Even with a Truce Will Iranian and Libyan Arms Still Get to Gaza?
IDF soldiers take cover after launch of Iron Dome missile
to intercept Gaza rocket from Gaza near Ashdod
Source (Israel Sun)
Word came that a possible truce is ‘up in the air’ in the week old rocket war between Hamas and Israel. Hamas and Israel are using President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt as an intermediary. More than 1,100 rockets have been fired by Hamas and Islamic Jihad into Israel. Of these 350 were intercepted and destroyed by six Iron Dome anti-rocket defense batteries. The IAF has hit more than 1,350 targets in Gaza; rocket launching pads, armories and smuggling tunnels. The latest episode began with several incidents the most dramatic of which was the IAF targeted assassination with a missile strike on November 14, 2012 of Hamas strongman and military commander in Gaza, Ahmed al-Ja’abari. Al Ja’abari organized along military lines, the 15,000 militia, and the Izzedine al Qassam brigade. On November 20, 2012, the IAF launched a missile that hit a media building in Gaza City, injuring three leaders of Iran-controlled and funded Islamic Jihad also killing a fourth, the terrorist group’s official spokesman.
Morsi and Ismail Haniyah Palestinian Prime Minister in Gaza are both members of the Ikhwan-the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi also met with Khaled Meshaal head of the Hamas political bureau and Dr. Ramadan Abdullah Shallah leader of Islamic Jihad, Iran’s proxy in Gaza, who is on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list.
President Obama dispatched Secretary Clinton following the ASAEAN meetings in Cambodia to meet with Israel PM Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and President Morsi in Cairo. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has been in Cairo since Monday, November 19, 2012 endeavoring to foster closure on acceptable terms to both parties. Israel has been using Egyptian intelligence contacts as intermediaries in these discussions. Meanwhile a large IDF force is poised for possible ground operations near the Gaza frontier awaiting word to ether proceed or stand down.
The toll in terms of lives lost in Operation Pillar of Defense is a contrast between two groups of people: Jews valuing life, while radical Muslims venerating death in the cause of Jihad against the Jewish State of Israel. The toll in Gaza, assuming you believe the figures from health officials in Gaza City, is estimated at 135, against 5 Israelis, including one IDF soldier. Those civilian casualties in Gaza might have arisen because Hams and Islamic Jihad use civilian facilities for launch of rockets, making them effectively human shields. As evidence of that there was a grisly scene in Gaza City, the dead body of an alleged “Israeli sympathizer, one of six summarily executed by Hamas, was dragged by a motorcycle in a funeral cortege. Meanwhile 140 rockets fell on Israel on the sixth day of the conflict. Including one that damaged an apartment house in Tel Aviv. The Gaza rocket war against Israel has affected the daily lives of fully 3.5 million people who must find shelter within 15 seconds of a red alert.
Parallels between Iran Attack Simulation and Proxy War in Gaza
Most observers believe this latest episode was a proxy war between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Israel using Hamas and Islamic Jihad to demonstrate what might be retaliation should Israel undertake a possible military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities. A recent simulation of that scenario was conducted in Israel just prior to Operation Pillar of Defense by the Institute of National Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. The players included former senior military and government figures in Israel. A film of the simulation was made. The scenario involved a successful unilateral three wave assault against Iran’s nuclear facilities that allegedly would set back the Islamic Republic program by three years. One element in that scenario was Iranian retaliation. Note this comment from a Jerusalem Postarticle on November 4, 2012:
As part of the exercise, Iran [hypothetically] responded with full force, firing some 200 Shahab missiles at Israel in two waves, and calling on its proxies, Hezbollah, Hams and other radical organizations, to attack Israel. At first, Iran refrained from striking US targets in the Persian Gulf region in the war game.
In the game Israel, bolstered by a successful strike, attempted to absorb the attacks while trying to de-escalate the situation and reach an end to hostilities as soon as possible.
What actually happened in the current conflict may have been a dress rehearsal for an Iranian retaliation in the event of a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Iran’s Terror Rockets in Gaza
On November 19, 2012, I participated in a briefing by retired Israeli Brig. General Yossi Kuperwasser, Director General of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and former head of the Research and Analysis Production Division of the IDF Directorate of Military Intelligence (AMAN). The briefing was sponsored by Secure America Now! – a 501 c.4 non-partisan organization focused on national security issues. We had seen videos of intercepts of Iranian Fajr-5 and Grad 122mm rockets by the Iron Dome anti- rocket defense system. The IAF had attacked rocket launchers, smuggling tunnels and armories in Gaza that may have decimated the more deadly Fajr-5 rocket threats that have spread to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. That prompted delivery of the Sixth Iron Dome battery positioned in the Gush Dan area to provider coverage of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem following firings from Gaza that triggered warning sirens.
In 2012, $200 million was appropriate by the US Congress to build additional Iron Dome batteries for a total of 13 that would provide a virtual umbrella against the threat from the more than 50,000 rockets held by Hezbollah and the 10,000 held by Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Hezbollah is preoccupied with the rebellion occurring in Syria that might cut off re-supply from Tehran. The Fajr-5 rocket supplied by Iran has a 90 kg. warhead and a range of 75 kilometers, the shorter range 122mm Grad rockets, 40 kilometers and the locally-made Kassem rockets, approximately 18 kilometers. The more than 1,500 sorties flown by the IAF during Operation Pillar of Defense, according to Gen. Kuperwasser may have destroyed upwards of 20% of the estimated inventory of 10,000 rockets in the possession of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The IAF raids have primarily focused on destruction of the Fajr-5 launch facilities and inventory. While the Iron Dome batteries have demonstrated great effectiveness with a near 90 % kill rate of intercepted rockets, there remain more than 7,200 in the inventory held by Gaza terrorist groups. Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the waning days of the Operation Pillar of Defense adopted a new strategy of firing fusillades to inundate the Iron Dome batteries deployed in the field.
However, the rockets aren’t the only problem; there are anti-tank missiles to contend with.
A French-made Milan anti-tank missile fired at an IDF Jeep near the Karni border crossing into Gaza injured four IDF soldiers on October 10, 2012. According to Kuperwasser the Milan anti-tank missiles were smuggled into Gaza from Libya. The Russian developed Kornet anti-tank missile may have originated from Iran. A Kornet anti-tank missile fired from Gaza hit an Israeli tank in 2010 but did not disable it. The Israeli-developed Trophy system is capable of intercepting and destroying RPGs and anti-tank missiles. Presumably the Merkava tanks, deployed near the Gaza frontier, are protected by the Trophy system against the threats from these Milan and Kornet anti-tank missiles.
SA-7 GRAIL MANPADS
SA-7 GRAI (MANPADS)
The Russian SA-7 GRAIL heat-seeking Man Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS), which have been fired at Israel attack helicopters and F-16s, originated in Libya.
A May 2012 STRATFOR article estimated that the Gaddafi armories held 20,000 MANPADS, mainly SA-7s of which the US and interim Libyan government had sequestered 5,000. However, more than 10,000 Libyan MANPADS are missing and likely in the hands of terrorists, like al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), the Free Syrian Army and Hamas in Gaza.
How did Iranian and Libyan arms get to Gaza?
I asked Gen. Kuperwasser two questions at the conclusion of his secure America Now! briefing. The first dealt with the recent alleged IAF attack on the Yarmouk Sudan munitions plant on October 24, 2012 and whether the raid had destroyed larger and more deadly rockets. He declined to answer that question. The second question was directed at whether Ansar al-Shariah, the al Qaeda affiliate involved in the Benghazi attack on September 11th and 12th, 2012, might have been involved with shipment of Libyan arms acquired from the former Gaddafi armories? Kuperwasser said: “We didn’t know about that, but we would like to find out who is doing it.”
The second question was prompted by two articles, one published in The Counter Jihad Report in late October 2012, and a second one published in PJMedia in mid-November. Both articles alleged that the US might be involved in covert filtering of arms from Libya to Syrian opposition forces.
A GlobalPost article in early October 2012 noted the concerns of Israeli Military Intelligence:
Israel’s military intelligence is increasingly concerned about the quantity of Libyan arms flowing into the Gaza strip through its increasingly volatile border.
Egypt has a northwestern border point with Israel, at the top of the Sinai desert, and a long eastern boundary with Syria. The fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s Tripoli represents a new source for weaponry and has opened up a new and route, enabling smugglers to bring “thousands” of weapons into Gaza by way of tunnels that run from Rafah in northern Egypt, into the Hamas-run territory, according to numerous Israeli military sources.
Before the influx of Libyan contraband, Israeli assessments have been that most weapons coming into Gaza, albeit also illegally, have been from Iran, transported by ships crossing the Mediterranean Sea or overland via Sudan.
A September report by Israel military intelligence, widely quoted in public, stated that the weapons smuggled in from Libya constitute an increase in Gaza stockpiles, but not necessarily a qualitative enhancement of Hamas’ military capabilities.
The smuggling continues despite US efforts at trying to secure the vast armories from the Gaddafi era in Libya. The GlobalPostnoted US efforts and Egyptian police interceptions of arms crossing from Libya:
Victoria Nuland, a spokesperson for the US Department of State, said at a briefing in Washington that the United States was actively scouring Libya in search of conventional weapons that may have gone missing since the conflict in Libya began.
“The Libyans have asked for our help and we have increased our support apace,” Nuland told reporters.
Several hoards of weaponry incoming from Libya were caught and confiscated by Egyptian police operating near the Libyan border.
Egyptian military and security police actions in the vast Sinai peninsula against infiltration of arms into Gaza have been hobbled by priority actions against Salafist/Bedouin groups that have attacked Egyptian police stations and IDF border posts. Nonetheless interception of Libyan arms in late September 20122 prompted comments from Israeli military intelligence. Note this from the GlobalPost:
Late last month, Egyptian authorities briefly closed the Rafah border crossing without consulting their Israeli counterparts after another, larger than usual, cache of Libyan arms was detected on its way into Gaza.
Speaking on Israel Army Radio, Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Gazit, a former head of military intelligence who was privy to the intelligence report, brought up the inflow of weapons from Libya as a primary reason for the urgency of establishing a new based for Israeli-Egyptian relations.
“it is another reason Israel has to get itself back on track with its neighbors. I just read the story about the Libyan weapons coming into Gaza, and it’s not clear we know who we can even talk to about this right now,” he said.
The lack of monitoring of the Sinai, the conduit for Iran arms smuggled into Egypt via the Sudan, raises the question of Bedouin involvement. A recent CNN report noted:
One of the most important tribal figures in northern Sinai, Ibrahim Menai, who reportedly owns several of the smuggling tunnels that connect Sinai with Gaza, told CNN: “Weapons that are smuggled to Gaza come mostly from Sudan and recently from Libya during the security vacuum that followed the revolution in Egypt.”
Bedouin who are involved in arms smuggling receive the weapons from Sudan on small fishing boats through the Red Sea and by land trough rugged mountain terrain only familiar to them and are almost impossible to intercept by security forces that have little power over the Bedouin community,” he said.
The weapons that are smuggled to Gaza are mostly Grad missiles, anti-aircraft missiles, and recently during the Libyan revolution, advanced shoulder held anti-tank missiles came through,” he said.
Menai also says it’s very likely that the long range Fajr-5 missiles have been smuggled through from the Egyptian side, “most likely hidden among other merchandise that is loaded onto big trucks that go through the big tunnels.”
Gen. Kuperwasser would like to find out who is involved with the Libyan connections, as do many of us, who question the effectiveness of US assistance to the Libyan government endeavoring to control military contraband from the Gaddafi-era armories falling into the hands of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups in the Middle East and North Africa.
Secretary of State Clinton endeavored to facilitate closure on the proposed truce to halt the rocket attacks from Gaza and retaliation by Israel. Attacks threatening more than half of Israel’s population. Whatever cease fire goes into effect without demilitarization of Gaza and monitoring of arms smuggling via the Sinai and across Egypt from Libya could mark a possible strategic defeat for Israel. It is unlikely that Egyptian President Morsi can obtain the assent of Iran and its proxy Islamic Jihad in Gaza to monitoring of weapons smuggling in any cease fire. Achievement of the much sought after truce will determine whether the IDF will de-mobilize or cross the Gaza frontier beginning ground operations with the objective of destroying the rockets and other armories of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.