The Next Dangerous Phase of the Gaza War
By OLIVIER GUITTA
Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, told the French daily Le Monde six months ago, regarding the ceasefire with Hamas in Gaza: “It is unclear how long it might hold, two days or two months. Historically, we are in a curve of a collision with Hamas.”And he was right: the ineluctable military conflict is unfolding in front of our eyes. After a week of aerial strikes, Israel has implemented its plan with a dangerous ground incursion. Where do we go from here?Did Israel fall into the Hamas/Syrian/Iranian trap? Possibly. Syria thinks that Israel is getting into a messy quagmire. Hamas and Hezbollah clamor that the only reason Hamas broke the ceasefire is that they are now totally ready to face Israel militarily.In fact, in the past few months, Hamas put in place a war cabinet headed by Ahmad al-Jabari, one of the leaders of its Ezzedine al-Qassam branch, and Said Siam, its former interior minister in the Palestinian government.While Hamas is no Hezbollah as far as firepower, sophistication and know-how, it seems that they have greatly improved and learned a lot from the summer 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.First, hundreds of Hamas members went to training camps in both Syria and Iran. Second, Hamas has built an extensive network of tunnels and bunkers where its most prized leaders are hiding. Third, like Hezbollah, Hamas has at its disposal very mobile small units that communicate via hand-held radios.Also and most worrisome is the possibility reported by Al-Seyassah last year that chlorine-laden weapons had been delivered to Hamas in Gaza by Iranian Revolutionary Guards to be used against Israel in the event of a military strike against Iran. If this is true, Hamas could decide to use these chemical weapons against Israel now.While media coverage seems to present this war as an only Israel-Hamas conflict, it is far from the overall picture on the ground. Even if Hamas is the most formidable enemy Israel has to fight in Gaza, there are several other very dangerous extremist Palestinian groups.Starting with some Fatah splinter groups such as the Abu Rich brigade. Its leader, Abu Harun, told Le Monde last year: “Israel will never defeat us because, unlike them, we are not scared of death. We even compete to find out who will die first.”Abu Harun prides himself of the effect the Qassams rockets his group builds and fires into Israel, have been pushing people in Sderot to leave. He added:” We push them north [in Israel], toward Hezbollah. They are sandwiched. In less than 10 years, they will disappear.”It is true that at the moment, because of their short flight span, Qassam rockets cannot be intercepted and therefore constitute a huge threat to the security of Israeli civilians.Another extremist Palestinian group, Islamic Jihad is also getting ready to fight off Israel. According to the leader of the Saraya al-Quds (Jerusalem Brigade), the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, the six-month truce has allowed his organization to strengthen its operational capacity. Commenting about an Israeli incursion in Gaza he said:” The invasion could only be limited and very expensive. It will be a massacre. We have the means to defend ourselves. No more helicopters show up, because they know that we have Stinger missiles. This time, we will no longer use handmade rockets against Israel, and the death toll among Israeli civilians will be heavy.”Last but not least, al-Qaida offshoot groups have come to life in Gaza in the past three years. Most of them are former Hamas members who were against Hamas joining the government and the truce concluded with Israel, something they viewed as “a crime against Islam.” Also alongside the local jihadists, according to Western intelligence services, there are a few dozen foreign “fighters” who entered Gaza in January 2008, during the 11 days when the border with Egypt was forced open.Among them were a half-dozen French, some of Algerian origin; this information was confirmed by official sources in Paris. In fact, since al-Qaida has been quite extensively defeated in Iraq, foreign fighters have left first and foremost to Afghanistan but could also possibly end up in Gaza. In fact, on jihadist forums, calls to “defend the sacred mosque of al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem” have recently multiplied.Interestingly Hamas has played the al-Qaida card to scare off the West: “As long as Hamas remains strong, al-Qaida has no chance to enter. But if one day we are defeated, then these groups will thrive,” said Ahmed Youssef, political adviser to Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh.But it is doubtful that Hamas has also the other extremist groups present in Gaza under control. Especially when it comes to the Army of Islam, a 400-men strong radical faction mostly composed of members of a large and influential clan, the Doghmoush, plus some foreign fighters. The Army of Islam has control over tunnels in Rafah on the Egyptian border and has rockets they sometimes launch against Israel.These jihadist groups could decide on their own or with Hamas’ blessing to perpetrate suicide attacks against Israeli tanks or soldiers.There is much more at stake to the Gaza war than meets the eye. Although Israel has the military advantage, it is nevertheless facing a daunting task on the ground. And although Israel is only fighting on one front (at the moment), it is ultimately engaged in a fight against multiple groups who are mixed in among a large segment of the civilian population.
Israel is fighting more than Hamas in Gaza, there are a number of splinter groups working with Hamas to rain terror upon Israeli citizens. Another extremist Palestinian group, Islamic Jihad is also involved, According to the leader of the Saraya al-Quds (Jerusalem Brigade), the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, the six-month truce has allowed his organization to strengthen its operational capacity. Then there is the Army of Islam, they have control over the tunnels in Rafah on the Egyptian border and has rockets they sometimes launch against Israel. While all of these groups have seperate objectives and leadership they are united against Israel: