Slain Hamas chief built arsenal and enforced deals

21 Nov 2012 | The Age
HAMAS gives away little about the living, but in death there are nods of agreement that Ahmad al-Jabari was the military strategist who made an army with a serious arsenal out of a militia once armed with home-made rockets that some Israeli analysts dismissed as "flying stovepipes".

Much of the detail on the 51-year-old Jabari's success in rebuilding Hamas' military wing - the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades - is revealed by Israeli security sources who, as was proved by the targeting information they had for the strike on Jabari, still run a formidable informer network in Gaza.

The most sophisticated weapon known to be in the Hamas munitions bunkers, reportedly acquired this year, is the Iranian Fajr-5 rocket, which carries a 90-kilogram warhead and has a range of more than 70 kilometres - putting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in striking distance.

Israel estimates that Hamas had about 100 Fajr-5s, but claims to have destroyed many of them in the past week.

Unnamed Israeli security figures told The New York Times that trained crews used underground pads to launch the rockets, which were hauled from Iran to Sudan and then to Egypt, where they were broken into parts, which were then smuggled into Gaza by tunnel.

"The smuggling route involves salaried employees from Hamas along the way, Iranian technical experts travelling on forged passports and government approval in Sudan," the report said, giving credence to the widely held belief that an air strike on a Sudanese munitions factory at the end of October was an Israeli bid to halt the supply chain.

The Fajr-5 is a quantum leap from the early missiles Jabari's Gaza workshops produced in 2001. Called the Qassam-1, they flew erratically for just four kilometres, carrying a very small warhead. By 2005, the Qassam had evolved to a range of 12 kilometres and a warhead of 15 kilograms but still rated poorly as a targeted weapon.

In 2008 Hamas reportedly acquired its first foreign-made rockets the Grad from Iran and Libya and, in time, produced locally (with a range of almost 20 kilometres and a 18-kilogram warhead) and the WS-1E from China (45-kilometre range and 22-kilogram warhead).

The Grad stocks reportedly are in the hundreds the Qassams in the thousands.

The Israeli sources claimed Jabari was also producing drones he intended to fly in Israeli airspace just as Israeli unmanned aircraft constantly patrol the skies of Gaza.

It was the Hamas strongman's role in the Gilad Shalit hostage negotiations that provoked one of the more intriguing Israeli responses to his death, by Gershon Baskin, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, who initiated the secret channel through which the soldier's release was negotiated.

"I believe that Israel made a grave and irresponsible strategic error by deciding to kill Mr Jabari," Baskin wrote in The New York Times .

His point was not that Jabari was a man of peace. But in the prisoner exchange negotiations, Baskin concluded that Jabari was interested in a long-term ceasefire and that it was Jabari who had been responsible for enforcing previous ceasefire agreements - to the extent that they had held.

Baskin concluded: "This was not inevitable, and cooler heads could have prevailed. Mr Jabari's assassination removes one of the more practical actors on the Hamas side."

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