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Israel Steps Up Gaza Operations

In the IDF’s operations Thrusday, a Hamas terrorist involved in kidnapping Gilad Shalit was killed by Israeli forces in Gaza. A Hamas spokesman said that the field commander for Hamas’ Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, Ashraf al-Muasher, was one of the two killed in an IDF operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah in which the IDF took control of the border crossing into Egypt. In the West Bank, Hamas leader Ammar Al-Thaher was killed by unidentified gunmen Wednesday night. Fatah publicly condemned the killing and denied involvement as Hamas members organized a protest rally in Nablus and blamed a local Fatah strongman, Mohammed Dahlan, shouting “Dahlan, you traitor!”

As Israel continues its expanded push into Gaza, five more smuggling tunnels beneath the Gaza-Egypt border were discovered. Israel has been executing a series of focused sweep operations aimed at curtailing the arms smuggling into Gaza that has been allowing Hamas to amass stores of ammunition and weapons for a confrontation with the IDF. Israeli intelligence estimates that millions of rounds of AK-47 ammunition have been amassed, as well as thousands of pounds of explosives for bomb making and advanced Russian anti-tank weapons, such as the Kornet.

Israeli tanks are reported to have taken control of the Rafah Crossing and also cut of the primary North-South road that leads to the Rafah link to Egypt. When Israel carries out operations in the southern area of Gaza, historically Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups have fired Qassam rockets into Israeli towns from the northern edge of Gaza. To minimize this likelihood, the IDF has troops operating on the ground on the northern end of Gaza as well.

These shoulder-fired advanced armor-piercing anti-tank munitions are the type that were used in the operation that resulting in the capture and kidnapping of Gilad Shalit near the Gaza border. They were also supplied to Hizballah by Iran and Syria and used effectively as their most effective weapon against the IDF and its Merkava tanks.

According to a UPI report, Israeli intelligence is concerned that among the weapons that have been smuggled into Gaza - as terrorists dig tunnels in emulation of Hizballah – are shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. In September, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter remarked, “Terror organizations in the Gaza Strip have shoulder-held missiles that to our knowledge have not yet been used. This will make the (military’s) mission much more complex.” As Hamas’ use of the Kornet anti-tank weapon in the capture of Gila Shalit – and Hizballah’s effective use of the same – took some by surprise, the Israeli intelligence services are intent on eliminating surprise with regard to terrorists’ eventual use of anti-aircraft weapons as well as locating and destroying them before they are fired on IAF aircraft.