hamas meeting 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas is smuggling advanced weaponry including anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles into the Gaza Strip, changing the tactical military picture there, the head of the IDF intelligence directorate's research department told the cabinet on Sunday.
Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz said that this weaponry could make it significantly more difficult for the IDF to launch ground operations inside Gaza. Israel would face "stronger" and "different types" of resistance inside Gaza as a result of this new weaponry, he said. In addition, he said, these weapons would also increase the threats to the Negev communities around Gaza.
The deputy head of the Shin Bet (Israel's Security Agency) told the cabinet that in addition to the weaponry, various experts have been smuggled into Gaza in order to improve Hamas' fighting capabilities. He said some of these experts came from Syria, and were using Hizbullah's fighting strategies as a model to be used by Hamas.
IDF sources said it was possible that Russian-made Kornet anti-tank missiles were smuggled into the Gaza Strip by terror cells associated with Hizbullah. The Kornet anti-tank missiles were used by Hizbullah during the recent war in Lebanon and proved deadly destroying a number of tanks and killing dozens of soldiers.
The missiles, which reached Lebanon after they were sold by Russia to Syria and Iran, are capable of penetrating a meter-and-a-half of reinforced armor. The missile's warhead drills a hole in the armor and after penetrating, releases a liquid-base explosives that detonates inside the tank's interior.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, meanwhile, told the cabinet that Israel could not tolerate the continued Kassam rocket attacks on the western Negev. On Sunday, IDF troops continued to operate on the ground in the northern Gaza Strip in an effort to thwart Kassam rocket attacks against Israel. In the afternoon, IDF ground troops discovered and destroyed a Kassam rocket launcher.
On Saturday night, the IDF completed a three-day operation, dubbed "Rain Man", inside central Gaza after killing over 20 Palestinians. Sources in the Southern Command said the IDF would continue to operate inside the Gaza Strip in the format of similar three-day operations. "We will continue to escalate our operations inside the Gaza Strip," one officer in the Southern Command said, adding that the goal of the operations was to prevent the terror buildup in the Palestinian territory and to thwart the firing of Kassam rockets at the western Negev.
Olmert disputed the critics who said the government was not doing enough to stop the fire, by pointing out that the IDF had killed some 17 Palestinian terrorists in Gaza in recent days.
This, he said, was not exactly the result of doing nothing. He said that there was no restraint regarding reacting to Kassam rocket fire, and he took strong issue with Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon's remarks that Israel would have taken a tougher stand were Tel Aviv under Kassam rocket fire.
Olmert reminded ministers complaining that Israel was not responding in a harsh enough manner to the Kassams - criticism led by Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter -- by saying that the rockets fell on Israel even before disengagement, when there was an Israeli presence inside Gaza.
Baidatz said the tension between Hamas and Fatah still existed, despite the recent calm, and that it could re-erupt at any moment. He said that while both sides were keen on avoiding a civil war, neither side wanted to be seen as losing this particular battle.
The deputy head of the Shin Bet, whose name cannot be published, told the cabinet that in the view of his agency, Hamas has come out of the recent battles with Fatah with the upper hand.
According to the Shin Bet deputy head, the Palestinian Authority - faced with internal Hamas-Fatah violence, international isolation and severe economic difficulties - was facing one of its most difficult periods ever.
He said that although it was hoped that this type of pressure would have forced Hamas to change its policies, Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who is calling the shots, continued to take a militant stance and was encouraging the Palestinians in Gaza to smuggle in more weapons and try to carry out more terrorist attacks.
The Shin Bet deputy head said Mashaal preferred to incite the local population against Israel, rather than dealing with the PA's real problems. He repeated what the cabinet has been told repeatedly in recent weeks: that the Egyptians were not effectively stopping the arms smuggling into Gaza.