Shin Bet: Palestinian Groups Working to Improve Ballistic Capabilities

Israel Security Service chief says some 31 tons of explosives smuggled into Gaza from Egypt in last year.

Speaking before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin warned on Tuesday that Hamas was sending hundreds of men to Iran for prolonged periods of advanced training.

Diskin informed the committee that 31 tons of explosive material have been smuggled into the Gaza Strip in the last year by terror groups. According to Diskin, the figure constitutes a sixfold increase in the amount smuggled in recent years.

He explained that the Palestinians were taking advantage of the relative calm and restraint demonstrated by the Israel Defense Forces to bolster their arms and improve the range of their rocket fire.

According to Diskin, the Palestinian terror groups are in the process of attempting to increase their rocket range to 15 and even 20 kilometers, so as to enable them to strike at Kiryat Gat and Ashkelon, and other national infrastructure targets in the Negev. Diskin noted that the Islamic Jihad has already succeeded in launching a Grad rocket at the range of 16.3 kilometers last July. These efforts, according to Diskin, include smuggling attempts of longer-range rockets.

Terror groups in the West Bank were also in the process of improving their ballistic capabilities, said Diskin. He named both the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, linked to the Fatah political party, and the Islamic Jihad as competing organizations, both aspiring to be the first to launch rockets deep into Israel. Diskin added that he did not believe the terror groups in the West Bank would succeed in establishing the infrastructure necessary for producing rockets and launching them.

Among the technical advances employed by the Palestinians that Diskin listed, are improved roadside bombs, some capable of penetrating the plating of armored military vehicles. He added such capabilities had previously been restricted to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

In his review, Diskin named the Sinai as the main route through which explosives and weapons were smuggled into the Gaza Strip. He noted that the efforts of Egyptian security forces to foil such smuggling attempts had been largely ineffective until recent weeks. He added that some improvement can be observed recently in their capabilities, and expressed the hope that this reflected a change in the Egyptian policy on smuggling.

Referring to the routine military tactics of the terror organizations, Diskin informed the committee that they were in the process of constructing an underground complex of stations, "possibly because they have come to realize that they would feel safer underground."

Diskin added that he anticipated greater difficulty for the IDF in its operations in the Gaza Strip, owing not only to underground fortification but also to the ever-increasing population density in the area.

Diskin assessed that the Palestinian national unity government being formed by rival factions Fatah and Hamas would indeed be declared in the near future, "despite tensions."