Missiles for peace

Aviation Week reports that Hamas may be deploying antiship missiles along the Mediterranean coast. If so, rather than banking on the "peace process", Hamas may be preparing to ramp military operations up.

Israeli military analysts have revealed what could become a formidable addition to Hamas' arsenal: The missile fired from Gaza out to the Mediterranean last week and shown on Israel TV as a Hamas display, was not a Qassam as reported but could be a modified version of a Chinese C-802, possibly an Iranian shore-to-ship Nur C-802 missile, which is based on the Chinese "Silkworm." ...

Although defense experts doubt that such a weapon, due to its size could have been smuggled into Gaza through the tunnel system, there have been rumors of more sophisticated ordnance having been floated to Gaza in watertight containers dropped out of reach from the Israeli naval blockade. ... With its 120-km range and 165-kilo warhead, the C-802's mission would be to break Israel's 40 km blockade off Gaza's shoreline. This now seems the key objective of Tehran and the Palestinian Islamists in order to keep the ordnance supplies flowing into the depleted Hamas weapons depots, destroyed by Operation Cast Lead.

Some observers have suggested that Hamas has consistently been outfighting and outmaneuvering its rival forces. Hamas is no longer totally a Gaza based organization and may have the ability to expand into the West Bank.  Rather than weakening, it appears to be strengthening in some respects. Can the West build an alternative? Or must it in the end seek terms with Hamas, which is determined not to give it, unless one believes Jimmy Carter.

Frenetic Western diplomatic efforts have been focused on rebuilding Gaza under the control of the PA's West Bank leadership as a prelude to a final settlement. Washington and European powers have already committed several billion dollars to Gaza's reconstruction. They are anxious for a final settlement, and European leaders led by French President Nicholas Sarkozy are reportedly even willing to recognize Hamas in the context of a Fatah-Hamas unity government.73 Special UN envoy Tony Blair has also expressed his support for the idea.74 However, the current realities in Gaza may frustrate Western diplomatic plans.

It is far from clear that under current conditions any constellation of Fatah forces could successfully restore stability in Gaza, hope for Gazans, and long-term security for Israel. Despite the important yet limited security and economic reforms PA Prime Minister Fayyad has undertaken in the West Bank, the Palestinian public, both in Gaza and the West Bank, are far from confident that Fatah is anything but an incorrigibly corrupt and brutal regime that continues to be rewarded with billions of dollars from the U.S., Europe, and Israel. Since the cease-fire, some senior Fatah leaders have allegedly moved quickly to set up "straw" construction and contracting firms in the hope that the estimated $2.5 billion earmarked for rebuilding Gaza will be funneled through the PA and its privileged elites in Ramallah.75 Indeed, the Fatah-led P.A. will need to do much confidence-building to earn the trust of the Palestinian public.

The United States and the West must avoid the temptation of once again blindly relying on Fatah as the sole security and reconstruction subcontractor for Gaza. The Obama administration must implement tough and verifiable directives to facilitate internal Palestinian housecleaning: no militias, good governance, complete accountability, full transparency, effectiveness, and zero tolerance for corruption, gangsterism, and terror within PA ranks in Gaza and the West Bank. These steps are critical for the future of the Palestinian project and take immediate precedence over current negotiations with Israel.

The need to impose a "housecleaning" on Fatah at this late date suggests the need to embark on a similar housecleaning of the Western diplomatic and intelligence agencies responsible for managing proxy warfare in the area. If Hamas succeeds in deploying anti-ship missiles, even on a limited scale, it will be a warning that something in the Western plan isn't working.