Palestinian extremist organization Hamas used the now broken cease-fire with Israel as a ruse to build up its supply of rockets and other arms, says a Middle East expert.
James Phillips, senior research fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation advises that some of the war materials were smuggled through a system of tunnels beneath the Egypt-Gaza border.
“Hamas seeks to duplicate Hezbollah’s strategy during the 2006 war in southern Lebanon,” says the expert.
“It has built a network of underground bunkers and elaborate fortifications in Gaza and hopes to lure the Israeli army into a protracted and bloody campaign of urban warfare. Hamas seeks to outlast, not to outfight, the Israeli army by drawing it into an asymmetric war of attrition,” Phillips warns.
“Hamas remains confident that it can withstand Israel’s superior military capabilities because it is willing to accept the deaths of more Palestinians than it believes Israel is willing to accept,” Phillips concludes.
Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Over 10,000 rocket and mortar shells have been fired from Gaza since 2001, with the attacks ramping up since Hamas seized power in a coup in 2007.
The usual inventory of Hamas rockets has supplemented by a growing number of Grad Katyusha-type rockets with a range of about 24 miles.
These more sophisticated rockets are constructed with components supplied by Iran, Syria, and a cadre of smugglers who move the contraband through cross-border tunnels into Gaza.
On December 31, Israeli police authorities estimated that these missiles now threaten about 860,000 civilians -- more than 12 percent of Israel’s population.
However, notes Phillips, rocket barrages are difficult to stop with air power alone, as Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon demonstrated – accounting for the ground invasion by Israel troops and armor.
Israel needs the ground operation to, among other things, destroy tunnel networks that have aided the Hamas military buildup.
“Jerusalem also seeks to restore its deterrent capacity — which was undermined by the inconclusive nature of the 34-day war against Hezbollah in 2006 — and to loosen Hamas’s grip on power,” says Phillips.
“Hamas will seek to prolong the fighting as long as possible to mobilize popular support for its radical agenda in the Arab and Muslim worlds, transform itself into the ‘victim’ of Israeli ‘aggression,’ and politically undermine moderate Arab governments that have supported peace negotiations with Israel,” warns the expert.
Phillips rounds out his analysis by advising that if President-elect Obama or his advisers make statements that lead Hamas to conclude that his administration will take a softer line on terrorism, it will likely prolong the crisis to get a better deal from the incoming administration.
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