November 14, 2006

Gaza - the next Lebanon?

More from my recent trip to Israel...

In meetings with senior Israeli military officers and government officials, the topic of Gaza often came up in a comparison between Hizballah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza as adversaries of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Given what many perceive as a poor showing by the IDF in Lebanon, it appears that the Hamas-led government is somewhat emboldened and does not feel that they need to acquiesce to Israeli demands that it recognize Israel.

According to the Israelis, Hamas and Hizballah are both supported by Iran. Hizballah's support from Iran has been documented - I have seen it with my own eyes while serving in Syria (see
HAMAS, Israel, Syria, Iran – Pieces of the Same Puzzle). There was also extensive coordination between Iran, Hamas and Hizballah this summer. (See Hizballah and Hamas - the Iranian connection, and Iran-Hizballah-Hamas Coordination.)

Recently, there has been increased weapons smuggling into Gaza across the Egyptian border. The worrisome factor for Israel is not only the quantity of weapons, but the quality. The newly introduced weapons, many of which are smuggled into Gaza via an extensive series of tunnels under the Egyptian border, include:

- the Ra'd rocket (also known as the Iranian Fajr-3, a 240mm rocket with a 26-mile range)
- SA-7 shoulder fired air defense infrared missile
- RPG-29 tandem warhead anti-tank rocket
- AT-5 Konkurs wire-guided antitank missile
- AT-7 Metis wire-guided antitank missile
- AT-14 Kornet laser-guided antitank missile (follow-on for the AT-5)

With their new arsenals, Hamas hopes to imitate the perceived success of their Islamist brethern in Lebanon in the Gaza Strip. To that end, they are building what they call a "combat infrastructure" (buniyah tahtiyah qitaliyah). They are also increasing their indigenous rocket capability, hoping to replicate the success of Hizballah's rocket salvos on northern Israel. They have a long way to go in this area, as the latest Qassam rocket has a range of only about six miles and a warhead of about 20 pounds.

According to the Israelis, Hamas in the Gaza Strip can mobilize as many as 6,000 fighters. Should the Palestinian Islamic Jihad join forces with Hamas, they can add another 2,000 to that total.
Should Israel decide to launch an incursion into Gaza as they did this summer in Lebanon, it will likely be more successful. Hamas is not Hizballah, flat Gaza is not mountainous Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip is more easily sealed off from resupply than Lebanon.