Egyptian security forces in Sinai intercepted a cache of Libyan weapons headed for Gaza in the the Egyptian half of the border city of Rafah. Today’s catch is the second such shipment intercepted in as many weeks. Three Gazan Palestinians were arrested, a father and son and one other man.
Indicative of what Hamas is partly planning for is what the weapons cache consisted of; 185 crates full of ammunition for small arms, anti-tank, anti-aircraft weapons, and rocket propelled grenades (RPG), land mines and assorted other explosives. Last week’s shipment, which also was intercepted from Libya at Marsa Matrouh on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast, consisted of 108 warheads for Soviet Era Grad Rockets. All of these weapons and ammunition are just the prescription for defense against a ground invasion.
The fact that Hamas and/or those funding Hamas are purchasing basic infantry weapons in such large numbers reveals that either Israel’s 1,500 air strikes likely did more damage than just taking out rockets and launchers able to strike Israel, and/or that Hamas wants to beef up ground defenses since it is now known that Israeli troops had been ordered to invade more than once, only to be recalled before actually crossing the border.
The ‘Hamas Army’ is estimated to have approximately 15,000 men in Gaza. That force likely is now being augmented with foreign fighters from other Muslim nations able and willing to make it into Gaza, and or any West Bank Palestinians who can manage to get there. They along with weapons and ammunition would have to enter Gaza at the Egyptian border. Israel has a standing naval blockade of the coast and all other landward sides of Gaza border Israel. Tunnels under the border at Rafah were taken out during Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense, but are already being quickly rebuilt.
If and when Israeli troops had to engage in a ground operation in Gaza, such an operation would be very similar to the insurgent warfare encountered in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The main difference is that it would all be urban warfare, since Gaza has so little open terrain. Israeli forces would encounter snipers, as well as Grad rocket and RPG teams all concealed in the cover of rubble in the urban areas. The land mines and explosives would be employed with little to no regard for civilians in the area.
The bulk of the ‘Hamas Army’ would likely be split into numerous raiding teams to make hit and run attacks, or embed themselves in residential areas, armed to the teeth and using unarmed civilians as human shields. Such tactics are why the Israelis estimate up to 4 months to conquer and then ‘mop up’ Gaza, and even that assumes a lopsided advantage of 70,000 Israeli troops deployed.
In a parallel development, Israel released military intelligence from its spy satellites that Iran has loaded shipments of Fajr-5 rockets for Gaza on cargo vessels bound for waters off Sudan, where the weapons are to be transferred at sea to Sudanese flagged vessels which are to carry them to the Sinai. Two Iranian warships have preceded the cargo vessels, and will dock in Sudan in the next few days. If the Israelis decide to take out the Iranian cargo vessels via an air strike, there is not much the two Iranian warships can do other than to act as ‘missile sponges’. These Iranian warships are little more than gunboats.
Interception of these arms shipments by Egypt is not exactly being done as a favor to Israel. Egypt, doesn’t want Israel to take control of Gaza any more than Hamas or Iran does. Gaza being reoccupied by Israel, would likely inflame Islamists in Egypt particularly the Muslim Brotherhood who would undoubtedly demand action.
President Morsi is simply not yet politically stable enough in Egypt to risk war with Israel by sending the Egyptian Army into the Sinai thereby abrogating the Camp David Accords. Such action now, particularly with mass protests against his assumption of absolute power could very likely result in a military coup. The Egyptian military is entirely dependent on American military aide. Abrogating Camp David would practically guarantee a vote to cut off of that aide by the U.S. House of Representatives. That is a risk the Egyptian military literally cannot afford to take.