Gaza conflict suits Iran, says former intelligence chief

Operation Cast Lead draws attention away from Teheran's nuclear program.

Gaza rubble 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Gaza rubble 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Iran has reason to be satisfied with the conflict in Gaza as it draws attention away from the country's nuclear program, Brig.-Gen. (res) Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of the Research and Assessment Division of Military Intelligence, told diplomats and foreign correspondents in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Speaking at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), Kuperwasser said he holds Iran to blame for the Gaza situation. "The Iranians are clearly behind this operation because they supplied Hamas with money and weapons that enabled Hamas to be where they are," he said. Even though it is not as well trained as Hizbullah was in 2006, observed Kuperwasser, Hamas has a "well organized infrastructure" and "is not an easy target" because hundreds of Hamas gunmen were trained in Iran. "We are facing an enemy that we have to treat with care and caution." Kuperwasser added that while Israel had inflicted heavy damage on Hamas, it had not inflicted critical damage. "We didn't hit enough to create a strategic impact on the ability of Hamas to continue to operate," he said. Although Israel has been harshly criticized for firing at an UNRWA school, both Kuperwasser and JCPA President Dore Gold said there was increasing evidence that Israeli forces had been fired on from an adjacent street. "We have to return fire when we are shot at," said Kuperwasser. "No one would believe that Israel would deliberately shoot at a school." As to how long the war would take, Kuperwasser did not hazard a guess, but said he was certain that Hamas's fighting ability was being eroded. "The state of mind of being under siege is affecting the Hamas leadership," he said. Israel's goals were to bring a halt to indiscriminate rocket fire and to the smuggling of weaponry into the Gaza Strip, Gold said. The quality and quantity of weaponry that had entered Gaza since Israel's withdrawal in 2005 had increased considerably because Israel did not manage to seal Gaza hermetically, Gold said, citing the number of rocket attacks as proof. There were 946 rocket attacks in 2006 compared to 179 in 2005. Gold warned that Israel must learn the error of the lacuna in UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which, though it resulted in stronger UNIFIL forces in southern Lebanon, did not instruct the blocking of weaponry. Because of that lacuna, said Gold, Hizbullah has more weaponry now than it had in 2006. "Israel does not want to repeat that mistake with Hamas," he said. Gold opined that Hamas had an interest in a quick cease-fire that will prevent Israel from getting a permanent agreement to halt the rocket fire and the smuggling of weapons through the Philadelphi Corridor. "Israel wants something more permanent and more binding," he said. Underscoring that Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, Gold pointed to the international dimensions of the conflict, stating that even the smallest victory for Hamas would be "a shot of adrenalin into the veins of radical Islam" that would endanger the security of all Middle East countries. "We cannot grant Hamas a victory of any sort, because the implications are greater than the Gaza Strip or its environs," Gold said. Gold defended the siege on Gaza, saying that if Israel were to allow open access to Gaza, ships bearing Iranian weapons would sail into Gaza Port. Kuperwasser contended that the Egyptians could have done more to prevent smuggling into Gaza, and that Egypt and the international community would have to prove that in future the situation would be different and smuggling would be halted. Ahmed Helmy, First Secretary at the Egyptian Embassy, said that smuggling cannot be prevented 100 percent. "We are doing our best. It is a very critical problem for Egypt. Our efforts can be better with your help. You have the intelligence information about numbers and routes that you can share with us," he said. In response to a question from The Jerusalem Post as to why no effort was made to evacuate children from Gaza, Gold said that the role of non-combatants, specifically children, was one of the worst aspects of this conflict. There is increasing evidence that Hamas deliberately uses children as human shields, Gold said. "When you're dealing with an ugly enemy like Hamas, this puts a moral society like Israel in a dilemma," he said. Kuperwasser said children in Gaza were constantly exposed to hate education and told that they should become martyrs. "That is part of the declared policy of Hamas that we have to fight," he said.