Archive for September 15, 2017

Picture of the Day

September 15, 2017

H/t PJ Media Hot Mic

 

H.R. McMaster: ‘There is a military option’ for North Korea

September 15, 2017

H.R. McMaster: ‘There is a military option’ for North Korea, Washington ExaminerJoel Gehrke , September 15, 2017

(In other news, China has said it opposes North Korea’s new missile activity and 

the essence of the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue is a security issue and the crux is the disagreements between the DPRK and the United States.

“China is neither the focus of the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, nor the core to resolving the issue. Neither is it the propellent of the current tensions,” she said, urging parties directly concerned to take up their due responsibilities.

Translation: It’s your problem; deal with it as you want but don’t do anything we won’t like. — DM)

President Trump’s top national security aide said Friday that there is a military option for handling North Korea’s missile and nuclear testing, even though it’s an option the Trump administration does not want to employ.

“There is a military option,” White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster said at the White House. “Now, it’s not what we would prefer to do. So, what we have to do is call on all nations, call on everyone to do everything we can to address this global problem short of war. So, that is implementing now these significant sanctions that have just now gone into place. And it is convincing everyone to do everything that they can — and that it’s in their interest to do it.”

But McMaster acknowledged that the clock is ticking with each provocative test North Korea runs.

“We’re out of time,” McMaster said. “We’ve been kicking the can down the road, and we’re out of road.”

McMaster was joined at the White House by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who agreed that the UN is running out of options when it comes to imposing new economic sanctions.

“There’s not a whole lot the Security Council is going to be able to do from here,” Haley said.

Haley’s comments suggest that she won’t revive an attempt to push an oil embargo through the U.N. Security Council, after China and Russia opposed the measure last week. Instead, she argued that the resolution which passed instead of the more-stringent embargo would be a strong deterrent to the regime if it is implemented effectively.

“If you look at the resolutions that have passed over the last month, the two of them, they cut 30 percent of their oil, they banned all the laborers, they based 90 percent of the exports, they banned joint ventures,” Haley said. “in the words of North Korea, we’ve strangled their economic situation at this point.”

McMaster said the sanctions will take time to have a maximum affect, but North Korea’s decision to launch yet another ballistic missile over Japan put renewed urgency in his public message. That’s an apparent warning to Russia and China, both of which oppose additional U.S. military buildups in the Asia-Pacific region.

Their comments came one day after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on China to implement the oil embargo unilaterally.

“China supplies essentially all of North Korea’s oil,” Tillerson told reporters in London. “I am hopeful that China — as a great country, a world power — will decide on their own and will take it upon themselves to use that very powerful tool of oil supply to persuade North Korea to reconsider its current path towards weapons development, to reconsider its approach to dialogue and negotiations in the future.”

Iran Quadruples Cash Flow to Hizballah Since Nuclear Deal

September 15, 2017

Iran Quadruples Cash Flow to Hizballah Since Nuclear Deal, Investigative Project on Terrorism, September 15, 2017

Proponents of the Iran nuclear deal, including many within the Obama administration, argued that the agreement would moderate Iran’s behavior. On the contrary, Iran immediately enhanced its support for terrorist organizations, while extremist factions within Iran gained more influence. Two years later, Iran has proved to be even more emboldened to pursue its regional hegemonic ambitions, drastically increasing financial and military support to terrorist organizations and cells worldwide.

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Iran has drastically increased financial support for its Lebanese-based terrorist proxy Hizballah since the Iran nuclear deal was signed two years ago, the Jerusalem Post reports.

Iran secured $100 billion in frozen assets and sanction relief in January 2016 as a result of the deal with the United States and European countries. Flush with cash, Iran immediately increased its support for terrorist proxies in the region and nefarious activities worldwide. Hizballah was receiving $200 million from Iran. Now, it’s $800 million.

Last month, Hamas terrorist leader Yahya Sinwar admitted that “relations with Iran are excellent and Iran is the largest supporter of the [Hamas military wing] Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades with money and arms.” Iran reportedly provides Hamas with about $60-$70 million.

Both Hizballah and Hamas remain dedicated to Israel’s destruction and continue to invest considerable resources to fight the Jewish state. Iran also spends hundreds of millions of dollars for Shi’ite militias in Syria and Iraq, while increasing support for Houthi militants in Yemen.

Shortly after the July 2015 nuclear deal was signed, Iran expanded its presence in regional conflicts and even increased its own intervention in Syria’s civil war, leading to mounting Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) casualties.

Iran also increased efforts to subvert its neighbors. In March, Bahrain security authorities arrested members of an Iranian-sponsored terrorist cell, accusing them of planning to assassinate senior government officials. The IRGC reportedly provided military training to several cell members.

Beyond Iran’s regional ambitions, it continues to plan terrorist attacks around the world. Earlier this year, for example, Germany accused Iran of plotting attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets.

Proponents of the Iran nuclear deal, including many within the Obama administration, argued that the agreement would moderate Iran’s behavior. On the contrary, Iran immediately enhanced its support for terrorist organizations, while extremist factions within Iran gained more influence. Two years later, Iran has proved to be even more emboldened to pursue its regional hegemonic ambitions, drastically increasing financial and military support to terrorist organizations and cells worldwide.

Under the radar, Belarus seen quietly helping Assad boost missile program

September 15, 2017

Source: Under the radar, Belarus seen quietly helping Assad boost missile program | The Times of Israe

Analyst Ronen Solomon links Minsk to Syrian military facility allegedly bombed by Israel this month

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, right, and his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad are seen during a meeting in Minsk, Belarus, Monday, July 26, 2010. (AP/Nikolai Petrov, BelTA)

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, right, and his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad are seen during a meeting in Minsk, Belarus, Monday, July 26, 2010. (AP/Nikolai Petrov, BelTA)

Throughout the Syrian civil war, as Russia and Iran have come under international scrutiny for their roles in the conflict, the small, former Soviet nation of Belarus has also quietly been contributing to President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Over the years, this assistance to Syria has waxed and waned, as Belarus has flitted between the so-called “moderate” Sunni states, like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and renegade states, like North Korea and Iran.

In the past year, Belarus has been increasingly vocal about its cooperation with the Assad regime and, according to some analysts, has assisted it and its allies with military equipment and know-how.

Ronen Solomon, an Israeli freelance intelligence analyst who has been tracking Syria’s weapons development programs for years, believes that Belarus has been working with Syria to upgrade its medium-range rockets, including in the Syrian military’s Scientific Studies and Research Center facility that was hit in an airstrike attributed to Israel last month. Other analysts have concurred with this view.

Israeli satellite images show results of an airstrike attributed to the IDF on a Syrian military weapons development base on September 7, 2017. (ImageSat International)

Solomon was one of the first to uncover the alleged Israeli airstrike on the country’s nuclear reactor in 2007, writing about it along with Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ronen Bergman, and has since created an independent intelligence blog called Intelli Times, which is regularly cited in Israeli media outlets.

In an investigative report that he shared with The Times of Israel, Solomon documented the connections between Belarus and Syria’s defense ministry, based on open-source information, satellite imagery, and intelligence shared by Syrian opposition.

The apparently deepening relationship between these two countries, and the possibility that Belarus is helping improve Assad’s — and allies Iran and Hezbollah’s — missile technology should concern Israel, which has full diplomatic ties with Minsk. This especially holds true as the IDF announced on Thursday that it was looking to expand its “war between wars” operations to counter Hezbollah and Iran’s growing presence in the region.

The Scientific Studies and Research Center facility near Masyaf, Syria, allegedly hit by Israel, has long been suspected of being used to improve missile accuracy, based on satellite intelligence that showed the types of structures and materials being brought to the site. It is also believed to house unconventional biological and chemical weapons.

Israeli satellite images show results of an airstrike attributed to the IDF on a Syrian military weapons development base on September 7, 2017. (ImageSat International)

“In 2014, satellite images, like those on Google Earth, documented that in the center they’d begun building seven additional structures whose architecture is reminiscent of the facilities used in aerospace industries, along with another giant structure that is reminiscent of the factories in which the Iranians produce their various rockets,” Solomon noted in his report.

“By February 2016, ventilation systems that are used in buildings with underground levels had already been installed,” he wrote.

Solomon also connects Belarus to the Masyaf facility due, in part, to a report in the Syrian Zaman al-Wasl news outlet, which has been connected to opposition forces.

Israeli satellite images show locations of a suspected Iran-backed missile production facility in Syria, a Russian S-400 missile defense system, and a Syrian military weapons development base that was hit in an airstrike attributed to the IDF on September 7, 2017. (ImageSat International)

The website, which published that Iran was allegedly aiding in the construction of a missile base in northwestern Syria weeks before this was backed up by Israeli satellite imagery, subsequently reported that “military experts from Iran, Russia and North Korea” were working in the area.

However, Solomon believes that given the nature of the site and Russia’s interests in the region, it’s unlikely that Moscow would send experts to such a facility. While Russia has worked closely with Israel’s enemies Iran and Syria, it has at least attempted to not directly assist Hezbollah, a stance that would be compromised if it were found assisting this missile production facility. Instead, Solomon believes, it’s possible that these “Russian” military experts were in fact Belarusians.

Improving Iranian missiles

Since at least 2012, Western countries have suspected that Belarus maintained ties to the Syrian military’s Scientific Studies and Research Center, which also goes by its French acronym CERS.

At the time, they believed that the former Soviet country was working with Damascus to improve the precision of its medium-range M600 missiles, the Syrian version of the Iranian Fateh 110, Solomon said.

Illustrative: A Fateh-110 ballistic missile, taken at an Iranian armed forces parade in 2012. (military.ir/Wikimedia Commons)

This missile, which Hezbollah is suspected of possessing, has a long enough range to be able to reach most of Israel from Lebanon or Syria, but its aim has not been particularly accurate.

Belarus, however, is particularly skilled in improving existing missiles with better guidance systems, owing to years of upgrading Russian technology, Solomon said.

In particular, he noted, the Belarusian companies that are suspected of operating in Syria tout not only their abilities to improve systems like the M600, but also their preparedness to sell technologies coveted by Hezbollah, like anti-aircraft systems, drones and shore-to-ship missiles.

In 2012, the France-based Intelligence Online website reported that Belarus was looking to sell fiber optic gyroscopes to Syria, which “are immune to cross-axis vibration, acceleration and shock, improve the guidance and accuracy of surface-to-surface missiles.”

Scott Johnson, an analyst with the IHS Jane’s intelligence company, told The Atlantic magazine at the time that this technology “would increase the regime’s ability to deliver destruction with even more deadly precision than with what is currently guiding their missiles.”

Belarus, which declared independence in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union, has been led by President Alexander Lukashenko since 1994.

Most news outlets have not been closely tracking Minsk’s assistance to Syria over the past five years, lost under the radar as larger powers such as Russia, Iran, the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey maintain a confusing tangle of alliances and rivalries on the ground and over the skies of the countries.

But the American government has. In 2012, the US Treasury imposed sanctions on a state-owned Belarusian defense contractor, Belvneshpromservice (BVPS), for allegedly providing Assad with “fuses for general purpose aerial bombs.” For its part, Belarus denied that it tried to sell weapons to Assad.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, left, and his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad are seen meet in Minsk, Belarus, on July 26, 2010. (AP Photo/Nikolai Petrov, BelTA)

The European Union has also intermittently sanctioned Belarus companies under similar allegations, only to remove them in attempts to woo Minsk away from Moscow and toward western Europe.

In June 2016, the US again imposed sanctions on Belarus’s BVPS for violating the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act, which forbids selling items to those countries that have the “potential to make a material contribution to the development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or cruise or ballistic missile systems.”

The sanctions remain in place today, though a representative from the US State Department would not elaborate on the specific allegations against BVPS, saying they are classified.

However, not everyone is convinced. Analyst Siarhei Bohdan, who writes for the Belarusian Ostrogorski Center think tank, said Belarus’s ties to the Assad regime are not as deep as they appear. He believes the country is still looking to maintain its business ties with the Gulf states, which have deeper pockets than Syria, and that Belarus would not risk those relationships for a quick buck from Assad or Iran.

What can Assad offer Minsk that can replace and compensate deals [with Gulf states]?

“I don’t see any signs of supplying military hardware or expertise,” he told The Times of Israel over the phone. “What can Assad offer Minsk that can replace and compensate these deals [with Gulf states]?”

But Bohdan acknowledged that the existence of American and occasionally EU sanctions on Belarus at least makes the allegations against the country “valid.”

Big money in little Belarus

Since the end of the Cold War, Belarus has carved out a niche for itself in the international weapons market by upgrading and selling Russian military technology. This has at times drawn the country close to Russia, while at other times put the two nations at odds with one another as they turned from close allies into fierce competitors for weapons contracts.

Belarusian army vehicles prepare for war games at an undisclosed location in Belarus on Sept. 11, 2017. (Vayar Military Agency photo via AP)

This involvement in the arms market has been a lucrative venture for tiny Belarus, though the full extent of it is not entirely clear.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a think tank that tracks weapons sales, calculated that Belarus made $625 million in arms sales from 2012 to 2016, making it the 18th largest weapons dealer in the world.

However, Belarus’s State Military Industrial Committee placed the figure dramatically higher, reporting this year that the country exported $1 billion worth of weapons and defense equipment in 2016 alone.

Solomon believes that at least a portion of the country’s defense income is coming from deals with Syria that are being routed through its leading defense exporter, BelTechExport

Last April, Intelligence Online, which has also been tracking Belarusian military cooperation with Syria since 2012, reported that the company’s “warehouses have been working overtime to meet [Syrian] demand.”

According to Solomon, Belarus’s decision to deepen its ties to Syria is likely not the result of a change in heart.

“They could make deals with Qatar, which backs [Syrian] rebels, or with Syria, which is fighting the rebels. They don’t have a God. The money is what matters, not the ideology,” Solomon told The Times of Israel.

Not trying to hide

The posting of a major-general as Syria’s defense attaché, Maj. Gen. Samer Arnus, to Minsk also points to the high level of military cooperation between the regimes, according to Solomon.

Belarusian Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Andrei Ravkov, left, meets with Syrian ambassador Bassam Abdul Majid, left, and Syrian defense attaché, Maj. Gen. Samer Arnus, on April 11, 2016. (Belarusian defense ministry)

Typically, countries only have a major -general act as defense attaché in order to oversee highly developed relationships. Israel, for instance, has a major-general acting as defense attaché in the US, with which there are significant arms deals and intelligence sharing. Even in Germany, which supplies Israel with its strategic submarine fleet, an IDF colonel fills the post.

Solomon said he believes Arnus played a “respected role” in setting up the arms deals between the two countries, as evidenced by the fact that he met with and was thanked by Belarusian Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Andrei Ravkov in 2016 for his “significant contribution” to the countries’ cooperation, before he returned to Syria after completing his service in Belarus.

Solomon noted that this meeting happened at the same time as new structures were being completed at the Masyaf facility.

Despite Minsk being known as a secretive and oppressive regime, Belarus has not been quiet about its ties to the war-torn country and Assad, Solomon noted in his report.

A Belarusian delegation takes part in a Syrian trade expo in Damascus on August 18, 2017. (BelTA)

The past two years saw a significant increase in the amount of cooperation between the two countries, with meetings between high-ranking officials, including senior defense figures, and the signing of multiple trade agreements.

These events were often followed by articles and pictures in both country’s state-run media.

In May, Assad gave an interview to a Belarusian television station, in which he described improving ties between the two countries.

Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks during an interview with Yahoo News in Damascus, Syria, Friday, Feb. 10, 2017 (SANA via AP)

“We have had strong relationship with Belarus since the times of the USSR. This relationship still continues, based on the common interests,” Assad said, according to Belarusian state media.

The Syrian dictator also noted that a visit by Belarusian Industry Minister Vitaly Vovk in April to the war-torn country further improved ties between the two countries.

“A number of deals benefiting the two parties were agreed,” Assad said.

We have had a strong relationship with Belarus since the times of the USSR.

Since the interview, the two countries have signed an additional trade deal, as well as medical cooperation agreements. Last month, a delegation from Belarus attended a trade expo in Damascus in which additional trade deals were reached.

“Agreements were reached to supply Belarusian equipment and to develop strong business contacts with Syrian partners, to set out the prospects for the return of Belarusian products to the Syrian market,” Belarus’s embassy in Syria told state media.

According to Bohdan, the Belarusian resarcher, the importance of the deals was likely inflated as Minsk attempted to compensate for allegations made by pro-Russian news outlets that some Belarusian defense companies were supplying Syrian opposition fighters through Bulgaria a few years ago.

The reports had strained the relationship between Russia and Belarus over Syria, where ties are seen as close but tense.

The Russian tension

Two analysts on Russia, Bruce McClintock and Bilyana Lilly, wrote about the countries’ strained relationship in an article for the National Interest this week. They noted that while the countries share a language and some older Belarusians “are nostalgic for the security and predictability of the Soviet era,” President Lukashenko has worked to maintain his country’s independence and stave off Russian attempts to encroach on its sovereignty.

This tension can be seen in Russia’s large-scale exercise, known as Zapad, which is taking place in Belarus this week. On the one hand, it shows the close relationship shared by the two countries, while on the other hand, Western security officials believe Russia might take advantage of its massive military presence in Belarus to launch a “Trojan horse” attack and establish a foothold in the country, as it did in Georgia in 2008 and Crimea in 2014.

A Russian T-90 tank fired in Kubinka Patriot Park outside Moscow during the first day of the “Army 2017” International Military-Technical Forum on August 22, 2017. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP)

This dynamic of trying to stay close with Russia, while remaining a distinct country, plays out in the realm of defense exports as well.

At times, Belarus and Russia cooperate fully on arms projects. In an article last month, Bohdan noted two cases of a Belarus company filling an order to overhaul fighter jets that was “secured via Russia.”

In an October 2012 article, Intelligence Online also recalled cases of Belarus stepping in to supply countries with which Russia does not want to “directly involve itself,” like Iran, Syria and Iraq.

The French intelligence site gives as an example Iran’s 2008 bid to purchase a Russian S-300 missile defense system. At the time, Russia faced considerable international pressure not to sell the battery to Iran. So instead Belarus sold it “an older but still operational version of the system.” (Russia sold Iran the S-300 system earlier this year, after the sanctions against the Islamic Republic were lifted with the 2015 nuclear deal.)

Yet the two countries are also competitors on the international weapons market and Belarus is increasingly setting itself apart from Russia in this area, especially in the field of electronic warfare.

One example of this, Solomon noted, is Belarus’s recent development of a jammer pod, known as Veresk, that can be attached to an airplane and is meant to counter enemy air defense systems, notably the Russian S-300.

Solomon said he is not sure how Belarus’s relationship with Russia influences its involvement in Syria, nor is Bohdan who stresses the country’s sovereignty and individuality.

However, Solomon suspects Moscow does not appreciate little Minsk entering its territory.

“The Russians, it seems, do not have an interest at this time in letting Belarus take part in its arms deals with Syria. They also might have had a desire to show the Belarusians, on the backdrop of the conflict between them on various issues, who wins and who loses,” Solomon wrote.

 

Report: Kelly Is Blocking Negative Amnesty Coverage From Trump

September 15, 2017

Report: Kelly Is Blocking Negative Amnesty Coverage From Trump, Daily CallerAlex Pfeiffer, September 15, 2017

WASHINGTON, DC – Trump and Kelly. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Axios’ Friday report noted: “Instead of being able to march into the Oval Office and hand Trump the latest Breitbart headline or printouts of tweets showing how badly his amnesty drive is playing with his fiercest nationalist supporters, aides opposing the decision would now have to go through the Kelly process, which would involve submitting an official, documented, request to meet with the president.”

White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who used to work for Trump critic Sen. Mike Lee, manages Trump’s news clips and briefing materials, according to the Axios report.

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President Donald Trump’s embrace of amnesty is in part due to White House chief of staff John Kelly blocking negative coverage from the president, according to a Friday report from Axios.

Trump has reversed his stance from the campaign trail and asked Congress last week to “legalize” the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) amnesty program that protects roughly 800,000 illegal immigrants. The reaction has been negative from conservative commentators and news outlets.

Trump has paid attention to outlets like Breitbart and The Daily Caller in office, which have been highlighting Trump’s flip-flop, two sources who speak with the president told The Daily Caller. However, a recent report from The New York Times said that Kelly has started to take TheDC and Breitbart stories out of Trump’s pile of media reports.

This is part of Kelly’s new regime in which there is more control over the flow of information to Trump. Axios’ Friday report noted: “Instead of being able to march into the Oval Office and hand Trump the latest Breitbart headline or printouts of tweets showing how badly his amnesty drive is playing with his fiercest nationalist supporters, aides opposing the decision would now have to go through the Kelly process, which would involve submitting an official, documented, request to meet with the president.”

White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who used to work for Trump critic Sen. Mike Lee, manages Trump’s news clips and briefing materials, according to the Axios report.

Second North Korean missile over Japan

September 15, 2017

Second North Korean missile over Japan, DEBKAfile, September 15, 2017

The Trump administration’s response did not indicate that any action was afoot. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis spoke of a reckless action that put millions of Japanese in duck and cover mode, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson again called on China and Russia to restrain Pyongyang.

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For the second time in a month, North Korea fired a ballistic missile over northern Japan early on Friday, Sept. 15. This one was launched from a point near the country’s main international airport in the district of Sunan, where the North Korean capital of Pyongyang is also located. It reached an altitude of 770km, flying about 3,700km before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean and exploding.

On Sept. 3, North Korea exploded its sixth and most powerful nuclear bomb.

The US Pacific Command said its initial assessment indicated that North Korea had fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile. There were conflicting reports from Japan on the type of missile fired, indicating a certain lack of trust between Tokyo and Washington. Some Japanese sources asserted that it was a long-range ballistic missile whose range was longer than the distance between North Korea and Guam, the island holding big US bases which Kim Jong-un had threatened to hit.

The latest missile to fly over their heads triggered sirens on Japan’s eastern island of Hokkado sending residents rushing to shelters.

Exactly 90 minutes after the launch, a North Korean Air Koryo flight 151 took off from Pyongyang for Beijing apparently signifying that shooting missiles was not an extraordinary event for the North Korean ruler.

South Korea responded with a live fire drill that included a missile launch which the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said was capable of striking Sunan launch pad from which the latest North Korean missile was test-fired.

The Trump administration’s response did not indicate that any action was afoot. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis spoke of a reckless action that put millions of Japanese in duck and cover mode, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson again called on China and Russia to restrain Pyongyang.

IDF’s Gaza Wall May Change Hamas Terror Strategies

September 15, 2017

IDF’s Gaza Wall May Change Hamas Terror Strategies, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Yaakov Lappin, September 15, 2017

The big question now is whether Hamas will sit back and watch Israel take away its offensive tunnel option, or whether it will feel cornered and strike out, risking a new conflict.

Hamas is most likely to respond to Israel’s improved position against the tunnels in Gaza by upping attempts to generate terrorism from the West Bank.

Hamas, together with Iran, could try to smuggle rockets into the West Bank, Karmon said, citing a directive by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to assist West Bank terrorist cells.

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Time may be running out for one of Hamas’s main weapons against Israel: Its cross-border terror tunnels.

By 2019, according to Israel Defense Forces (IDF) assessments, Israel will complete an underground wall that stretches along the 60-kilometer (37 mile) border with Gaza. The wall is the product of several years of research and development, and is designed to eliminate the tunnel threat to Israeli communities located near Gaza.

During the past three years, since the end of its last conflict with Israel, Hamas has invested big resources into its tunnel maze. One of its top goals is to rehabilitate an ability to inject murder squads into Israeli territory through the tunnels.

Once inside Israel, they could target IDF soldiers and Israeli civilians for murder or kidnapping, whenever the next conflict breaks out.

But Israel has invested far more than Hamas to try stopping that threat. It is paying 150 million shekels ($42.5 million) for each kilometer of the new wall.

Work began on the subterranean project in areas where Israeli communities were very close to the border. Then, gradually, other areas began receiving protection.

During a conference call held with reporters in August, the commander of the IDF’s Southern Command, Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir, said the wall will prevent “the digging of tunnels into our territory,” adding that work is “advancing according to plan. In the coming months, this project is going to significantly accelerate. We will see an expansion in the scope of the works. Within two years, we will be able to complete work.”

Many details about the wall remain classified. But IDF sources have previously indicated that the wall will come with electronic sensors. The sensors will issue alerts to military control centers, sounding the alarm about suspicious tunnel digging activity.

The control rooms, would, in turn, be able to order action if necessary.

Similar military control rooms are popping up along the Gaza border to handle intelligence coming in from Israel’s above-ground border fence. Sensors installed on the barrier, together with units from the IDF’s Combat Intelligence Collection Corps, are joined by drones, spy balloons, and radars, all feed the control centers with a flow of data, and alert them to suspicious activity.

The big question now is whether Hamas will sit back and watch Israel take away its offensive tunnel option, or whether it will feel cornered and strike out, risking a new conflict.

“We very much hope we will not be challenged as this [work] continues,” said Zamir. “We hope that this quiet will continue, but continue to prepare. We are on high alert.”

Hamas’s military wing, the Izzadin Al-Qassam Brigades, issued a statement earlier this month saying that the underground wall “will not limit the ability of the resistance,” and vowing to “find the solutions needed to overcome it.”

But Hamas is unlikely to launch attacks in response to Israel’s wall, Ely Karmon, a senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

“They cannot initiate a military maneuver now. The timing is bad for them,” he said, citing Hamas’s financial woes, made worse by the fact that Qatar, under U.S. pressure, is cutting off the cash flow to the Gaza Strip.

Hamas wants to engage Egypt to improve its isolation and find a way out of its financial crisis. It just opened an office in Cairo. It cannot depend on friends like Turkey, which has a limited ability to provide assistance, Karmon said. “Beyond that, Hamas is under pressure from the Palestinian Authority. A new military clash with Israel will harm them,” he said.

During his remarks, Zamir said that the “Gaza arena is stable,” adding, “We have identified that Hamas remains deterred, and that it is restraining many attacks [by smaller Palestinian armed factions].”

At the same time, he said, Hamas is encouraging the flames of terrorism to spread in the West Bank, and is orchestrating terror cells remotely, as it prepares itself for future war in Gaza.

That’s an assessment that was echoed by Karmon, who said Hamas is most likely to respond to Israel’s improved position against the tunnels in Gaza by upping attempts to generate terrorism from the West Bank.

Hamas, together with Iran, could try to smuggle rockets into the West Bank, Karmon said, citing a directive by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to assist West Bank terrorist cells.

“The Iranians understood that Hamas is deterred in Gaza, and limited in what it can do,” Karmon said.

As a result, Hamas likely will remain focused on igniting the West Bank, and using it as a launchpad for terrorist attacks on Israel, he said.

Karmon cited information unveiled by the chief of Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, in recent days, which told the government that about 200 terror attacks had been thwarted in 2017.

“Most of the big attacks [that were stopped by the Shin Bet] were organized by Hamas, not Fatah,” Karmon said. “Hamas’s whole campaign is focused on the West Bank, and includes using clans that support Hamas, and distributing propaganda for violent incitement. They are neutralized in Gaza, and are trying to heat up the West Bank.”

Meanwhile, back in Gaza, Hamas continues neglecting the basic needs of the 2 million Palestinians it rules over, as it remains focused on its quiet military build-up, according to the chief of the IDF’s Southern Command.

“Many resources in Gaza are going to the Hamas military wing. They could be used instead to improve the humanitarian situation,” Zamir said. “We continue to prepare. Reality is explosive. It could deteriorate into a conflict at any time.”

In addition to offensive tunnels, Hamas has built a maze of tunnels that crisscross Gaza City. Zamir described them as “an underground metro network,” designed to move Hamas armed members, weapons, and logistics out of Israel’s sight.

Yet Israel’s Southern Command is watching these activities closely, and preparing a range of solutions designed to enable Israel to turn Hamas’s underground city into a large death trap if a new conflict begins.

The IDF’s Southern Command recently sent out images of civilian facilities in Gaza that Hamas uses as a cover for its military-terrorist activities.

One image is of a six-story residential building, which Hamas used to build an underground facility nearby, according to the military. The second photo is a of a home containing a family with five children, which is linked to a tunnel that leads to a mosque, enabling Hamas terrorists to move underground and use human shields as they do.

This type of activity “endangers the civilians of Gaza,” Zamir cautioned. “We hope that this quiet will continue, but we are continuing to prepare, and are on high alert.”

Yaakov Lappin is a military and strategic affairs correspondent. He also conducts research and analysis for defense think tanks, and is the Israel correspondent for IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly. His book, The Virtual Caliphate, explores the online jihadist presence.