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Clouds Forming For 'Autumn Rains' In Gaza

A confluence of events may be driving Israel closer to re-entering Gaza with overwhelming force, as several Israeli concerns remain either unresolved or growing in threat since Operation Summer Rains was launched after the Palestinian terrorist tunnel raid into Israel in June left two IDF soldiers dead and one, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, held captive.

One of the conditions contributing to Israeli frustration is that Shalit remains held captive by the Popular Resistance Committees terrorists, a group including current and former Hamas members. But of growing concern since last year’s handover of Gaza to Palestinian control remains massive weapons smuggling and stockpiling through Egypt. Yuval Diskin, head of Israel’s intelligence service Shin Bet, has has warned repeatedly of evidence of growing weapons stockpiles in the Gaza Strip. The latest estimate was stated to have grown to 19 tons of explosives alone, dispersed among many hidden caches and stores throughout Gaza. Iran and their proxy Hizballah have long been suspected of funneling weapons into Gaza, especially since the January election of Hamas into the majority of the Palestinian parliament.

Also a growing factor in Israeli motivations is the continued rocket assaults on Israeli towns near the Gaza border. At the local Israeli levels, residents and local leaders have been applying pressure to the government to bring an end to the rain of Qassam rockets that continues to plague them. They appear to question the sincerity of national leaders like Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who said yesterday, “Hamas knows that they will pay a heavy price with every Kassam fired at Israel and if they don’t stop them they know we will consider harsher and deeper operations into Gaza.” But perhaps adding meaning behind those words was the statement that followed, in which he said “There might be no other choice but to conquer the entire Gaza Strip to stop it from turning into a second Lebanon.”

Another concern that seemingly grows deeper daily is the growing animosity between PM Haniyeh’s Hamas and President Abbas’ Fatah as the drive to form a unity government continues to fail under the weight of Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist. If the situation worsens between the two, fighting could commence once more in the streets of the Palestinian Territories – primarily in Gaza, where the explosives and weapons caches are believed to exist. Historically, when there has been internal fighting, one or more groups increases attacks on Israel in apparent attempts to position the particular group as true defenders of the Palestinians. With the increased weapons stores – including advanced anti-tank weapons such as those used in the June tunnel raid into Israel and also by Hizballah in Lebanon – this threat’s lethal potential is greater than ever.

At the same time however, Israeli Prime Minister and Mahmoud Abbas plan to meet for talks, former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres urges Fatah and Hamas to settle their differences and form a unity government, and even the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) group is openly calling for Hamas to recognize Israel.

But Gilad Shalit remains held captive, the Gaza weapons caches continue to grow in both size and technology, and the rocket attacks into Israel from within Gaza continue.