Seven months passed since the outbreak of Arab world uprisings. The wave is not over yet and it is still difficult to estimate its implications and how it will affect, in the long run, Israel’s strategic, political and security situation. However, at this time already we can see several developments that have a direct bearing on the security-military balance between Israel and elements that threaten it in neighboring theaters.
The main, immediate beneficiaries of what is known as the “Arab spring” are Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip. The riots in Egypt and the removal of Mubarak and his associates from power prompted two developments: First, the Muslim Brotherhood is no longer an underground movement and has become an important, influential political element. The group’s influence prompted Egypt’s government to completely halt construction of the underground metal obstacle built with American assistance in a bid to block smuggling tunnels. The Egyptian regime is making no effort to curb new tunnels and has virtually suspended its battle against smuggling from Rafah to the Strip.
Simultaneously, Egyptian security forces preoccupied with domestic developments completely lost their hold on the Sinai Peninsula. Some 300,000 Bedouins belonging to four or five large tribes are now the Sinai’s true rulers. These tribes’ main income is based on smuggling in general, and on smuggling to Gaza in particular, and they quickly exploited the security vacuum in the peninsula in the wake of the revolution.
As result of these developments, arms shipments to the Strip have been surging in recent months: Everything that has been sent by the Iranians and their emissaries in recent years and was hidden by the Bedouins - who waited for an opportunity to pass it over to Hamas under Egypt’s nose - has flowed freely into Gaza in the past five months. Meanwhile, new shipments arrived and were transferred to Hamas and Islamic Jihad without delay or a need to hide them.
Consequently, terror groups in the Gaza Strip doubled their rocket arsenals. Today, according to highly credible sources, these organizations possess some 10,000 rockets of all types, a similar number to the Hezbollah arsenal in the Second Lebanon War.
While this is a disturbing figure, the overwhelming majority of rockets held by Hamas and its allies are short-range projectiles with relatively small warheads. However, Gaza terror groups, and mostly Hamas and Islamic Jihad, hold thousands of mid-range Grad rockets, and a few heavy Fajr rockets that have a range of some 65 kilometers (roughly 40 miles) and can reach the outskirts of Bat Yam, just south of Tel Aviv.
This means that in the next major clash in the Strip, Hamas and Islamic Jihad will be able to disrupt life not only in south-central Israel more than before, but also disrupt the orderly operations of IDF and Air Force basis in the area.
Moreover, from the beginning of the year, the Bedouins transferred into Gaza three times (!) the quantity of industrial explosives compared to the quantity handed over throughout 2010. The shipments included advanced explosives that would enable Gaza groups to produce more dangerous, destructive bombs than in the past. In addition to rockets and explosives, large quantities of anti-aircraft weapons – and mostly shoulder-held missiles and light artillery – were also smuggled into the Strip. Such arms were available in Gaza before but in small quantities. Now, the quantities are higher, creating a greater threat for Air Force choppers and jets.