November 19, 2012

Where Does Sudan Fit Into Gaza's Endgame?

On Saturday The New York Times reported one of the primary objectives of Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip: Fajr-5 rockets capable of hitting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. These rockets are allegedly shipped into Gaza via a complex smuggling chain, imported to Sudan in pieces and transported through Egypt before being assembled in Gaza by Hamas and Iranian arms experts. Each is then assigned a "special operator" to man his rocket on the "day of judgment" at the orders of Hamas's political leadership.

Problematically for Hamas, its "tie-breaker" broke minutes after an Israeli air strike terminated its senior military strategist, Ahmed Jabari.

The pinpoint destruction of Hamas's Iranian-manufactured Fajr-5 rockets, which range to 50 miles, appears to be the greatest tactical blow suffered thus far by the group (Hamas also lost its internal UAV plant). According to the Times, "most" of an estimated 100 rockets were destroyed in the first bombing waves; anonymous Israeli officials place their figure at a modest 20, leaving the probable number somewhere in between. The means of destruction, though, count more than its end. Largely a creation of Jabari, each piece of Hamas's stockpile had been monitored and tagged over several years by IDF intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi.

"The innocent-looking launching sites, covered by soil, were supposed to go into action when the time came,” Al-Monitor reports. "However, the IDF was ahead of them: Just a few minutes following the targeting and killing of Jabari, the second wave of air strikes was already underway and within a quarter of an hour, virtually the entire lineup of Fajr-5 rockets was eliminated."

The upshot is that Hamas need more rockets and will almost certainly find a way to smuggle them in, taking into account Israel's sophisticated intelligence network. This development advances the question of what role, if any, Sudan's government plans to play in Gaza's renewed fighting.

Khartoum's likeliest immediate answer won't extend beyond political rancor. Shortly after Jabari's assassination, Sudanese President Omar Bashir called Israel the “Zionist enemy” that “will remain the enemy" of Sudan and Muslims. Sudan's Foreign Minister, Ali Karti, followed up his boss's rhetoric by calling for the Arab League's heads of state to hold an emergency summit. Raising more eyebrows, Hamas's Khalid Meshal popped up at Khartoum's Armed Forces Mosque after Friday Prayers, vowing retaliation for the Israeli strike on Yarmouk Ammunition Factory.

"You killed Jabari and you can go on and kill Mashaal and others," the defiant chairman told his audience, "but in the end it'll pave our way to Jerusalem… Assassinating our leaders will only make us more powerful."

Meshal boasted that the Sudanese people will "hear good news soon," and the emptiness of his promise is easily taken for granted. Yet the situation's terms do appear to be evolving and Israeli security observers believe that last month's attack on Yarmouk brought Sudan directly into the conflict. This preemptive raid and its warning shot now marks Israel's latest operation in Gaza, and is fortunately enjoying a large share of retrospective observation as a result. While Israel has targeted Sudanese interests throughout the last decade with minimal consequences, the accumulation of grievances and interconnectivity of Israel's relations with the Arab world cannot be underestimated either.

This is not to say that, in the event of an Israeli ground invasion, Sudan will assume any direct combat or support role for Hamas. What should be expected is renewed effort to outsmart the Israelis, improve the defenses of Hamas's armories and stock them with more advanced weaponry. Neither Iran nor Sudan's government will be deterred by Israeli military action, which also serves domestic interests, and Hamas isn't built to quit armed resistance. Rocket fire has yet to abate in the face of over 1,000 airstrikes. Both sides, in the end, are playing into each other's hands and maintaining a regional stalemate.

Gaza's current battle may burn out soon or rage for weeks, but one conclusion is already apparent: Hamas will re-up its weapons and replace Jalabi, leaving the region more hostile for all peoples. How the group refills its army is something to monitor until Gaza's next battle.

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