(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Long-range rockets and anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles are some of the weapons smuggled into the Gaza Strip over the last 12 days, Yuval Diskin, head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), told the cabinet Sunday.
Diskin also said numerous terrorists from Iran, Syria and Egypt affiliated with various organizations were smuggled into Gaza and - using training they received in Iran - would try to "upgrade" attacks against Israel.
Defense officials said the IDF would need to study the new types of weaponry that were smuggled into Gaza in recent weeks and, if needed, alter its deployment around and within the Strip.
"If, for example, Hamas now has anti-ship missiles, the navy might need to operate slightly differently when patrolling off the Gaza coast," a defense official said.
During the Second Lebanon War, four sailors were killed when a Chinese-made missile, fired by Hizbullah, struck the INS Hanit missile ship off the coast of Beirut. "Nowadays, no one is taking any chances," the official said.
Security officials said Diskin's report was based on intelligence obtained in recent days.
The IDF already takes added precautions when operating within Gaza, due to the huge amounts of advanced weapons that have been smuggled into the Strip in recent years. The air force dispatches only helicopters and fighter jets that are equipped with missile defense systems to Gaza. In addition, the aircraft maintain a significant, undisclosed altitude over Gaza as a precaution.
Defense officials said Diskin, in his report to the cabinet, did not mention types of weapons that Hamas had not obtained before. Hamas is already known to have a few dozen old-model Katyusha rockets, Russian-made anti-tank missiles and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.
Diskin characterized the Sinai-Negev border as Israel's "soft underbelly" through which dozens of terrorists would try to penetrate into the country. He said the Shin Bet and the IDF had discovered around 30 routes that could be used to infiltrate the country.
While Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was interested in taking control of the Gaza border crossings, Hamas also wanted a role, Diskin said. He said the Islamist organization had been bolstered by the "euphoria" that followed last week's breach and was using that to "improve its positions." Hamas would agree to European Union monitors at the Rafah crossing, he added, so long as they do not live in Israel. EU monitors who were stationed at the Rafah crossing before Hamas's takeover in June lived in Israel, and traveled to the border checkpoint each day.
Diskin said that as a result of the breach in the border with Egypt, any blockade of Gaza would be less effective than in the past. He said there has been a significant decrease recently in rocket attacks from Gaza, not because Hamas has changed its policies, but rather because it has been preoccupied of late along the border with Egypt.
The Shin Bet chief also talked about the precarious balance of power between Hamas and Fatah, saying that in recent months it had tipped in Hamas's favor. Referring to a survey which was conducted at Al-Najah University in Nablus, Diskin said that Hamas now enjoyed 16 percent support among the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, up from 13% in November. Conversely, Fatah's popularity fell from 44% in November to 38% today.
On another matter, Diskin harshly criticized the PA legal system for the way it handled the case involving the murders of hikers Ahikam Amichai and David Rubin in the Hebron Hills on December 28.
Calling the trial of the two Palestinians who shot and killed the off-duty soldiers "a farce," Diskin said the PA first told Israel the attackers would be sentenced to life in prison, but then gave them reduced sentences of 15 years. However, after realizing that such a sentence might be problematic diplomatically, the court added on another 10 years, saying it did so because the two had "harmed Palestinian interests."
Diskin said there had been a significant decrease in action by PA security forces against Hamas in the West Bank since US President George W. Bush's visit three weeks ago. He also said that no organizational affiliation has yet been determined in the recent stabbing and shooting attacks in Jerusalem and Gush Etzion, and that it was possible these were "spontaneous" acts by individuals in reaction to the situation in the Gaza Strip.
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