After five days of non-stop missile fire on a dozen towns and villages, Israel Thursday night, March 15, gave Egypt and Hamas two days to halt the shooting or else the Israeli Defense Forces would go into action against Gaza. DEBKAfile’s military sources report that neither Egypt nor Hamas can be expected to go up against the missile shooters now. The attacks have now been taken over from Jihad Islami by a small group of Salafi Palestinians calling itself Haraka Muhaheddin, which belongs to Jalalat, the al Qaeda roof organization in the Gaza Strip.
Most of the missiles are now coming from the Salafi concentrations in the southern part of the enclave –targeting Beersheba and Netivot Thursday morning and as night fell aimed at Ashdod, Ashkelon, Shear Hanegev and the Eshkol region. The firing escalated after Israel laid down its ultimatum
Egypt and Hamas don’t know exactly who is giving Haraka the missiles, except that they are smuggled from Sinai through tunnels managed by Iranian intelligence agents in conjunction with local al Qaeda networks.
It is highly unlikely that Hamas will venture to lay hands on these Salafi terrorists at a time when one of its top officials in Gaza, Mahmoud A-Zahar, is visiting Tehran for talks with Iranian leaders who are keen to keep the missile assaults going.
His visit marks the Hamas fundamentalists’ return to the Iranian fold - that is if they ever really left it. This, Israeli strategists have chosen to ignore and are treating Hamas as a non-participant in the missile offensive and available to help Cairo bring the terrorists to accept a ceasefire.
The sequence of events leading up to this week’s violence points to the opposite conclusion and, therefore, the probable escalation of the violence rather than a truce.
Five days before the missile fire began, on March 5, a Hamas Deputy Politburo Chief Mousa Abu Marzouk and Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah met in Beirut and finalized tactics for building up tensions on Israel’s borders.
Monday, March 12, Mahmoud A-Zahar was in Cairo to wind up Gaza ceasefire terms with Egyptian officials when, to their astonishment, instead of returning to Gaza, he boarded a plane to Tehran. He is still there.
And so, while the Egyptians try and reach some sort of accommodation with Hamas for a truce, Hamas itself is in close communion with the Iranians, who want to see the Israeli military stuck in a messy a showdown with the Palestinian Salafis.