparing to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. That forces Tehran to advance its “stand-off” strategy by demonstrating that its proxies present a credible threat. That brings us to the current crisis.
On December 19, Hamas, an acronym which — from the Arabic — translates as the Islamic Resistance Movement, started the latest round of fighting by raining rockets on Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip. The rocket offensive came after a six-month Egyptian-brokered truce which the terror group used to restock its arsenal and strengthen its militia forces.
Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups have launched thousands of crude rockets into Israel since 2001 but the rockets fired by Hamas in the current fighting have flown farther and been more accurate than weapons used by the group in the past. Some have flown two dozen miles, destroying buildings in the southern Israeli cities of Ashdod and Beersheba.
Jerusalem fears that should Hamas obtain rockets with even longer ranges and better guidance systems then Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and Israel’s nuclear installation at Dimona, 20 miles east of Beersheba, would become targets.
The possibility that Hamas missiles might strike Israel’s nuclear reactor is frightening. A direct hit at Dimona could create a disaster at least as horrible as the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident which released four hundred times more fallout than did the bombing of Hiroshima.
Therefore, the longer-range rocket attacks and the prospect that more dangerous rockets are in reserve inside Gaza provided Jerusalem with the necessity of launching its massive assault. The public objective is to stop Hamas’ rockets but Israel will also seek to find any longer-range rockets that Hamas could use to support Tehran’s emerging strategy.
Before 2008, Hamas only had militarily ineffective short range Kassam rockets which are crudely made of iron or steel piping and armed with a volatile explosive mixture used as the small warhead. Then Hamas began smuggling longer-range rockets into Gaza.
The rockets that hit Beersheba were smuggled into Gaza after the Sinai border wall was blown up by Hamas last January. The Shin Bet (Israeli security agency) determined that they were transported through Sudan to the Sinai Peninsula via Bedouins and then through tunnels under Egypt’s border into Gaza.
Just how many rockets by type were smuggled into Gaza is not clear. But the Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center reports Hamas smuggled at least 80 tons of explosives — including rockets – into Gaza since the group took control of the area in June 2007.
Tehran’s strategy of building-up Hamas’ military machine is well known. “Iran is … very much involved in supporting the buildup of the Hamas … whether it’s in training … in funding … [or] supplying them with munitions,” Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said.
In 2002, Israel seized a Palestinian-captained ship bound for Gaza, the Karine A, carrying 50 tons of Iranian missiles, mortars, rifles and ammunition. Four years later, Egypt’s foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, accused Iran of being behind Hamas’ violent takeover of Gaza. Recently, Hamas fighters were schooled at Iranian camps run by the Quds (Jerusalem) Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
American and Israeli officials implicate Iran’s proxy Hizballah for aiding Hamas as well. The Gaza terror group has acquired sophisticated bomb-making skills from Hizballah. STRATFOR, an American intelligence think tank, just reported that 150 Hizballah military advisers and fighters are in Gaza City preparing to lead Hamas units against Israeli ground forces.
Tehran’s proxy strategy includes a role for Hizballah. It’s noteworthy that on January 3 Hizballah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah hosted a demonstration in Beirut, Lebanon, against Israeli action in Gaza. His war-like words have prompted Israel to keep its eye to the north as it fights in the south. Since its 2006 war with Israel, Hizballah has restocked its arsenal with longer-range rockets and expanded its fortifications. Like Hamas, Hizballah can quickly fill Israel’s skies with rockets.
The threat of another war with Hizballah and the need to deal with Iran’s atomic weapons program necessitates quick action in Gaza. Israel must not become embroiled in bloody house-to-house fighting but soon leave Gaza in the hands of an international monitoring force to verify compliance with what must be a tough cease-fire agreement. Unfortunately, Israel’s experience with the international monitoring force left in Lebanon after the 2006 war has been unsatisfactory. Those forces sat back and allowed Hizballah to rearm.
That’s why Israel must race to field its counter-rocket, artillery and mortar (C-RAM) systems now in development to defeat future Hamas and Hizballah rockets. These systems could become operational in the next five years and will be part of a layered network intended to protect Israel from short range Kassams up to long-range Iranian Shahab intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Israel must never stop trying to resolve its differences diplomatically. But when diplomacy fails, it has every right to defend itself and must be prepared to use military force as it is in Gaza today.
But the threat Israel faces today is far more complex than a few rockets launched by Hamas. It faces a coordinated strategy that employs Iranian proxies armed with rockets meant to intimidate Israel from attacking Iran’s atomic facilities. Should that plan work and Israel stands down its efforts to destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the world will see an atomic Tehran which will reshape the Middle East and threaten global security.