"Not the Time to Conquer Gaza": Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense

by Jerry Gordon (December 2012)

Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense was basically a rocket war against Iran and Hamas that did not achieve the objective of destroying the military capabilities of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Palestine Resistance Committee. It demonstrated the superb technical capabilities of Israel’s Iron Dome system that intercepted a virtual onslaught of rockets from Gaza. Rockets supplied by Iran had expanded their reach to cover Southern and Central Israel and over half of the country’s population of 3.5 million people who had to seek shelter in less than 20 seconds given a red alert. The million Israelis in the South have lived under this peril for over a decade. Those Israelis in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were exposed to rocket terror this time. More than 12,000 rockets have been launched from Gaza over ten years with more than 1,100 launched in this eight day war alone. Israel is now viewed by the media as having lost this brief episode, while Hamas and PIJ and by extension Iran “won.” This despite clear evidence that the IDF pounding of Gaza decimated 1,500 targets (including smuggling tunnels) along with the military leadership of both Hamas and the PIJ. However, Hamas is now free to restock with new rockets and arms to rain terror on Israel again.

A comment from Defense Minister Barak crystallized the country’s frustration, “Now was not the time to conquer Gaza.” PM Netanyahu put on a brave face and said that the IDF hit Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza with massive blows. The IDF said it had achieved its “limited objectives” in this conflict – a reference to the beheading of the terror groups, military leaders and decimation of the Iranian-supplied long range Fajr-5 rockets. Israel’s leadership was given cautionary support from both US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama “to defend itself.” However, Obama cautioned Israel against opening up a ground campaign. Note his statement at a press conference in Bangkok during his visit to Southeast Asia in the midst of this latest crisis:

“There is no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.” [If that can be stopped] “without a ramping up of military activity in Gaza, that’s preferable, not just for the people of Gaza. It’s preferable for the Israelis because if Israeli troops are in Gaza they are much more at risk of incurring fatalities or being wounded.”

He went on to say after talking to would-be mediators in Cairo,

“If we’re serious about wanting to resolve this situation and create a genuine peace process, it starts with no more missiles being fired into Israel’s territory and that then gives us the space to try and deal with these long-standing conflicts that exist.”

Add to that was the rumored threat by Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, now a virtual self-declared theocratic dictator, to abandon the 1979 peace treaty between the two countries.  Moreover, there was promise of additional  US aid to Israel to produce more of the Iron Dome system batteries to fully provide an umbrella of protection for Israel’s population. Those realities were weighed against the debilitating periodic episodes of future proxy wars by Israel’s major threat to its existence, Iran.  As Douglas Murray of the London-based Henry Jackson Society noted in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, “A Pyrrhic Cease Fire:”

So we are indeed back to the status quo ante. As in 2009 and 2006, anybody still under any illusion about what a cease-fire means should now understand: It means Israel must stop its aggression so Hamas can resume its rocket-firing in safety.

Here is a prediction. During this latest operation—”Pillar of Defense”—the IDF claims to have hit 1,500 terror sites, including 30 senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad commanders, 980 underground rocket launchers and 140 smuggling tunnels. Within a short time all 1,500 of these sites, and many more besides, will be up and running again. If you don't believe me, here is Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal speaking in Cairo at the time of the cease-fire announcement:, “Israel has failed in all its goals,” he told reporters, adding, “We will continue to arm ourselves.”

Israel has been victimized by the follies of moribund former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon who in August 2005 unilaterally withdrew from Gaza forcibly repatriated 8,000 Jewish settlers from the Gush Katif. A number of those repatriated had been previously forced out of the Jewish Sinai settlement of Yamit in 1982 part of the de-militarization arrangements under the 1979 Peace Treaty with Egypt. A month later, in September 2005, Sharon acceded to the request from former Bush Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to give up security  control over the 14.5 kilometer Philadelphi Corridor in the Rafah Gap border with Egypt. Those rights were granted under the Camp David Accords of 1979 and the failed Oslo Accords of 1993.  Sharon’s actions were done to allegedly provide security for Israel at the price of appeasing Palestinians. Since that time Israel has been made increasingly insecure. I wrote at the time:

“Will PM Sharon end up like the biblical Nazarite Samson, destroyer of the Philistines, shorn of his locks and eyeless in Gaza? Controversy, conflict, anger, and recriminations are already abundant.“

Israel will now be confronted with ever increasing dangerous salvos of thousands more rockets from Hamas in Gaza courtesy of Iran and the pilfered Gaddafi-era armories in Libya. By not invading Gaza and effectively demilitarizing Hamas and the other terrorist groups, it still faces to Islamic terror. Harold Rhode in a Gatestone article, “Hamas’ Victory How Muslims see it” noted:

How would Ibn Hazm, the great Muslim theorist on war, understand the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas? He probably would have believed — as, most likely, do his modern day co-religionists — that the Israelis were afraid to destroy Hamas's leadership.

Ibn Hazm wrote: “When at war, show your enemy no mercy, but when you have him at your mercy, you must give him breathing room but you dictate the terms.” The loser has no say in the terms; only the victor has.

This article reviews the reckoning of this brief eight day proxy rocket war. Was it a prelude to possible retaliation from Iran for any Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities? How did Iranian and Libyan rockets and arms get to Gaza? Does the cease fire agreement provides any means of intercepting contraband weapons and should any trust can be placed in agreements brokered by Islamists seeking Israel’s destruction?

The Reckoning

At 9:00PM Jerusalem Time, Wednesday, November 21, 2012 a tenuous cease fire went into effect between Hamas in Gaza and Israel ending the eight day rocket war. The cease fire agreement language is fairly skimpy, see here. The cease fire was allegedly brokered by Egypt’s President Morsi, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader, with Ismail Haniyah, Palestinian Prime Minister of Hamas, a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate, and Dr. Ramadan Abdullah Shalah of Iranian controlled and funded Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Dr. Shalah is also on the FBI Most Wanted Terrorist list. Morsi was given incentive to undertake this diplomatic effort because Egypt was rapidly running out of hard currency reserves and its faltering economy has been propped up more than $10.8 billion in US, IMF and EU aid. Just prior to the cease fire announcement, the IMF in Washington approved a $4.8 billion loan to Egypt. The Israeli go-between directly involved with negotiations in Cairo was Mossad head, Tamir Pardo, working with Egyptian Intelligence in conveying responses to terms from Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

Shortly following the start of the cease fire, 12 rockets were fired and more than 20 attacks launched by terrorist groups in Gaza. Hamas leader Haniyah was quoted at a victory celebration in Gaza as saying:

“We are waiting for the Palestinians in the West Bank to damage settlements, the separation barrier and checkpoints. Join our fellow insurgents in the Gaza Strip. Then there will be a real unity,” he said, according to a translation.

In a separate incident following Hamas’ celebration, one Palestinian was shot dead and nine wounded by IDF troops as they attempted to  cross the frontier into Israel. It was not considered a significant test of the cease fire. The truce appears to be holding.

The cease fire agreement is not a happy arrangement to many in Southern Israel most directly at risk of rocket attacks from Gaza.  Nor was it easily accepted by some of the 30,000 reservists called up, who apparently, were twice issued orders to get ready to move when ultimately told to stand down, yesterday. In protest against the cease fire, a group of 16 IDF soldiers sent a message with their bodies saying “Bibi’s a loser” that went viral via Facebook. Other protests in Israel indicated that government had its “hands tied.” The a poll in Israel gave a 38% ‘good’ rating to PM Netanyahu perhaps indicating that the merged Likud Beiteinu bloc might not have a clear shot at an electoral majority in the coming January 2013 elections. Just before the outburst of rocket attacks that triggered Operation Pillar of Defense by Israel, late October 2012 polls indicated that Likud Beiteinu might secure between 35 to 42 seats in the new Knesset.

Notwithstanding the rising chorus of criticism by opposition political leaders, the Netanyahu government stated that Hamas and the Gaza terrorists had been severely punished and that the long range rocket threat had been decimated. The cease fire agreement was allegedly delayed because of the Tel Aviv terror bombing of a Dan bus on Wednesday that injured more than two dozen persons. Shin Bet and national police apprehended the suspects that included two from the West Bank and one who obtained Israeli citizenship by marriage. They claimed support from both Hamas and Islamic Jihad for the terror bombing. Despite the anger and pique of the inner cabinet of the Netanyahu government at the bombing outrage, according to an Israel Hayom account, the  ‘pressure’ was put  on Jerusalem by the Obama Administration to proceed with the announcement  of the cease fire agreement in Cairo.

Israel Hayom summarized the IDF successes:

All told, Israel hit more than 1,600 targets in its eight-day campaign, with many parts of Gaza City now in ruins. It is now unclear what the effect on Hamas is and what damage it sustained. IDF officials said Wednesday that Operation Pillar of Defense achieved its stated objectives, although these were modest, focusing mainly on “shoring up deterrence,” crippling Hamas rocket-launching capability and “minimizing” the threat on the Israeli home front.

Among the successes of the operation are the assassination of Hamas' top commander, Ahmed al- Ja'abari, and the damage to the terrorist groups' strategic weapons systems: the long-range rockets that can strike further than 40 kilometers (28.4 miles) and the hundreds of medium- and short-range rockets and launchers. But when it comes to the medium- and short-range rockets, the damage to Hamas' firepower was not as severe. By the time Wednesday's truce had set in, Hamas had fired more than 1,500 rockets over eight days. Its stockpile, which at the height of the conflict comprised some 10,000 rockets, still includes some 6,000 projectiles, although only a handful are considered to have long-range capability.

The much vaunted Iron Dome system intercepted 400 rockets that were launched at civilian targets for an estimated 84% kill rate. Longer Range Iranian supplied Fajr-5’s and locally retrofitted Grad rockets were launched against targets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. These resulted in damage to an apartment house in Rishon Le Zion and harmless hits in Gush Ethicon near Hevron. One rocket hit a fourth floor apartment in Kiryat Malachi killing three adults, Mirah Scharf, 25, Aharon Smadja, 49, and Itzik Amsalem, 24, and injuring a three month old  baby. Pictures of the injured baby ended up on a Hamas website as propaganda suggesting that it was a Palestinian child. The Pallywood bloggers forgot to remove the emblem of Kiryat Malachi from the picture. A fourth Israeli civilian died from injuries and an IDF reserve officer was mortally wounded by shrapnel from an exploding rocket that hit the Eshkol region.

The toll of the eight day war in Gaza was 167 dead among them allegedly 27 children. 30 leaders of both the military wing of Hamas’ militia, Izzedine al Qassam brigade, and Islamic Jihad were targeted. Among them were:

•  Ahmed al- Ja'abari, head of Hamas' military wing,

•  Hab's Hassan Us Msamch, senior operative in Hamas' police,

•  Ahmed Abu Jalal, Commander of the military wing in Al-Muazi,

•  Khaled Shaer, senior operative in the anti-tank operations,

•  Osama Kadi, senior operative in the smuggling operations in the southern Gaza Strip,

•  Muhammad Kalb, senior operative in the aerial defense operations,

•  Ramz Harb, Islamic Jihad senior operative in propaganda in Gaza city.

The guesstimates of the cost to Israel of the eight day rocket war range upwards of 3.2 billion NIS, including the cost for 30,000 reservists called up who are paid at 450 NIS per day. The total cost of the 400 Iron Dome interceptions has been estimated at $25 to $30 million.

Perhaps the  accuracy of  IAF drone and F-16 attacks in Gaza can be credited to a report by The Sunday Times (London) – that IDF Sayeret commando teams alleged were sent to determine  underground launching locations for the long range Fajr-5’s and Grad rockets and whether they were fitted with chemical warheads. 

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 retaliation might look like 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 Post article 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, Hamas 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.

Discord within Hamas and President Morsi’s Coup in Egypt

In Gaza there were throngs celebrating Hamas’ “victory.” Sweet cakes were distributed and over the top propaganda about shooting down Israeli F-16s (didn’t happen) was broadcast. This was further extolled by the Islamic Republic propaganda mills in Tehran. Below the surface there is evidence of a widening divide between Ismail Haniyah, the Palestinian Prime Minister in Gaza versus Khaled Mashaal. It has a lot to do with choosing sides between Iran, where Haniyah has long term relations and support from the Islamic Republic versus Mashaal who is close to Qatar’s Emir Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Al Thani. In late October Al Thani became the first head of an Arab state to visit Hamas in more than five years. He promised $500 million  for infrastructure building something that should be on the table following the physical destruction of the eight day war in November 2012. Al Thani, according to an AP report, is endeavoring to persuade the Hamas leadership to consider a long term peace deal with Israel because he believes “it has been weakened.” At a meeting of the Arab League in Cairo during the proxy war he chastised the gathering about doing more than passing resolutions: “We can't give hope without delivering.” Wealthy Qatar has taken the lead in assisting Muslim Brotherhood inspired revolts in the Middle East and North Africa. An Islamist coalition involving Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia has backed the new Syrian opposition group with US support. During the cease fire celebrations in Gaza, children waved flags of Qatar, Turkey and Egypt indicative of their gratitude in solidarity with Hamas. At the same time the exiled  Hamas leadership represented by Mashaal left Damascus and moved to Qatar and Cairo rather than become embroiled in the rebellion. Iran clearly has swayed the Hamas leadership in Gaza, headed by Haniyah. It is noteworthy that during the eight day rocket war, Hamas and the PIJ had a joint command center in Gaza. The PIJ is largely funded by Iran.

Middle East analyst for Jerusalem–based World Jewish Congress (WJC), Pinchas Inbari, noted in a recent WJC report  the differences between the two Hamas leaders on the Iran versus Islamist coalition divide:

The current round of hostilities between Israel and the Hamas government in Gaza is rooted in an internal struggle within Hamas. The organization is embroiled in a leadership struggle pitting the Iranian-backed Ismail Haniyeh against the Qatar and Egypt-supported Khaled Mashaal and his deputy Musa Abu Marzuq.

[. ..]

One of the arguments against the leadership in Gaza, exemplified by the current round of hostilities, is that it is exposed to Israeli surveillance and targeting. Hence, it is arguably better to base the leadership in remote locations such as Cairo or Doha. Ahmad  al-Ja'abari’s demise served to prove Qatar’s argument.

Qatar’s visit to Gaza was viewed with suspicion in Tehran, where the Iranian government has good reason to believe that Qatar aims to undercut Gaza’s ties to the Islamic Republic. While Khaled Mashaal and Musa Abu Marzuq have formally joined the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, the Gazan leadership has remained loyal to Shiite Iran, whose presence in the Gaza Strip runs deep. It controls the military wing of the Al Qassam Brigades, leaving the civil leadership embodied by Haniyeh and Mahmoud al-Zahar no alternative but to challenge Mashaal and Abu Marzuq in the struggle for regional leadership.

The day following the cease fire announcement in Cairo on November 22nd, Egypt’s President Morsi perpetrated a stunning power coup. He issued a decree granting himself powers above the courts in Egypt seeking a retrial of former strongman Hosni Mubarak. The last bastion of secular opposition to Morsi has been the High Court in Egypt which disbanded the largely Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist dominated parliament charged with writing the country’s new, presumably Shari’a compliant constitution. He justified his actions as acceding to popular demands to facilitate transition to democracy. By doing so Morsi has set off alarm bells among liberal and secular opposition in Egypt. That has resulted in Muslim Brotherhood and Freedom and Justice party offices being attacked and burned in major cities amid calls for protest rallies in Tahrir Square. The New York Times noted a comment from a liberal member of the dissolved parliament, Amr Hamzawy:

An absolute presidential tyranny. Egypt is facing a horrifying coup against legitimacy and the rule of law and a complete assassination of the democratic transition.

Mohammed ElBaradei, an opponent of Morsi and former head of the IAEA, said on twitter:

Morsi today usurped all state powers & appointed himself Egypt’s new pharaoh.

Morsi who brokered the Hamas Israel cease fire two days earlier  won accolades from President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and other Western leaders.  Morsi’s role as the new self declared strongman in Egypt  might result in a counter coup by the country’s military, if they see their prerogatives threatened.  This should jar official circles in both Jerusalem and Washington about how much trust they can place in Morsi’s auspices let alone longevity in office to implement the cease fire agreement.

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 and 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 which proved to be futile.

However, the rockets aren’t the only problem; there were 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.


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 end 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 GlobalPost noted 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 2012 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 basis 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.”

As the cease fire was announced on November 21, 2012 news came of Egyptian authorities seizing another shipment of Gaddafi-era military contraband destined for Gaza:

Security officials in Marsa Matrouh have confiscated 108 Grad rockets and 400,000 rounds of anti-aircraft ammunition bound for Sinai in a foiled smuggling attempt.

The head of Egypt's drug control was informed that smugglers would take the Matrouh International Road from Libya overnight. Authorities set up several security checkpoints and police patrolled the desert roads to arrest the smugglers.

Security authorities stationed in the Ras al-Hekma area found the weapons in a vehicle that had driven off the road. The people inside reportedly fled. Officials are intensifying efforts to find and arrest the smugglers.

The Cease Fire Agreement An Opportunity for Monitoring of Weapons from Iran and Libya?

The cease fire agreement language is very much akin to that achieved with the end of Operation Cast Lead in 2009. Hence it has been viewed as problematic by some Israeli analysts. Note these comments from Dr. Aaron Lerner of Independent Media Review and Analysis (IMRA) of key provisions:

The obligation of each party not to engage in “hostilities” is not linked to the compliance of the other party.

•        In point of fact, the agreement explicitly and specifically prohibits Israel from the “targeting of individuals” – so that Israel cannot dispatch . . . a specific terrorist either before, during or after they have engaged in an activity against Israel,

•        The only relief available to a party in the event that the other party violates the understanding is to inform Egypt of the violation, with Egypt following up on the violation,

•        While the understanding places no restriction on the importation or local manufacture of weapons in the Gaza Strip, it prohibits any Israeli activity inside the Gaza Strip against this activity. [Take note: Prime Minister Netanyahu said that “the United States and Israel would work together to fight the smuggling of weapons to the terror organizations”],

•        Mr. Netanyahu did not mention Egypt and in the case of the Americans, this relates only to the smuggling of weapons – not their manufacture in the Gaza Strip.

Prof. Barry Rubin of the GLORIA Center in Israel had a more nuanced view of the cease fire agreement based on PM Netanyahu comments:

“Israel obviously cannot sit idly while our enemy reinforces itself with weapons of terror. Therefore we decided, President Obama and myself, that the United States and Israel would work together to fight the smuggling of weapons to the terror organizations – weapons, virtually all of which come from Iran.”

Here is a very significant point that's being missed in all of the coverage and discussions regarding the ceasefire. Netanyahu's remark suggests there will be a new anti-smuggling effort involving U.S. intelligence, cooperation with other countries, and pressure on Egypt to make it harder to get weapons–especially missiles–into the Gaza Strip. It is clear that long-range missiles are the hardest thing to bring in and the easiest weaponry for Egypt to stop at the border.

Perhaps PM Netanyahu’s views on joint US and Israeli efforts at curtailing arms smuggling are simply those already contained in a Memorandum of Agreement (MOU) inked on January 16, 2009 between the two countries at the conclusion of Operation Cast Lead.  That MOU specifically proposed joint counterterrorism and intelligence activities with participation by Egyptian security forces under then strongman Hosni Mubarak.   Note some of the operative language from the 2009 MOU:

1. The Parties will work cooperatively with neighbors and in parallel with others in the international community to prevent the supply of arms and related materiel to terrorist organizations that threaten either party, with a particular focus on the supply of arms, related materiel and explosives into Gaza to Hamas and other terrorist organizations.

 2. The United States will work with regional and NATO partners to address the problem of the supply of arms and related materiel and weapons transfers and shipments to Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza, including through the Mediterranean, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and eastern Africa, through improvements in existing arrangements or the launching of new initiatives to increase the effectiveness of those arrangements as they relate to the prevention of weapons smuggling to Gaza. Among the tools that will be pursued are:

Enhanced U.S. security and intelligence cooperation with regional governments on actions to prevent weapons and explosives flows to Gaza that originate in or transit their territories; including through the involvement of relevant components of the U.S. Government, such as U.S. Central Command, U.S. European Command, U.S. Africa Command, and U.S. Special Operations Command.

Clearly, given the influx of the longer range Fajr-5 rockets from Iran by way of the Sudan and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and from Libya across Egypt through the tunnels into Gaza, the 2009 MOU hasn’t been an effective deterrent to halt smuggling.

During the run up to the cease fire announcement there were alleged propositions offered by President Obama to induce PM Netanyahu to accept the brokered agreement. The possibility was raised of sending US troops to monitor the illegal arms traffic transiting Egypt’s vast Sinai Peninsula. Our belief is that this might amount to an expansion of the responsibilities of the Multilateral Force and Observers (MFO) composed of an international contingent of troops provided for under the 1979 Camp David Accords. The MFO is charged to monitor demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula under the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Egypt and Israel are co-sponsors of the MFO. If that becomes a reality then the added responsibility of the MFO might extend to monitoring of traffic entering Gaza, as the Egyptian border control authority and security police have not performed those functions diligently or may have been subject to payoffs from the Bedouin smugglers. 

The irony is that when Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza seven years ago in August 2005, that was followed in rapid succession by the election of a Hamas dominated Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006 and in 2007 the virtual defenestration from power of Fatah in Gaza. Thus began the rocket wars against Israel. Within a month of the August 2005 unilateral Gaza withdrawal former US Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice prevailed on Israeli PM Sharon to cede control of the border crossings in the Philadelphi Corridor to the Palestinians. This act spawned a myriad of smuggling tunnels – the conduits for of the contraband weapons used in the recent rocket war by Hamas.


Will the cease fire agreement hold? Perhaps that has more to do with Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Palestine Resistance Committee viewing the outcome of the eight day rocket war with Israel as a close run thing.  It is not clear that an effective arrangement will be found to put teeth into the 2009 MOU between Israel and the US to prevent smuggling of weapons to restock those lost by Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the eight day rocket war. The possible expansion of the MFO in the Sinai, augmented by a US military contingent, specifically dedicated to monitoring the vast expanse of the Sinai Peninsula and the military contraband traffic into Gaza at the Philadelphi Corridor might be one of the few means of implementing the cease fire. That is still a big imponderable despite the alleged promise by President Obama to provide US troops. Moreover, the Obama Administration may have to provide billions of taxpayer funding to prop up the government of President Morsi, a former senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, whom President Obama had called “not exactly an ally nor an enemy.” In view of his new role as a theocratic Islamist President in Egypt his bona fides about implementation of the cease fire are questionable. The uproar following his announcement of new powers in Egypt has triggered attacks on Muslim Brotherhood  and his party’s offices in  major cities throughout Egypt. Protesters are once again thronging Tahrir Square. Despite the celebrations in Gaza, it would appear that the Hamas leadership is divided, forcing a choice between the Islamist coalition headed by the Emir of Qatar versus the Islamic Republic of Iran, the supplier of longer range terror rockets. We empathize with millions of Israelis who are daily threatened by the terror rockets launched from Gaza and perhaps a possible Third Intifada from the West Bank. Finally, will the cease fire agreement stress PM Netanyahu and the Likud Beiteinu coalition in their campaign for an election which will lead a new Knesset – proving the adage that there is no such thing as a sure bet? Despite its successes in Operation pillar of Defense Israel still faces the menace of an Islamist coalition threatening its existence.

Jerry Gordon's latest book is The West Speaks.

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