Two years after Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza, the Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee says war, or something near it, is inevitable.
MK Tzachi HaNegbi (Kadima), a former Public Security Minister, was responding to the words of a widely-quoted "senior IDF officer" who said that Hamas has become a small army with strong military capabilities. HaNegbi stopped short of calling upon Israel to attack Hamas, but merely said that it was an inevitable development. "It's just a matter of time," he said. "It will occur sooner or later, either as an Israeli initiative, or following a deterioration of the situation unwanted by both sides."
Hamas Army Growing
The quoted senior officer said on Thursday that Hamas had "advanced a generation" of late in its military capabilities. He told reporters that the Hamas army now numbers 13,000 fighters, and that it had imported 20 tons of explosives through the Rafiah crossing in the past several weeks. The Hamas arsenal contains Strella shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, which are "liable to make air actions difficult," as well as "the best weapons there are," the officer said.
Nationalist Members of Knesset warned the 2005 Sharon-Mofaz-Olmert government that removing the IDF from the Rafiah crossing would lead to a mass influx of arms into Gaza, but the warnings went unheeded.
The officer said that at least 400 Hamas fighters had left Gaza via Rafiah for training in Iran in recent weeks. On the other hand, since Hamas took over Gaza six weeks ago, Israeli forces had carried out some 50 actions to prevent terrorists from entering Israel; 110 terrorists were killed in these actions, 198 were wounded, and 766 were arrested, including 47 on the wanted list.
MK HaNegbi, who has also served as Minister of Justice, Health and the Environment, said that Hamas's strengthening is no secret. He noted that the relative quiet being maintained by Hamas against Israel is designed only to serve its own interests, in order that Israel not respond in kind. He said that Hamas is using this period to train and arm, though he noted that the IDF is also preparing and studying the mistakes it made last year in Lebanon.
Eygpt Ignoring Obligations
HaNegbi said that Egypt has no interest in fulfilling its obligations to prevent smuggling from the Sinai into Gaza via Rafiah, despite the agreement it signed with Israel to this effect when Israel withdrew.
Some fears have been raised that war with Hamas could exact heavy IDF casualties and many Kassam rockets at the Negev. Despite the dangers inherent in delayed action against the Hamas military build-up, at least one high-placed military officer says that the most he can recommend at present is an intense attack on various Hamas headquarters and top officials.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Friday that he cannot promise that Israel's border with Gaza will not soon look like Israel's border with Lebanon prior to last summer's war. Despite this, he has no intention of ordering a major ground assault in Gaza. It is felt that the shadow of the Winograd Commission, expected to release a scathing report criticizing Olmert's haste in going to war last year, is a factor in Olmert's hesitation to take the offensive.
On Sunday morning, IDF forces shot and killed two Hamas terrorists near a former Jewish community in the northern Gaza Strip. The terrorists were approaching the security border fence and were carrying grenades and guns.