The quality of weaponry being smuggled into the Gaza Strip has declined significantly since the assassination in Dubai earlier this year of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin told the cabinet on Sunday.
Mabhouh, who was reportedly responsible for smuggling Iranian arms into Gaza, was killed in a Dubai hotel room in January. Despite Israel being widely blamed for the assassination, Jerusalem has never formally claimed responsibility.
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Even as the quality of weapons entering into Gaza has declined in recent months, Diskin warned that the country was on the brink of a period of increased terrorism as Hamas and others try to torpedo the recently re-launched diplomatic process.
The gradual but continuous decline in terrorism in the West Bank over the over the last three years, and an accompanying decline in terror originating from Gaza over the last 18 months, is about to end, Diskin said, in the first security briefing he has given the full cabinet in over a year.
Based on the recent terrorist attacks, as well as well as concrete intelligence information, Diskin said the threat of terrorism will increase in relation to the progress in the peace talks with the Palestinians.
Diskin said that since Hamas did not have an organized command center in Judea and Samaria, the organization was largely working through Hamas activists inside Israeli jails, who were activating prisoners recently released from Israeli jails who returned to the West Bank.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that this was one of the major concerns facing Israel in regard to a possible large-scale prisoner release in exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit. The Shin Bet's estimation, Netanyahu said, was that if the prisoners were released back to the West Bank, they would carry out attacks both in Judea and Samaria and within the Green Line.
Diskin said it was almost certain that Hamas was responsible for recent rocket attacks from Sinai on Eilat and Aqaba, and that those responsible for the attacks most likely went out of Gaza through the tunnels into Sinai. He said that while Hamas was interested in curbing attacks from Gaza, it had no such compunction regarding attacks originating from Sinai.
Defense officials said that the IDF was likely to carry on its policy of responding with pinpointed air strikes to rocket attacks but would not escalate the response to the level of a large-scale ground operation inside Gaza.
“Now, with the peace talks starting, it is unlikely that the response will escalate,” one defense official said.
The officials said that if however the violence escalated Israel would be forced to increase its military response accordingly.
Diskin also said that there has been an increase in the tunnels being
burrowed between Sinai to Gaza, and that these tunnels are not only
meant to smuggle goods and weapons, but also are "attack tunnels"
designed for attacks inside Israel and attempted kidnappings.
He also said that, with the financial support and assistance from Iran,
Islamic Jihad is gaining strength inside the Gaza Strip. Netanyahu said
that this underlines one of Israel's key problems: that when it gives
up territory that territory is grabbed by Iranian allies, who smuggle in
weapons and then use that territory as a base for future attacks
Regarding the Palestinian Authority security apparatus, Diskin said that
it was demonstrating a great deal of "motivation" and "determination"
in preventing attacks, including arresting hundreds of Hamas activists.
Diskin said that PA security apparatus is perhaps at the strongest point
it has been in 16 years, thanks primarily to assistance coming from the
US and the international community. He said that there is no longer any
evidence of a "revolving door" policy that existed in the West Bank in
the past, where the PA would report about arrests of Hamas activists,
only to release them soon afterward.