TEL AVIV [MENL] Middle East Newsline, Nov 5, 2009– Israel’s military has assessed that Hamas might be preparing for an imminent conflict with Israel. Military sources said the intelligence community has determined that Hamas was intensifying military preparations for another war with Israel. They said Hamas has replenished its missile and rocket arsenal and acquired weapons that could strike major Israeli cities and critical facilities.
“The security leadership does not ask whether there will be an additional military clash with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, rather when,” Israeli military analyst Alex Fishman said.
Fishman, regarded as close to Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, said Hamas and Israel could come to blows as early as December 2009. He said Hamas could spark a war to stop Palestinian Authority elections, scheduled for January 2010, as well as prevent international sanctions on Iran. Iran has been deemed the leading ally of Hamas.
The sources said Hamas has acquired dozens of rockets with a range of at least 60 kilometers since the war with Israel in January 2009. They said the rockets were Iranian-origin Fajr-3s, the warheads of which were reduced in an effort to extend the weapons’ range of 43 kilometers.
“Hamas has implemented one of its main lessons from Operation Cast Lead [war with Israel]: The leaders of the organization concluded that as long as they do not have rockets that can threaten Tel Aviv, they have no tangible card to influence Israeli public opinion and genuinely deter the government and the Israel Defense Forces,” Fishman wrote in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot on Nov. 4.
The sources said Hamas has become completely dependent on Iran and Syria in wake of the war with Israel. They said Iran wants to use Hamas to divert international attention from Teheran’s controversial nuclear program.
“Hamas emerged from Operation Cast Lead battered but not beaten, and is now implementing lessons from the fighting in order to be better prepared for the next operation,” Yaakov Amidror, a former senior Israeli intelligence commander, said.
For its part, Hamas has warned Israel of punishing attacks. The movement has refused to confirm Israel’s assertion that Hamas tested a rocket with a range of 60 kilometers on Oct. 29.
“In any next confrontation with the Zionist army, the Izzedin Qassam Brigades [Hamas military] will not keep silent,” Hamas military spokesman
Abu Obeida said. “We will take any measure to protect the Palestinian people.”