Israel Fears Fight against Hamas; Sees Iran's Hand in Fortification

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Byline: Abraham Rabinovich, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

JERUSALEM - Israeli officials fear Hamas is busily fortifying the Gaza Strip with the help of Iranian expertise and funding for what may be the fiercest fighting that embattled enclave has ever seen.

"They're digging bunkers and tunnels 20 meters underground equipped with air conditioning," Brig. Gen. Shalom Harari, a retired Israeli intelligence officer said in a recent lecture at Middle East Media Research Institute in Jerusalem. "That's something the Iranians taught them."

Since Israel's withdrawal from Gaza a year and a half ago, hundreds of Hamas fighters have made their way to Iran for intensive military training sometimes lasting months, Yuval Diskin, head of the Shin Bet security service, told the Israeli parliament.

Mr. Diskin said that militants last year smuggled more than 30 tons of explosives into the Gaza Strip, mostly through tunnels from Egypt. According to a widely reported Israeli assessment, there are 120,000 automatic weapons in Palestinian hands in the 25-mile-long strip.

Mr. Diskin also told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in testimony last week that Hamas has significantly upgraded its rocket arsenal and is capable of hitting Israeli towns more than 10 miles inside Israel.

Reports of a Hamas arms buildup in Gaza have been featured prominently in the Israeli press in recent weeks, with comparisons to last summer's war with Hezbollah guerrillas in Southern Lebanon that ended inconclusively.

"Hamas and Iran have formed a strategic alliance," said Gen. Harari. "Iran sees Hamas as part of a pincer aimed at Israel."

Iran is also funding militant groups in the West Bank, which borders Israel's heartland.

However, Israeli forces are still deployed in the West Bank and their almost nightly arrests of militants have prevented Hamas from gaining traction there. …