Palestinian insurgents in the West Bank and Gaza Strip could change their operations over the next few months.
Israeli officials said military and security agencies have been preparing for the prospect that Palestinian combatants could escalate operations or launch new forms of attacks against the Jewish state. They said such a campaign could take place in wake of Israel’s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank in August 2005.
“It’s not certain that the behavior of the terrorists in the near future would be the behavior that we have seen over the last few years,” Israel Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Eliezer Shkedy said on Tuesday.
Officials said among the scenarios envisioned by the military was Kassam-class short-range missile strikes from the West Bank against nearby Israeli cities. Other scenarios included the use of suicide car bombs similar to attacks that take place nearly daily in Iraq and the suicide hijacking of civilian aircraft such as that employed by Al Qaida against the United States in 2001.
Addressing a conference on air power and counter-terrorism, Shkedy said insurgency groups have been significantly damaged by air strikes in 2003 and 2004. The general said that at one point most of the political leadership of Hamas was decimated by air missile strikes in the Gaza Strip.
But Shkedy told the international conference, entitled “Air Power Role in Counter-Terrorism and Guerrilla Warfare, that the military could encounter surprises from a Palestinian insurgency movement that has recovered over the last few months.
He and other officials asserted that Hamas has exploited the current lull in Israeli military operations to develop a weapons industry in the Gaza Strip that produces mortars, missiles and rockets.
“Despite our achievements, this does not mean that the solutions developed in the past will be relevant for the future,” Shkedy said.
The general said the air force achieved tremendous gains in precision firepower. He said that in 2001, for insurgent slain in an Israeli air strike, an innocent bystander was also killed. In 2004, a bystander was killed for every 12 insurgents successfully targeted.
“If you hit innocents, the military could be forced to stop the operation and give the other side time to reorganize,” Shkedy said.
The air force has also significantly improved cooperation with the ground forces, military intelligence and the Israel Security Agency. Shkedy said these units participate in a joint command and control center meant to quickly process intelligence and determine targets.
Shkedy said the air force must focus on intelligence, planning and control and precision firepower. He said the military has invested significant resources to close the sensor-to-shooter loop, which currently amounts to several minutes.
The air force has vastly increased its role in the war against the Palestinians. Shkedy said Palestinian insurgents killed in air strikes in proportion to total insurgency casualties rose from 10 percent in 2001 to 60 percent in 2005.
Still, Shkedy said, the air force was not capable of stopping Palestinian missile strikes from the Gaza Strip. He said the military required upgraded intelligence that could track Palestinian weapons development and production.
“We need better intelligence — that is research intelligence that goes beyond finding the Kassam launcher at the last minute,” Shkedy said.
Outgoing Israel Security Agency director Avi Dichter said the use of air power has hampered insurgency operations. Dichter said his agency has worked well with the air force in processing intelligence and determining insurgency targets.
At the same time, Dichter said Hamas has succeeded in building a weapons infrastructure throughout the Gaza Strip that contains the elements of a formal industry. He said intelligence-gathering assets deployed on air and other platforms could not replace the information obtained from detained insurgents.
“The capability of the Palestinians to produce Kassams [missiles] is clear,” Dichter said. “We are talking of a complete and orderly industry, with a hierarchy that extends to the actual gunner.”