The Islamist war for Gaza

The ‘Klos-C’ arms shipment was meant to strengthen Islamic Jihad against Hamas, and could have dragged Gaza into war with Israel at Iran’s command

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

IDF soldiers inspect a missile found on board the Klos-C in a commando operation on Wednesday, March 5, 2014. The military said the ship was carrying an Iranian arms shipment headed for Gaza. (IDF)
IDF soldiers inspect a missile found on board the Klos-C in a commando operation on Wednesday, March 5, 2014. The military said the ship was carrying an Iranian arms shipment headed for Gaza. (IDF)

In the aftermath of the interception of the arms ship “Klos-C,” the prevailing assessment in Israel is that the Syrian-Iranian cargo was intended for Palestinian Islamic Jihad rather than Hamas.

The implications are far-reaching. Had the missiles on the Panama-flagged ship reached the Gaza Strip and fallen into the hands of the Islamic Jihad, the organization would have had new game-changing weaponry, not only against Israel, but also against Hamas.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad does not comply fully with the Hamas government’s rules, as has been clear in the past few months — notably during the funeral of Ariel Sharon in January, when it fired Grad rockets toward Ashkelon.

Hamas was not involved in that attack and it was carried out against Hamas’s will. One of the local Islamic Jihad commanders, possibly following orders from abroad, had ordered the attack. A domestic power struggle for territorial control led to the decision to strike. A few days later one of his men, Ahmad Sa’ad, was assassinated, in an attempt to send a message to the commander.

It’s possible the missile shipment was designated for that same Islamic Jihad official, or one of his counterparts. Had it arrived, the terror cell could have launched rockets at Tel Aviv whenever it wish to, in effect drawing Israel and Hamas into a war on Iran’s command.

Islamic Jihad presently has the capability to hit central Israel, but its stockpile is limited. In comparison, Hamas has dozens of rockets, some of them manufactured locally, some from abroad, that can reach Tel Aviv and cities to its north. The arms shipment from Syria was meant to give the Islamic Jihad higher-quality and more deadly weapons than those Hamas possesses.

One can only imagine Islamic Jihad’s celebrations had the first rocket hit Netanya; one can only imagine the new war that would have swept up Israel and the Gaza Strip, this time against Hamas’s will.

Hamas has tracked the strengthening of Islamic Jihad with great concern. It is aware of the tens of millions of dollars that continue to flow from Tehran to the organization, while the Hamas budget steadily dwindles, in part as a result of its deteriorating relationship with Damascus and Tehran.

Bashar Assad already dubbed Hamas “traitors,” and is preoccupied with setting up a competing military infrastructure, even though the Syrian president is up to his neck in his own bloody civil war. The casualties mount every day and yet Assad finds the time and energy to strengthen the Palestinian organization in Gaza and send it a missile shipment — weaponry that he could have used against the opposition forces.

It may well be that the shipment is related to recent reports about Hamas’s growing involvement in fighting Assad’s forces, particularly near Damascus. This includes assistance in constructing tunnels and bunkers for the opposition, like those in place in Gaza.

And, we should not forget, the smuggling route was initially meant to be through the Sinai peninsula.

The decision to transport the missiles to Gaza through the Sinai speaks volumes about Syria and Iran’s disregard for Egyptian sovereignty. It also shows that the intensive Egyptian operations against the weapon runs in and out of Gaza, whether in Sinai or in efforts to shut the tunnels, still have not successfully stopped the smuggling in its entirety.

The Egyptian military spokesman said a week ago that the army has destroyed over 2,000 tunnels since it first began targeting them. The problem is that Gaza’s terror groups continuously dig new tunnels.

For the Egyptian army, this is a Sisyphean task, with no glory and with no quick victories. For the Palestinians terror groups, this is a war for survival.

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