One of the most dangerous developments is currently emerging, following Israel's elimination of the Gaza Hamas leadership, earlier this year.
Having created a power vaccum in the traditional Islamic fundamentalist organisations, it paved the way for the Iranian sponsored Hezbollah to enter the Palestinian Intifada as an active player.
This trend, which has been monitored by Israeli intelligence since 2001, has grown into dangerous proportions after the removal of Saddam Hussein, who had maintained, for many years, the dominant funding source fueling the Palestinian campaign.
Now, with Saddam's regime gone, the Tehran Ayathollahs have moved into this void, becoming the major source, through their Lebanese Hezbollah proxies, providing financial, technical and moral support for the Palestinian factions fighting Israel.
Behind this move, the Ayathollas aim to achieve, their sofar unattained strategic goal, to gain a strong foothold in the Eastern Mediterranean, propagating their political influence in this region. The so-called "Hezbollahland" in South Lebanon, which is under full Shi'ite control since May 2000, when the IDF withdrew from its 'Security Zone', is already a firmly established Iranian outpost, with Hezbollah threatening Israel's northern region through its huge arsenal of short, medium and long range rockets, supplied by Iran.
Ariel Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan for the Gaza Strip is actually providing Tehran's leadership with the second stage of their strategic plan, to confront Israel in a two-, if not three-frontal strategic threat, a perfect scene for a shrewd political blackmailing campaign, which could place the Ayathollahs as dominant actors in the future Mid-East powerplay.
Hamas fits neatly into the Iranian plans, playing a dominant role in Middle Eastern politics. By filling the power vacuum created in Hamas by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin's assassination, Hezbollah was given the unique opportunity to consolidate its position in the Gaza Strip.
A repeat performance of the UN sponsored 'Blue Line' fiasco along the Lebanese-Israeli international border could easily follow under the chaotic turmoil, which will certainly emerge after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.
The Lebanese authorities, unable, or refusing to take control of South Lebanon in May 2000, created Hezbollaland shaping soon, with Iranian help and Syrian acquiesce, into a dangerous strategic threat to Israel.
In the Gaza strip there is not even a central authority available. The 'streets' are controlled by armed militias, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the the Popular Resistance Committees, all currently funded by Hezbollah. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA), although still maintaining a strong security apparatus,
is actually a 'Paper Tiger', unable, or unwilling to exercise its power against the powerful local Islamic fundamentalist warlords.
The coffers of the Palestinian Authority are virtually empty. The corrupt Fatah-Tunis leadership has wasted most of the huge financial assistance to fill its own pockets.
Thus, with the PNA virtually bankrupt, Iran, Syria using their proxy Hezbollah, are now more and more dominating the local scene in all aspects of life in the occupied territories. The once central leadership in Ramallah, has lost its control to local warlords and in the West Bank cities, total chaos rules the streets.
Such a situation can only forebode more dangerous escalation in the endless circle of violence, enhancing the suffering of the two people involved, but would ideally serve the vicious goals in Tehran.
Hezbollah publicly admits supporting Palestinian terrorists
Until recently, Hezbollah was careful to play down the aid it gave Palestinian terrorists and certainly never boasted of it in public.
Then, on the morning of July 19, a bomb killed Ghaleb Awali, 40, outside his home in the Muadad quarter, right in the so-called Shi'ite inner sanctum stronghold of Beirut. According to intelligence sources, Ghaleb Awali ( his nome de guerre "Hajj") headed the highly secret Hezbollah "Special group" working under guidance of the notorious Imad Mughniyeh. Awali was in direct contact with senior Fatah-Tanzim officials in the West Bank and Hamas leaders in the Gaza strip.
Although a little known terrorist group calling itself "Jund Ash Sham" claimed responsibility for the killing, Hezbollah immediately accused Mossad.
Jund As Sham is a Sunni splinter group of Osbat al-Nour, which is considered more radical than Hamas and PIJ. Active from the Palestinian refugee camp Ayn al Hilwah on the Lebanese coast, under the 'wings' of Colonel Mounir Maqdah, the camp's strongman. Some of its members include remnants of the disbanded Takfir wal Hijra group, which were involved in the 2000 clashes with Lebanese security forces at Dinnieh, north of Tripoli. Unconfirmed reports indicate relations with an Iraqi active terrorist cell named Jund ash-Islam, which is linked to Osama Bin Laden's AlQaeda.
After the death of Awali who had been a Hezbollah activist directing Palestinian terrorist squads in the PA-administered territories, an enraged Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah publicly announced, for the first time, that his organization was providing support for the insurgents in "occupied Palestine."
In the eulogy he delivered at Awali's funeral, Nasrallah said: "Today we declare Ghaleb Awali a shaheed [martyr for the sake of Allah] of Lebanon. He is also a shaheed of Palestine. That is because Ghaleb Awali was, like Ali Hussein Salah (killed by a similar blast in August 2003) , one of those who devoted the last years of their lives to helping our brothers in occupied Palestine. We do not wish to hide the truth. We state it openly and proudly. Today Ghaleb Awali died for Palestine. He died for Jerusalem. He died for Al-Aqsa. He died confronting the Zionist enterprise…" (Al-Manar Hezbollah TV, Lebanon, July 19, 2004).
Nasrallah's speech drew harsh criticism from within Lebanon . An editorial in the popular Lebanese newspaper Al-Nahar ( Al-Nahar Internet site, July 21, 2004) attacked the speech and the negative influence Hezbollah's aid to Palestinian terrorism was likely to have on Syria and Lebanon. Al-Nahar commentator Sarkis Naoum wrote,
"Worse than what Nasrallah said about [Ghaleb] Awali's death was that he revealed his role in the organization and exposed his part in coordinating between the Islamic resistance in Lebanon and the Palestinian resistance in occupied Palestine. The gravity of the revelation, which was like a kind of admission, is that it confirmed the long-standing Israeli and American accusations that the organization [Hezbollah] 'is involved' in the Palestinian issue and in the Palestinian resistance, arms it, trains it, funds it, and recruits members…"
Hezbollah's Infiltration into the Westbank and Gaza Strip
Although Hezbollah efforts to infiltrate Israel are not new, the current trend of its growing involvement in actively supporting the Intifada is causing the Israeli security community considerable concern.
In a recently declassified document, the Israel Security Agency ( ISA-formerly GSS), renders a rare glimpse into the makings of Hezbollah's activities in the West Bank and Gaza.
In a large scale seek and grab operation in the Nablus Qasbah, Saturday June 24, the IDF oncovered a secret hide-out in a concrete underground bunker. In it were hiding the three top leaders of the local Al Aqsa Brigades, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. All were killed after a short firefight by handgrenades lobbed into the cache.Naef Abu Sharh, the head of the Al Aqsa brigade in Nablus and a key link to Hezbollah in the West Bank, was the prime target of the raid. According to ISA reports, Abu Sharh maintained close relations with Nafez A'araj, a former Palestinian Islamic Jihad activists and currently Hezbollah link in Gaza, who manages the Hezbollah sponsored Al Ansar Charity Association which is funding families of suicide bombers and Palestinian prisoners. Al Ansar personal accounts found in Nablus banks were under the name of Yamam Faraj, a senior fugitive, head of the PFLP military infrastructure in Nablus, as well as Naef Abu Sharh were recently uncovered in a raid.
On 15 December 2003, the ISA had uncovered a dangerous terrorist cell in the Gaza Strip which was directly operated by Hezbollah agents. The leader of this cell, Shadi Abu Alhatzin, a 22-year old Khan Yunis resident, was arrested while preparing a remote controlled unmanned aerial platform packed with explosives to attack an Israeli position. His personal details are of interest, as they indicate a dangerous trend which is developing in the territories.
Alhatzin, married and father of two children was born in Yemen in 1981 to a Palestinian father and lebanese mother. He came with his family to Gaza in 1991 settling in Khan Yunis studying pharmacology at the Khan Yunis technical college. Joining the Fatah-affiliated " Shabiba" youth movement, he received
his first military training, in Hamas summer camps.
Under ISA interrogation Alhatzin admitted that he first became exposed to Hezbollah activities by watching Al Manar TV broadcasts, which listed an e-mail address for interested candidates whishing to join the organisation.
In 2000 Shadi made contact with Hezbollah via a Lebanese relative, Hassan Dukmak, who willingly sent him funds to finance his activities in Gaza.
A local Hezbollah agent then took over jointly establishing the Khan Yunis cell, which perpetrated several rocket, mortar and shooting attacks in the Gaza Strip against Israeli settlements and IDF positions. Alhatzin's links with his Hezbollah contacts in Lebanon were carried out via e-mail, which instructed him to expand the Khan Yunis cell, enhancing its capabilities.
In 2002 Shadi received instructions to build an explosive-laden model airplane in order to fly this into an Israeli position ( see JTIC 24 February 2003 Exploding Toy Planes). Several thousand dollars were transferred to secret accounts in Gaza banks to purchase machine tools and cover production costs.
During that time, Alhatzin tried twice to dispatch personal emissaries to Lebanon for special sabotage training. Bassam Abu Nimr, 38 from Khan Yunis and Ismail Garabeli, 30 from Rafah-were arrested by the ISA on their return from Egypt.
Garabeli admitted to his interrogators, that he met with a Hezbollah agent in Cairo, who gave him $700 and a flight ticket to Turkey, where he would be ferried to a Hezbollah training camp in the Lebanese Beqa'a Valley.
For several years Hezbollah has been instructing Palestinian activists in its IRGC- run training camps. Hamas recruits underwent basic military and sabotage courses at the Iranian Revolutionary Guards training facility at Jenata Camp in the Beqa'a, coordinated by Brigadier General Ali Reza Tamizi, who was the officer in charge of the IRGC in Lebanon. Included in the instruction program was the operation of SA-7 Strela, short range Katyusha rockets and shoulder launched RPG. A key figure in this Iranian sponsored activity, was the charismatic Fatah commander in Lebanon, Colonel Munir Al-Makdah, the actual go-between Hamas and Hezbollah.
The lethal results of this advanced training had already surfaced in 2002, when Hamas managed to blow up two IDF Merkava Mk3 tanks by ultra-heavy IEDs culminating last May, by the fearful destruction of the two IDF explosive laden M113 APCs through RPG in Zaytoun and Rafah.
The February 2004 bulletin issued by the Center for Special Studies (CSS), which is the official organ of the Israeli intelligence community, reveals the growing level of Hezbollah's involvement in a special study.
According to CSS, Jordan has become a significant platform for launching Hezbollah intelligence activities in the West Bank.
Ibrahim Ajwa,48 a Jordanian resident, heads the Abu Mousa Fatah terror network in Amman.
The Abu Mousa faction broke away from the Fatah mainstream organisation
in 1983, its leader, a former Fatah colonel resides in Damascus and maintains close ties with Hezbollah.
The recent arrest of three Nablus-based Fatah activists-all brothers-, led to links of extensive financial assistance rendered to the Palestinian Intifada by the Iranian Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC). Channeling funds through Hezbollah operatives in Jordan, huge sums were transferred to secret Ramallah based bank accounts, some of which were seized by the controversial IDF/ISA operation last February.
On July 2003, Fadi Nazmi Hamdi Abuda, a key Fatah Tanzim operative was arrested in an IDF raid. Fadi served as general secretary of the Fatah student's movement, the "Shabibah" at Al-Najah university Nablus, one of the key centers of Palestinian terrorist activities in the West Bank. Under interrogation, Fadi revealed his contacts with Fouad Balbisi, a Fatah activist operating from Amman, Jordan. Balbisi acts as coordinator of links between Fatah and Iran, funneling funds via Hezbollah bank accounts in Beirut.
Another contact of Fadi was Ali Hussein Saleh, a key operative with the Lebanon based IRGC. Israeli intelligence suspected Saleh to act as liaison between Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist cells in the West Bank. Last August, Hussein Saleh was killed by a mysterious explosion travelling in his car. The ISA report mentioned Saleh being the Lebanese contact to Kamel Taha Ahmad Ghanem, heading the Fatah Tanzim cell in Yassir Arafat's Muqata compound.
In December 2003 the ISA achieved a major coup, which could have lasting effect on Hezbollah activities in the West Bank. In a night raid on Hamas cells in Ramallah, last December, ISA arrested Haldun Ruhi Asfour Bargouti, of Syrian origin. Haldun told his interrogators that Hezbollah was attempting to infiltrate cell phones with inbuilt advanced GPS to Hamas. This new device, which can be operated from a car cigarette lighter socket, is highly accurate and experts believe that it could be used to range mortars or rockets onto high profile targets.
But Hezbollah activities in establishing its undercover cells in the Palestinian West Bank are not its only effort. For years, especially after Israel's withdrawal from South Lebanon, Hezbollah has been trying to build its independent infrastructure among the Israeli Arab community focusing foremost on the Galilee.
Two Israeli Arabs from Reine, near Nazareth gave evidence of their contacts with Hezbollah agents. Ghassan Athamlah was recruited to Hezbollah by a Jordanian representative of the Abu Mousa faction. Athamlah then sent his younger brother, Sirhan to a Hezbollah training camp in Lebanon, where he was taught the 'art' of sabotage, using high-grade C-4 explosives and weapons training. Sirhan was directed to perpetrate terrorist acts against Israeli targets, but was arrested on his return to Israel.
Hezbollah also recuited several Druse residents from villages in the north of Israel and the Golan Heights. The Alawite border village of Ghajar, which is divided between between Israel and Lebanon has become the key center of trans-border drug and arms smuggling operations.
In July 2002 a gang of drug dealers from Nazareth and Ghajar was arrested. Suspected of illegally selling computer software, maps and military equipment into Lebanon, and in return smuggled explosives, including Claymore mines from Hezbollah depots into the West Bank, they revealed their activities to their interrogators.
Their information led to the arrest of an IDF officer named Omar al-Hayb from the village of Beit-Zarzir, who had maintained long-time relations with Lebanese drug baron Kamil Nahara.
Israeli and Lebanese drug dealers often act as couriers between Hezbollah and their Israel based clandestine cells. One of these links was uncovered recently, when two detainees revealed smuggling Israeli mobile phones into Lebanon, with which Israeli cell-phone networks could be monitored. One of these was found on the body of a slain terrorist killed in an attack on northern Israel.
Last, but not least, Hezbollah has been involved in at least three major arms smuggling attempts by sea. The first of these was carried out on the MS Santorini, which was sized on on its third trip to Gaza on 6 May 2001.
Some interesting information was revealed since by a recent declassified ISA report, on this incident.
One of the Santorini crew, Dib Muhammad Rashid Awita told his interrogators that the original boat was registered in Syria under the name of MS Abd al-Hadi, based at Tartus port. Bought by Hezbollah agents and registered in Lebanon under its new name the Santorini evaded the Israeli navy blockade several times until finally caught on May 6, 2001.
The Santorini's last voyage was carefully prepared under a strict military operation, due to its valuable load. No less than 25 Hezbollah operatives secured the beach head, all nearby access roads were sealed off and the boat sailed escorted by Hezbollah Zodiacs until reaching high sea. In overall charge of the operation was Hezbollah commander Hajj Bassam.
A year later the IDF intercepted the largest yet Iranian-Hezbollah sponsored shipment of arms by seizing the Karine A in the Red Sea.
In May 2003 Israel captured an Egyptian fishing boat off Gaza, the Abu Hassan. On bord was Masalem Mussa Abu Amra a known Hezbollah explosive expert sent to Hamas in Gaza to instruct advanced IED technology. In his possession were found no less than 35 CD disks displaying instructions on explosive charge construction.
Hamas and Hezbollah Alliance in Gaza
Hezbollah's aims to infiltrate Hamas have for years been high on their strategic list. However, as long as Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was alive, its role was limited mainly to provide technical support to the Hamas military activities.
Yassin was not merely the principal founder of Hamas, but its prime spiritual leader, dominating its disciples by his charisma and reputation. Yassin strived to maintain Hamas independence throughout his leadership tenure, even when incarcerated in Israeli jails. He strongly opposed attempts by Iran and Hezbollah to directly intervene into Hamas activities, although he willingly accepted their technical and to some extent, after the closure of Saddam Hussein's lifeline, limited Iranian financial support.
All this changed rapidly after his demise. His immediate successor, Dr Abdelaziz Rantisi, quickly invited Hezbollah to play a guiding role in the Hamas Gaza branch, which was denied to them by Sheikh Yassin. The prospects of a dangerous 'unholy alliance' between Hezbollah and Hamas, was probably the decisive factor behind Israel's decision to eliminate Rantisi only shortly after his taking over the Hamas leadership in April.
But Rantisi's demise did not halt the Hezbollah gaining more and more influence in the Gaza Strip. Its image among the Gaza masses skyrocketed following Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah's monumental achievement to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in the dubious January exchange, something that the PNA had never managed to attain during all its negotiations with Israel.
Hezbollah's absorption of Hamas in Gaza, which is rapidly gaining momentum, will have enormous implications, as Sharon's disengagment plan is shaping into a timetable. While the Israelis are discussing pulling their troops out of the Gaza Strip and struggling with the settlers, whom they will have to evacuate, the Hezbollah is solidifying its hold. Their success in gaining a strong foothold before the Israelis leave, will render them to become the de facto power in Gaza, regardless of wether Hamas or the PNA will be in nominal control.
Having the experience from 18 years guerilla war against the IDF, the financial backing from Tehran and its ever growing links to Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, it hardly needs lots of imagination to estimate the new threat, which Israel will face, once Hezbollah deploys its rockets along the 80km border fence in Gaza.
Sofar, Hamas has been unable to extend the range of their Qassam rockets to reach Ashkelon, although a year ago first attempts to launch a 9km rocket did reach its southern outskirts. Hamas rocket experts, aided by Hezbollah instructors have managed to develop a +17km (?) Qassam- 3 rocket, which was test fired last August into the Mediterranean. This rocket could hit Ashkelon's center, in which over a hundred thousand Israelis live.
On June 18 Israel radio reported an advanced type of Qassam rocket hitting Sderot east of the Gaza Strip. Police officials mentioned this to be the first Nasser-3 rocket, carrying a heavier explosive payload, but maintaining its predecessors's limited range. The Nasser-3 could indicate that more developments in rocketry could be expected, as new technologies supplied by Hezbollah experts become available.
But a major threat of strategic proportions will become reality, once Hezbollah manages to enter its Katyusha type rockets into the Strip.
Israeli intelligence has already detected hidden depots of BM-21 rockets in northern Sinai, ready to be smuggled into the Gaza Strip. With their deployment, vital strategic targets, such as the power station at Ashkelon as well as Israel's major port of Ashdod will come within rocket fire range.
Should this trend not be eliminated in time, Israel will face a situation, which could threaten their north from Hezbollah in Lebanon, their center from Hezbolla-Fatah cells in the West Bank and Hezbollah-Hamas from the Gaza Strip.
No nation wishing to survive can tolerate such a mortal threat, without reacting drastically.