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While Hamas had for years been keen on hiding how it was receiving its weapons and combat equipment from outside the Palestinian territories, it decided to unveil, for the first time ever, some of these security and military secrets in 2020.
The program “What is Hidden is Greater” broadcast by the Qatari Al Jazeera channel on Sept. 13, 2020 presented exclusive footage showing members of Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, collecting Iranian Fajr missiles and Kornet Anti-Tank shells. Hamas said the movement received those weapons by land and sea, bypassing military bases, aviation and maritime patrols, and it revealed the manufacturing of new missiles constructed of Israeli missile remnants from the 2014 war on Gaza.
The program was presented by Palestinian journalist Tamer al-Mashal and hosted by Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, and a number of Hamas military leaders.
Rami Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian military expert and part-time researcher at the Egyptian Institute for Studies, told Al-Monitor, “Hamas’ sudden disclosure aims to prove that the [Israeli] siege on Gaza has not prevented it from developing its military infrastructure, given the strenuous efforts it has been deploying to confront Israeli plans to prevent the arrival of weapons and ammunition supplies and to manufacture whatever missile components are available locally. This comes at a time when Arab-Israeli cooperation has emerged in a bid to weaken the Iranian-led axis of resistance that includes Syria, Gaza and Lebanon. It also comes in light of new alliances in the region to place pressure on Hamas.”
Meanwhile, an arms dealer in Gaza revealed to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that “the military factions in Gaza, headed by Hamas, possess distinct types of Iranian R-160 and Fajr-5 missiles with a range of 100 kilometers (62 miles). They also have drones and anti-tank missiles and shoulder-launched rockets produced by Russia. They also plan to acquire Chinese C-704 missiles, anti-ship missiles with a range of 35 kilometers (21 miles) and radar systems for guided missiles.”
The Israeli Ministry of Defense has issued several reports about weapons smuggled into Gaza in special packages delivered by speedboats from Egyptian and Lebanese ports and left in the Mediterranean Sea, or in barrels thrown from a specific distance into the water within accurate measurements of the water movement and air currents capable of leading them to the shores of Gaza. It is very difficult to stop such operations because it is impossible to monitor every centimeter of the coast to try to find such small packages, according to the ministry.
Hussam al-Dajani, a political science professor at Al-Ummah University in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “The timing of Hamas’ disclosure of its military secrets is not spontaneous, as it coincides with important events. Chief among these is the regional and international struggle over gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean and the show of naval strength in the region. Second, it comes at a time when the Palestinian factions held a meeting in Beirut. Third, it coincided with the anniversary of the 1993 Oslo Accord and the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. Fourth, it coincided with the normalization of some Arab countries’ relations with Israel.
A Hamas official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “There seems to be a link between the timing of Hamas’ revelations on Sept. 13 and the signing of the peace agreements between Israel on the one hand [and] the UAE and Bahrain on the other in Washington on Sept. 15. Hamas may be responding to these agreements by showing off its military [strength] against Israel, as the timing also coincides with the 15th anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 — as if it was a message from Hamas that the withdrawal was a result of its military operations against the Israeli army and settlers.”
Israeli military expert Amir Bohbot revealed in a report published by Israel’s Walla News website April 3 said that in 2006, Iran opened a route to smuggle missiles and ammunition to Hamas in the Gaza Strip through Yemen and Sudan, thousands of kilometers from the Israeli coast.
Bohbot, who received his information from Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, said the maritime arms smuggling route starts from Iran toward Yemen, and from there reaches Sudan. Yemen and Sudan are on opposite sides of the Red Sea. From Sudan trucks head for the desert on a 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) journey to Egypt, where smugglers cross the Suez Canal and transport the weapons throughthe tunnels dug under the Gaza Strip with the help of Bedouins. He said smugglers routinely move weapons from Sudan on behalf of Hamas.
The Israeli report about the smuggling route coincided with two important regional developments related to Hamas’ arms smuggling operations. The first is that Sudan, a key corridor for Hamas’ weapons supplies, approved on April 6 a bill abolishing a law on boycotting Israel. The second is the attack — believed to have been carried out by Israel — on an intelligence-gathering vessel linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps off the western coast of Yemen in the Red Sea the evening of April 6 in tandem with the launch of US-Iranian indirect talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. The area is one of the routes by which weapons move from Iran to Hamas.
Rami Abu Zubaydah, an expert on Hamas military affairs who writes for Al Jazeera, told Al-Monitor, “The reason for the Israeli disclosure of Hamas’ weapons smuggling maritime routes comes to provoke international public opinion against Hamas and Iran. Meanwhile, Hamas is exerting all efforts to come up with new ways of securing weapons into Gaza discreetly, given the sensitivity of its security information. Hamas relies on complete secrecy regarding such sensitive issues.
An arms smuggler who deals with Hamas in the Gaza Strip told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that weapons reach Sinai on their way to Gaza after being shipped to Sudan or Somalia, “then to Egypt, where smugglers transport it by land to Sinai, and from there Bedouins specialized in smuggling deliver the shipment to Gaza through tunnels. The second route is through the Iranian Revolutionary Guards who send weapons through the Suez Canal all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, where Iranian ships dock off the coast of Gaza in Egyptian territorial waters. When night sets, Hamas frogmen transport the weapons in closed containers.”