Intelligence officer: Islamic State in league with Hamas to create Gaza smuggling route
Southern Command's intelligence officer tells Ynet that isolation has led Hamas to cooperate with its rival as it lays the groundwork for its next campaign against Israel – and that this was the motive for last week's assault on Egyptian troops.
A year after Operation Protective Edge, an IDF Southern Command's intelligence officer says the isolation of Hamas has led it to forge an alliance with its rivals – such as an agreement between the rulers of Hamas and the Islamic State's affiliate in the Sinai to create a smuggling route for rocket-building materials.
Last week's terror attack on Egyptian security forces by the local Islamic State affiliate targeted 15 points between Arish and Rafah, said the officer, Colonel A.
"This attack intended to open a smuggling route into the Gaza Strip for Hamas," he said. "In exchange, ISIS gets various resources from Hamas."
The cooperation is going on despite the persistent struggle between Hamas and Salafi elements affiliated with IS inside the Gaza Strip, added A.
Hamas is first and foremost geographically isolated. Egypt has intensified this isolation through its nearly hermetic closure of Rafah Crossing and its military's operation at the Rafah border to destroy smuggling tunnels and to create a buffer zone between the Egyptian and Palestinian sides of Rafah.
This isolation damaged the ability of Hamas to build up its military capabilities. "The buffer zone cause a problem for Hamas," said A.
"Some processes were somewhat slowed down. It's much harder today for Hamas to do what it did in the past, that is, to carry out smuggling of significant amounts of raw materials to produce rockets. Every such smuggling incident became a special operation."
Hamas is also accepting aid from Iran, said the officer. "The military wing turned to Iran to get financial assistance to allow it to build up ahead of the next campaign against Israel, in contrast to the general sentiment in the movement that prefers the Saudi axis to the Iranian one.
" These are sums the military wing will not get from the organization's budget, and when there's no alternative at home – they turn to the Iranians, who supply the money because they are first of all interested in a foothold against Israel in every possible sphere."
Soon after Operation Protective Edge ended, A. and his wife got together with a group of friends. While the last thing he wanted was to talk about the operation, the friends wanted to hear about the officer's experiences.
Conversation turned to whether Israel had won, and A. remained silent. But by the end of the evening, he found he couldn't hold back. "The military operation we conducted was broad and substantial," he told them. "Hamas did not imagine it would suffer such a major blow. They tell you the truth, the whole truth, and you don't believe it."
Col. A. appears to believe this to the core. "It was Khaled Mashal who defined his seven goals in the campaign, and he didn't get even one of them," he told Ynet a year after the end of the operation. "So how can we tell ourselves we didn't win?"
The major blow of which A. spoke was partly achieved with the help of long-term, far-reaching intelligence work that went on for years. He measures the operation's success by, among other things, the amount of time that will pass before the next campaign in Gaza.
"I don't see a high probability in the near future, certainly not in the coming months, of opening another campaign," he said. "I don't think there is an element within Hamas pushing for escalation today, not in the political wing and not in the military wing."
In contrast to concerns raised by some, he rejects the idea that the group's military wing could make an independent decision that will lead to escalation. "I think the military wing won't embark on a raid or another major terror attack that would lead to a campaign without the political wing being aware of it."
It's clear that A. does not underestimate Hamas and its capabilities. To the contrary – it seems that his esteem for the group and its leaders allows him to more easily spot their weak points. "Hamas learned significant lessons at the end of the campaign," he said.
"Its buildup of force began only a few months after the end of the operation and not right after it," he explained, meaning Hamas created an organized plan for the next round of fighting with Israel and is building its military strength in accordance.
"Today, Hamas has no problem carrying a military campaign against Israel," said A, and said the group sped up the restoration of its military capabilities in accordance with this idea. "But it has a way to go before it can conduct a quality campaign that will lead it to significant accomplishments," he explained. "Does it want to conduct a campaign with the capabilities it has attained until now? I think not."
According to A., Hamas is implementing a lesson from the last campaign and focusing on high trajectory fire, meaning short-range rockets and mortars, with the understanding that this type of fire is most effective against the Iron Dome system. The group's arms industry is attempting to expand the amount of explosives mounted on the short-range rockets while simultaneously improving their accuracy.
"Hamas understood that the intensity of the high trajectory fire is what affects the level of damage to the daily lives of citizens in Israel, and not the damage in lives or property," said A. "Therefore, it will never abandon this capability," he determined.
"The rockets allow it to conduct a campaign because it can use them at any point in time and within almost any range. If it wants to conduct a campaign, it will divide the number of rockets it has by the number of days it expects the campaign to last, and fire them according to an organized plan."
A year after Operation Protective Edge, Col. A. is set to be released from the IDF in the coming weeks. Shortly after publication of the UN Human Rights Commission's report on the conflict and weeks after testimony by soldiers from Breaking the Silence, he views the operation with satisfaction and emphasizes that the IDF dealt a severe blow to Hamas while behaving ethically.
"We hit 2,000 people in the operation," he said. "I guarantee, as the Southern Command's intelligence officer, that at least half of them were terror operatives. Show me anywhere in the world, especially in the West, a hit ratio of at least 1:1 in the most complex campaign in the most complex terrain that is possible. Is that not an ethical army? We could have had much more significant accomplishments, but we refrained from pursuing them only because we acted as an ethical army.