Crossfire War – Rapid Fire News=Tehran – El Arish – Gaza Watch – West Asia – North – Northeast Africa Theatre: Tehran – Riyadh – Tripoli – Khartoum – Amman – Baghdad – Beirut – Damascus – Nablus – Gaza – El Arish/Cairo – Jerusalem – Paris – Rome – London – Washington; Israel Stages Two Large Air – Ground Raids into Gaza – Iran Smuggles More Katyushas – Iranian Technicians into Gaza – “Anyone Who Violates Egypt’s Border Will Have His Legs Broken” – Egypt Foreign Minister – Hamas Threatens to Attack Egypt
Night Watch: JABALYA – Seven Palestinian militants were killed, members of Islamic Jihad and Hamas, Wednesday night-Thursday morning as Israel conducted air and ground raids into Gaza. INN reports the main attack was in Jabalya, north of Gaza City, as an Israel Defence Force (IDF) Golani Brigade of armor and infantry, with air support, heavily engaged Palestinian fighters in a fierce firefight. At the same time there was also heavy fighting further north in Beit Hanoun as Israel Air Force (IAF) targeted areas used for Qassam rocket launchings. A second air strike destroyed a metal-works factory in central Gaza used for rocket manufacture and weapons storage. I would not be surprised if Israel is taking advantage of some of the intelligence they recently received from the surrender of four Hamas members. Despite this action however there is no let up in the Qassam rocket attacks as at least twenty were fired by Thursday morning. Intelligence officials now believe not only has Iran used the opening of the Rafah Terminal to smuggle in more Katyusha rockets but also Iranian technicians to train the Palestinians in their firing. And according to the Egyptian paper al-Masry al-Yawm 2,000 Egyptian militants entered Gaza during the opening of the terminal. [INN]
In one other air attack, the IAF hit the home of Hamas official Sheikh Zaki Al Dardissy in Khan Yunis in south Gaza but no one was there. More members of Israel’s government and cabinet are openly calling for the assassination of the Hamas leadership.
Tehran – As an indication Iran wants Hamas to increase attacks, Haaretz reports Tehran had Hamas’ representative in Iran, Dr. Abu-Osama Abed Al-Ma’ati announce, “The Dimona attack is a message. That message is that Iz al-Din al-Qassam (Hamas military wing) has renewed suicide attacks.” Hamas claims they can even stage suicide attacks inside Israel’s 1967 borders and against Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Hamas and Palestinian militant units are now being instructed by Tehran to use every weapon at their disposal as Iran increases their firepower by training them in the use of the Katyusha rocket. In anticipation of all out warfare the Hamas leadership has already begun to reduce their public profile knowing they are now being targeted as Hezbollah’s leadership in Lebanon which used the Katyusha so effectively in their war against Israel two years ago. [HAARETZ]
Cairo – “Anyone who violates Egypt’s border will have his legs broken.” That was the extremely undiplomatic declaration made by Egypt Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit during an interview on late night state television reported by the Jerusalem Post/AP. Perhaps the lateness of the hour caused such frankness, letting his hair down as he expressed his contempt if not hatred for Hamas. As the crisis began in late January the statements from Abul-Gheit and President Hosni Mubarak were extremely condescending as they discussed the desperation of the Palestinian people in Gaza but I always suspected that was a masque for their true feelings, that the Palestinian people and their situation was beneath them and Egypt. These were statements from arrogant, insulated officials as they obstinately refuse to acknowledge Hamas’ control of the Gaza Strip and its growing popularity and strength due to Iran’s continued support. [JPOST]
And based on the news today Tehran’s support is definitely increasing so it will be even more revealing when Abul-Gheit makes some frank statements about Iran. The diplomatic masques and gloves are coming off. Tehran has ended its diplomatic act of saying Egypt/Iran are about to restore full relations and Abul-Gheit is stating violations of Egypt’s border will no longer be tolerated. I assume he is aware Iran supports those violations and is taking advantage of the situation.
El Arish – Hamas is of course aware of the Egyptian’s government real view of them and according to Debka, in response, Hamas is threatening to turn its guns and missiles on Egyptian soldiers manning the Gaza/Egypt border. A Kuwaiti paper even reported Thursday Hamas is planning to kidnap Egyptian soldiers. [DEBKA]
Philadelphi Corridor – In the midst of all this Israel is now seriously considering re-taking the Philadephi Corridor the 6 mile (10 km) strip between the Egypt/Sinai-Gaza border. The corridor contains the Rafah Terminal and the Jerusalem Post reports if Israel is able to do so it could significantly reduce the amount of weapons trafficking and the movement of militants from Egypt into Gaza. The corridor contains many smuggling tunnels that are currently not being used because since the opening of Rafah the smuggling is now very much above ground out in the open.
The IDF is already preparing the invasion plans and when ready they will be submitted to the political leadership. A senior defense official explained, “At the moment we are fighting against the Qassam, which is a ‘statistical weapon’. If this changes and they begin firing large numbers of long-range Katyusha rockets that would strike not only Sderot but at Kiryat Gat and Netivot, then there may be a need for an operation.” Israel would then reseal the border as the invasion forces Hamas and Palestinian militant groups into the open. Some of the groups’ weapon storehouses are also believed to be near Rafah in the south Gaza Strip. [JPOST]
There is as yet no mention of an “exit strategy” but that would probably depend on the situation at the time, if for instance there really is a significant reduction in rocket attacks. Currently there is just some vague mentioning – assumptions that Cairo will take more serious measures against the weapons trafficking but I personally doubt if the Mubarak administration will be in a position of strength to do so with the material support Tehran can send Egypt’s opposition as they erupt in support of their political-spiritual partner Hamas. Egypt is surrounded by governments that support the Jihad, Libya-Sudan-Saudi Arabia which will also be actively supporting Egypt’s opposition.