Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hamas-PA Re-Unification

Momentum is picking up as both PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu take off on their tour of Europe to round up support for the declaration, or prevention of, a Palestinian state at the UN in September. The latest move, as Bibi begins talks in UK, France and Germany, is that the PA claims to have made a reconciliation with its Hamas rivals in the Gaza Strip following talks in Cairo.

It seems hardly likely that Hamas has come to a compromise over its core aims and mission, at least not in the long term. At best they are short term commitments in order to stave off potential uprisings in Gaza following those going on elsewhere in the region. While the PA edge closer to drumming up support, claiming 130 countires will vote in favour of a Palestinian state at the UN, the people in Gaza must surely be wondering what that could mean for them and they would be turning to its Hamas leaders for answers. Were Hamas to reply they are not a part of it would surely spark protests amongst what is already a highly pressurised situation of poor living conditions compared to the economic progress that has been made in Abbas's controlled areas in the West Bank.

The reaction from Israel to this reconciliation, as stated previously, is one of warning of choosing between peace with Israel or peace with the terrorist organisation that is Hamas, as it could not have both. The PA has responded with its own warning that Israel must choose between peace with the PA, Hamas and the unified Palestinian people or settlements. Bibi's response to this was:

Abbas has to choose whether he wants peace with Israel, or peace with Hamas,” the official said. “He can’t have both. If he chooses peace with Hamas it will bury the peace process.

How this new reconciliation will pan out in practice is yet to be seen. For all intent and purposes for the time being it could be no more than a simple ruse to drum up support to compliment Abbas's diplomatic tour.
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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Itamar Murderers Arrested

After a month since the horrific terrorist attack that saw most of the Fogel family, including a 3 month old baby, murdered in their home in Itamar, it will come as little comfort to their next of kin to know that the terrorists have now been caught. Although it is an impressive piece of investigative and counter-terror work carried out by the Shin Bet, police and IDF the pain felt by the remaining members of the Fogel family is still as sharp as ever.

The first suspect is Hakim Mazen Awad, 18, a high school student whose father was active in the Popular Front terror organization. Awad has a prison record. His uncle, who was killed in clashes with IDF forces in 2003, was involved in a June 2002 terror attack in Itamar, which left five dead.

The second suspect, Amjad Mahmad Awad, 19, also a student, is affiliated with the Popular Front.

Both suspects have admitted to the killings and show no regret or remorse. Indeed, they admit that had they seen the other 2 children in the apartment that night then they would have killed them too. A full report can be found here.

The punishment will likely be a life sentence in an Israeli prison and the murderers could well become a bargaining chip in future negotiations with Hamas for the release of Gilad Shalit who has now been in Hamas possession, without access to any messages or visits from the International Red Cross, for over 5 years. Could these two murderers be seen again in 20 years time in another Samir Kuntar type deal?
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Friday, April 8, 2011

Hamas Target School Bus

Due to the relaxed security processes following the Egyptian revolution, Hamas has been able to receive more weapons that they have used recently to provoke IDF responses in the Gaza Strip. As a result Israel has been forced to make pro-active attacks to curb the flow of weapons that are smuggled into Gaza from as far away as Sudan.

Nevertheless, although most rockets land in desolate fields in southern Israel, one anti-tank missile that was fired purposely at a children's schoolbus only 5 kilometers away, has caused sever injuries to the driver and a 16yr old boy. The IDF has responded with air strikes in Gaza that have killed 5 Hamas terrorists. Both sides however are conscious of escalated attacks and Israel has forced Hamas into a ceasefire along with the many armed factions that Israel considers Hamas able to control.

Although Israel sees Hamas as the ruling party in Gaza and thus holds it responsibile for all actions there, there are concerns that Hamas does not have control over the situation, including the escalation in attacks. Indeed, some say that the head of Hamas's military wing, Ahmed Jabari, does not even taking into account the views of Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, when considering attacks against Israel.
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Arms Smuggling into Lebanon and the Gaza Strip

As the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution continues to be rolled out on a political level, behind the scenes the efforts to curb smuggling of weapons to Hamas in the Gaza Strip have waned. As a result, Israel has been accused by Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti of taking efforts into its own hands by carrying out an air strike on Tuesday that killed 2 people, one of which was a chief smuggler of weapons for Hamas. Israel has denied all involvement.

The attack however ties in with concerns over smuggling in the region as highlighted by the below transcript from a secret meeting held in Tel Aviv on 5th April between US and Israeli Security officials.

Cable dated:2009-11-18T14:32:00
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 TEL AVIV 002501
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/18/2019
Classified By: A/DCM Marc Sievers, reasons 1.4 (b),(d)

1. (S) Summary: Concurrent to the Joint Political Military Group (JPMG) Executive Session, IDF J5 and Israel Defense Intelligence (IDI) officers briefed U.S. JPMG delegation members on current arms transfers and weapons smuggling into Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. IDF J5 and IDI officers first focused on arms transfers to Hizballah in Lebanon via Iran and Syria, and provided current estimates of Hizballah arms. IDF J5 and IDI officers argued that Hizballah's ultimate goal during any future conflict is to launch a massive number of missiles and rockets daily into Israeli territory, including those that can reach the Tel Aviv area. J5 and IDI also described the sophisticated smuggling routes from Iran into the Gaza Strip, arguing that Hamas is now more powerful than prior to Operation Cast Lead. IDF J5 and IDI officers noted improved countersmuggling efforts by Egypt, but stressed more must be done to curb smuggling into Gaza. This is the second of four cables (septel) reporting on the 40th Joint Political Military Group. End summary.

2. (SBU) Israeli attendees included representatives from the IDF J5, IDI, Shin Bet, and Mossad. The U.S. delegation was led by PM Coordinator for Counter Piracy Robert Maggi, and included PM/RSAT John Schwenk, OSD Israel Desk Officer Eric Lynn, J5 Israel Desk Officer LTC Alan Simms, U.S. DAO Tel Aviv Assistant Air Attache Matt Yocum, EUCOM LCDR Molly McCabe, and U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv political-military officer Jason Grubb.

3. (S) Maggi stressed the importance of and noted progress with counter-smuggling efforts into Gaza -- but also acknowledged the GOI desire to see even further progress. He said the USG was looking for practical ideas to improve counter-smuggling efforts. IDF J5 officers argued that smuggling represents a strategic challenge for the GOI, which is facing a proliferation of knowledge and capabilities that are severely limiting Israel's diplomatic options for peace. IDF J5 made the case that weapons and knowledge proliferate from state actors, which disrupts diplomatic regional efforts. IDF J5 highlighted "regional faultlines," with the United States and Iran leading two opposing camps -- and countries such as China, Russia, and Qatar remaining on the sidelines with unclear intentions.

4. (S) IDI officers briefed on arms "deliveries" to the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, making the case with the latter that these arms transfers were done openly and should not be considered smuggling. IDI noted that since 2006, Hizballah has increased its quantity of sophisticated arms with improved range and accuracy -- these arms were acquired via Syria and Iran despite the presence of UNIFIL and Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). IDI highlighted the continued desire by Hizballah to avenge the assassination of its former military commander Imad Mughniyah, and pointed to failed attempts to do so in Azerbaijan and Egypt. Finally, IDI reviewed the arms delivery route from Syria to Lebanon via the Beqa'a Valley, and then to points south through Beirut.

5. (S) IDI presented estimates of Hizballah arms in Lebanon, including a breakdown of arms south of the Litani River. According to the IDI, Hizballah possesses over 20,000 rockets, hundreds of 220 mm and 302 mm rockets, several hundred "Fajr" rockets, hundreds of simple anti-tank (AT) launchers with rockets and missiles, and hundreds of advanced anti-tank wire guided missiles (ATGM), dozens of SA-14, SA-7, and QW-1 anti-aircraft guns, several Ababil unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), an unknown quantity of C-802 coastal missiles and up to thousands of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

6. (S) Given this arsenal, Maggi asked what the IDF thought Hizballah's intentions were. IDI officers opined that Hizballah was preparing for a long conflict with Israel in which it hopes to launch a massive number of rockets at Israel per day. IDI officers noted in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Tel Aviv was left untouched -- Hizballah will try to change the equation during the next round and disrupt everyday life in Tel Aviv. A Mossad official noted that Hizballah will want to ensure it can launch rockets and missiles to the very last day of the conflict, i.e., avoid running out of munitions. He estimated that Hizballah will try to launch 400-600 rockets and missiles at Israel per day -- 100 of which will be aimed at Tel Aviv. He noted that Hizballah is looking to sustain such launches for at least two months.

7. (S) IDI then shifted focus to the Gaza Strip, describing three circles of arms smuggling: 1. arms sources and

TEL AVIV 00002501 002 OF 002

financing, such as Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and unfettered arms markets such as Eritrea and Yemen, and possibly China; 2. transit areas and states such as the Red Sea, Yemen, Sudan, Syrian, Lebanon, and Libya; and finally, 3. the "close circle" along the Sinai-Egyptian border and Philadelphi route. Maggi asked what percentage of arms transfers occurred via land, sea and air. IDI noted that it was difficult to determine: smugglers tend to prefer the naval route -- as there are fewer obstacles -- but the last segment almost always occurred overland. IDF J5 added that land smugglers are learning from past experience and building new overland "bypasses." When asked about air routes from Iran over Turkey, IDI officials indicated that Turkey has been made aware of such activity, although a Mossad representative suggested Turkey may not be entirely aware of the extent of such activity, given the IRGC's smuggling expertise. The GOI highlighted that focusing solely on the last phase of smuggling (e.g. along the Philadelphi route) would only lead to limited success, and that wider efforts were key.

8. (S) IDI also provided an analysis of weapons entering Gaza following Operation Cast Lead. IDI noted that one of the goals of Cast Lead was to damage Hamas' ability to produce its own weapons. In this regard, the IDF was successful, but Hamas is reconstituting its capabilities. According to the IDI, Hamas possibly possesses a few rockets with ranges over 40 km -- perhaps as far as 60-70 km, or within range of Tel Aviv. In addition, the IDI believes Hamas possesses quality AT systems such as the Kornet PG-29 and quality anti-aircraft artillery (AAA). These weapons join an already potent arsenal including Grad rockets with ranges up to 40 km, ammonium perchlorate (APC) oxidizer for indigenous rocket production, hundreds of 120, 80 and 60 mm MBs, dozens of mortars, C5 K air-to-surface rockets, PG-7 AT rockets and launchers, SA-7 MANPADS, PKS AAA MGs and thousands of rounds of ammunition, and quality AT, such as Sagger missiles and launchers, and light anti-tank weapon (LAW) rockets.

9. (S) IDF J5 presented some basic benchmarks for possible countersmuggling solutions for Gaza. First, Egyptian national commitment is required. Other benchmarks outlined by the IDF included a clear chain of command, control of the Sinai and its inhabitants, systematic treatment of tunnel infrastructure, trial and imprisonment of smugglers, and overcoming traditional failures such as bribery and lack of coordination. IDF J5 noted that Egyptian Intelligence Minister Soliman has been supportive, while there is growing awareness on the part of Egyptian Defense Minister Tantawi -- who the IDF views as an obstacle to counter-smuggling efforts. However, IDF J5 said there is a lack of coordination between the Egyptian Army and intelligence service on counter-smuggling efforts.

10. (S) The IDF has observed a more systematic response by Egypt in recent months, including assigning guards to newly discovered tunnel entries, or even blowing up tunnels -- by IDF estimates, the Egyptian Army has collapsed 20-40 tunnels in the last 4-5 months. Nevertheless, the IDF continues to see a lack of urgency on the part of Egypt regarding smuggling into the Sinai; little attention has been paid to improving the socio-economic conditions of Bedouins primarily responsible for Sinai smuggling. While Egypt has made several key arrests -- including prominent smuggler Muhammad Sha'er -- others are still at large. Finally, the IDF noted the construction of an underground barrier and sensors' network -- but in many cases, the smugglers have dug deeper tunnels to avoid the network.

11. (S) The IDF J5 outlined consultations with geology and tunnel experts, whom suggested several possible solutions to the Sinai-Gaza tunneling network: constant and specific mine activity in the vicinity of the border to a depth of 20-30 meters; the use of a shock device or stun charge, or smoke at a tunnel entrance for deterrence purposes; constructing underground obstacles 90 meters deep to destabilize current tunnel infrastructure; close supervision and inspection of buildings in urban areas, in which there is a high concentration of trucks and newly built rooftops and roads; and the arrest of major smugglers -- such as Darwish Madi -- and utilization of interrogation to discover major tunnels and dismantle smuggling networks.

12. (U) PM Coordinator for Counter Piracy Maggi has cleared this cable. CUNNINGHAM.
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