When the former Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Ethan Bronner returned to his old beat this week, his first dispatch started with this eyebrow-raising sentence:
When Israel assassinated the top Hamas military commander in Gaza [Ahmed Jabari] on Wednesday, setting off the current round of fierce fighting, it was aiming not just at a Palestinian leader but at a supply line of rockets from Iran that have for the first time given Hamas the ability to strike as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
The connection between Hamas and Iran isn’t a secret, everyone seems to know that the sophisticated long-range Fajr-5 missiles that are putting Tel Aviv on alert didn’t come from the crude workshops of Gaza. But the Hamas-Iran link, reported so intricately by the likes of the Times, still startles and places into context much of what’s been happening beyond the borders of the Levant.
Bronner expounds on how Fajr-5 missiles arrived in Gaza:
Hamas had perhaps 100 of them until the Israeli attacks last week, which appear to have destroyed most of the stockpile. The rockets are assembled locally after being shipped from Iran to Sudan, trucked across the desert through Egypt, broken down into parts and moved through Sinai tunnels into Gaza, according to senior Israeli security officials.
The smuggling route involves salaried employees from Hamas along the way, Iranian technical experts traveling on forged passports and government approval in Sudan, Israeli officials said.
Mr. Jabari’s strategy has been so effective and alarming for Israel that it is preparing for a possible next stage in the four-day-old battle: a ground war in which its troops would seek to destroy remaining rocket launching bases and crews and munitions factories.
How did Israeli intelligence know where the missiles were? As it turns out, they’d been tracking them very closely. From al-Monitor:
All through that time, IDF intelligence analyzed the data collected and charted the map of rocket deployment, detailing the exact location of each one, its type, where it was pointed and the nature of its immediate surroundings. Once the intelligence elements identified each rocket and its surrounding area, the information was passed on to the Israel air force.
In this way, an accurate bank of targets was prepared in the course of over a year. The innocent-looking launching sites, covered by soil, were supposed to go into action when the time came. However, the IDF was ahead of them: Just a few minutes following the targeting and killing of Jabari, the second wave of air strikes was already underway and within a quarter of an hour, virtually the entire lineup of Fajr-5 rockets was eliminated.
All of this likely explain why weapons factories in Sudan are being blown up and, apparently, why the certain intelligence agencies are troubling themselves enough to pull off risky hits on Hamas weapon-makers in Dubai hotels.
While even Hamas officials have been forthcoming about how their abandonment of the Assad regime in Syrian civil war has cost them in their relationship with Iran, Israel in its actions in Operation Pillar of Defense is sending Iran a message too.
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.