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According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, the two missiles which reached the southern part of Ashkelon Tuesday, March 6, were range-finding exercises for the new weapons.
Their manufacturers, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, have overcome the snag which held the radius of Palestinian missiles down to 12-13 km from Gaza and upgraded it to 19 km. Another quarter of a million civilians are now threatened, the populations of the port-resort of Ashkelon, Netivot, Ofakim and the outskirts of Kiryat Gat, as well as important military bases in central Israel. Hamas and Jihad Islami, which took delivery of the new weapons, can now match Hizballah attacks on northern Israel with missile barrages against Israel’s Southwest and its central heartland.
Tehran, Hizballah, Hamas and Jihad Islami are making good use of the Israeli government’s compulsive activity in the fending off of domestic criticism for its performance in the Lebanon War of summer 2006 - and infighting in general. They are building up the Palestinian war machine gun by gun, missile by missile and bunker by bunker, unhindered by Israeli military intervention.
As the Olmert government’s negligence in preparing the north for the Lebanon war last summer unfolds, another quarter of a million Israelis find themselves unprotected in the face of the expanding Palestinian threat from Gaza. Olmert and his ministers have not delivered on pledges of generous allocations for protective measures and better shelters, especially for the schools of long- beleaguered Sderot.
Israelis living around the Gaza Strip are watching tensely as Hamas and Jihad Islami missile crews test-fire their new Iranian missiles, aware that their range and precision are improved.
For the moment, the Palestinian terrorist groups are only firing scattered missile volleys; they are not yet ready to let loose against Israeli targets for three reasons.
1. Hamas and Jihad Islami are not yet ready to show their hand; they therefore test-fire the new missiles from deep inside the Gaza so that they land harmlessly in the sand dunes outside Ashkelon. They know that as long as no one is hurt, the Israeli army is under orders to stand aside.
2. Their leaders do not want to provoke an Israeli invasion of Gaza at this time.
Neither has yet perfected its war preparations. More funding and arms consignments are awaited from Iran, to top up their military arsenal and complete their underground fortress. (See separate item on this page).
3. Hamas does not want to break up its unity negotiations with Fatah. Its leaders prefer to keep the talks going on a low fire to mask their war preparations; damaging missile attacks against an Israeli town would derail the process.
DEBKAfile’s Middle East sources add: Both Hamas and Fatah have admitted that their power-sharing talks serve merely to keep the lid on their disagreements, although the next armed clash is only a matter of time.
A Palestinian source told DEBKAfile: “The talks between (Palestinian Authority Chairman) Mahmoud Abbas and (Hamas prime minister) Ismail Haniyeh will go on desultorily until one side or the other feels strong enough to break away and resort to violence.
Those sources stress that, for the Palestinians, the first target for any violence is Israel - especially that now they have at last got hold of missiles which can reach deep inside Israel.