While Gaza gun battles continue with full-force, Hamas has quickly been setting up its new military infrastructure for a serious confrontation with the Israel Defense Forces.
Israel has been following the construction with concern, but its hands are tied, if the IDF were to act against Hamas’ infrastructure, it would be interpreted throughout the world as Israeli intervention on behalf of Fatah.
Hamas and its Iranian supporters have been taking advantage of this fact and have been sending members of Hamas' "operational force" to the streets to enforce Hamas' power.
A few thousand of these men have been fighting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' security forces.
In the meantime, Hamas's military wing, the Izz ad-Din el-Qasam Brigades, and Hamas' Murabitun militia have been laying down new military infrastructures.
The work is being done in an organized, systematic manner on three levels: Digging combat tunnels, improving rocket performance and quantity, and collecting weapons, mainly antitank and antiaircraft missiles through smuggling.
The most complicated part of the reorganization is the combat tunnels, which are very similar to Hizbullah's “nature reserves” in southern Lebanon.
Unlike the latter however, which were mainly under-ground local bunkers that allowed Hizbullah fighters to launch Katyusha rockets and take cover from Israel Air Force bombings, the Gaza tunnel network will allow Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters to carry out the combat from within.
The Gaza tunnels will allow mobility under ground to the expected points of battle with IDF forces entering the Strip, the fighters will be able to surface quickly, launch missiles or rockets and disappear only to surprise the IDF forces at another spot.
The tunnels are also meant to serve another purpose, namely to plant explosive devices at IDF entrance points, in order to detonate them and stop IDF forces from entering.
The tunnels uncovered by Palestinian security forces near the Erez crossing two weeks ago were meant for this purpose.
Fatah members rushed to announce that these tunnels were dug in order to assassinate President Abas and other Fatah officials, but it is more likely that these tunnels were meant for underground fighting between Hamas and the IDF.
The tunnels are also meant to be used for infiltrating Israeli territory. The composition of the earth in the Strip makes digging easy, and allows for relatively stable tunnels. These tunnels give Hamas a real strategic advantage.
Tunnel recently uncovered on Gaza border (Photo: AP)
Hamas is also focusing its attention on rockets, through information received from Hizbullah and Iran.
The IDF and Shin Bet believe that it won't be long until Hamas gets its hands on the ability to launch rockets and hit as far as Kiryat Gat and north of Ashkelon.
At the same time, efforts are being made to increase the size of the rockets from 5-7 kilograms (roughly 10-15 pounds) of explosives in today's Qassams to dozens of kilograms in Hamas-made Katyushas within up to a year.
Hamas has also been trying to obtain and produce more stable explosives. At the moment, a Qassam rocket becomes dormant just after a few days, since the home-made explosives break down chemically.
Therefore, Hamas has been working on new explosives that would prolong the shelf life of the new rockets. This would allow Hamas to store a greater number of rockets that could operate at a greater range against towns in the south and center of Israel when fighting begins.
The third field is the smuggling of large quantities of antitank and antiaircraft missiles through the Philadelphi route and the sea in order to use them against the IDF's armored tanks and vehicles.
Unity government dangerous
In the meantime, the infighting in Gaza is making it difficult for Israel to obtain quality intelligence in order to act against the evolving infrastructure.
This fact became apparent last week when a suicide bomber from the Islamic Jihad blew himself up in Eilat and did not hide his intentions from his family or environment, but Shin Bet was still unable to locate him in time to foil the attack due to intelligence difficulties.
President Abbas is set to meet with Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday in order to reach an agreement on a democratic formula upon which a unity government could be established.
A long-term calm however, would still not solve Israel's dilemma, and would contrarily worsen it.
A Palestinian unity government would lead to the removal of international pressure on the Hamas government and the organization which would be presented by an 'honorable' Abbas would continue to strengthen politically and build its military infrastructure during the calm.
It is also likely that international pressure would be placed on Israel to negotiate with Abbas under the claim that he represents the unity government.
Israel has no choice but to carefully walk between the drops, to push political pressures, to improve life quality in the West Bank as much as possible in order to strengthen Abbas' position and wait until it is time to perform the needed military route canal in Gaza – to destroy Hamas' military infrastructure and finally solve the smuggling problem along the Philadelphi route.