While the world follows Iranian developments from the grandstands of YouTube, the people of southern Israel have had front row seats for some time now.
When Iran’s protege, Hamas, staged a coup in Gaza that placed 1.4 million Palestinians under ‘Hamastan’ military rule, no one thought of how southern Israelis would be affected. Located less than one mile away from Sderot, Gaza’s dramatic developments would come to affect everyone in the region.
Before Israel disengaged the Jewish communities from Gaza in August 2005, the Palestinian Authority had promised vast properties of some of these communities to Hamas. Four months later, in January 2006, Hamas won a stunning victory in the Palestinian Authority legislative elections, which resulted in the Mecca Accord of March 2007, which obligated the PA to share all foreign assistance with the Hamas organization.
All this placed Hamas in a strategic position from where it could launch attacks on Israel, even before the Hamas military coup.
Iranian Hamas terror tactics have dominated the lives of the people of Sderot. A town battered by sustained attacks for eight years, Sderot has become the only city to remain under continuous siege in the 21st century.
Sderot woman overlooks her home, damaged in a Qassam attack during the recent Gaza war.
Photo: Noam Bedein
In 2008 alone, the Hamas-controlled Gaza regime fired over 3,300 rockets, mortars and Grads towards the Western Negev and southern Israel, 50 percent more than the previous year.
Five months after Operation Cast Lead, Hamas has fired over 215 rockets during the Hamas-Israel ‘ceasefire.’ Is anyone even keeping track of the number of failed ceasefires that Israel has held with Hamas in the past two years?
For Sderot residents, the knowledge that this has been Israel’s third failed ceasefire with Hamas is not surprising.
In a June 17 appearance at the Knesset, Israel Security Agency director Yuval Diskin warned that “Hamas is continuing to increase its strength, manufacture longer-range rockets and smuggle rockets of a far superior quality,”. In that light,every citizen of southern Israel knows that a massive escalation is around the corner, which will force more than one million Israelis in southern Israel into the seeming safety of protected rooms and bomb shelters.
Shoshana Swissa, a kindergarten teacher in Sderot recently told Sderot Media Center that ”Even today, in these relatively quiet days in Sderot, every single morning we exercise a drill for the 3-year-old children in our kindergarten. The staff teaches them how to run in 15 seconds towards the safe room when the Color Red alert siren sounds. ”
Turning the Gaza Strip into an Iranian military buffer zone
During Israel’s second ‘ceasefire’ with Hamas, between June 2008- December 2008, Hamas did not waste any time building up its military capabilities. Israeli intelligence sources confirm that Hamas dug between 400 and 600 smuggling tunnels that connected Sinai and Gaza in order to “import” guns, missiles, explosives, money,and terrorists, along with oil, fuel, metal, cloths, electronics and even a lion for Gazan’s zoo – earning the Hamas regime between 30-50 million dollars a month from the digging of the tunnels and the goods smuggled through.
The Iranian influence and involvement with the Gaza Strip peaked during the summer of 2008, when hundreds of Iranian missiles were smuggled in, to be fired massively only a few months later at southern Israelis during Israel’s last military operation in Gaza.
Meanwhile, the Hamas regime trained tens of thousands of children and woman in Gaza during summer 2008, in anticipation of an Israeli counterattack to the Hamas reign of missiles.
Accepting Iran, accepting Hamas
Hamas today has become more acceptable as a resistance organization among political sectors worldwide. The most recent acceptance overture was made by the former US president Jimmy Carter, who visited Gaza this June and asked the European Union to take Hamas off the charts as a terrorist organization.
It should come as no surprise that a terrorist organization like Hamas, which has killed and wounded thousands of Israeli by suicide bombings and rocket fire, is now accepted as a legitmate governing body. If Iranian President, Ahmedinejad is invited to open a UN Conference on Human Rights and is then invited to meet with the Swiss President, then Western embrace of Hamas is just around the corner.
In the meantime, Sderot and southern Israel can only gear up for another round of rocket fire in the near future.