Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense, after three days of air strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza, could be entering into a new phase of a larger ground invasion. While the war has been dissected six ways to Sunday, there are still gaping holes in our understanding of it, and several questions remain unanswered. Here are eight of them.
1. Was there an Israeli intelligence failure? There is reason to believe that the Israelis were surprised that so many Iranian-made Fajr-5 missiles had found their way into Gaza. Of course, the Israelis cannot account for every single item smuggled through the tunnels connecting the Sinai Peninsula to the Gaza Strip. And the Israelis appear to know exactly what they are hunting for. But the existence of these rockets -- which one senior Israeli intelligence official calls "game changers" -- is a red line for the Israelis. The very fact that they made it into Gaza without being intercepted or destroyed, and that some have subsequently been fired deep into Israeli territory, represents a failure on some level. This could prompt an official inquiry in Israel, where the brass put a premium on learning from mistakes.
2. Did Turkey, Qatar, and Egypt ever have a handle on Hamas? In recent months, Turkey, Qatar, and Egypt, all closely aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, have drawn closer to Hamas, which is itself a splinter of that group. These three governments have, in one way or another, been working to politically rehabilitate the Islamist movement and integrate it into the new regional order of the Arab Spring. From all appearances, Washington tacitly approved of this; it certainly did not publicly oppose it. The assumption was that, in light of a precipitous drop in Iranian financing and Hamas' subsequent departure from its headquarters in Syria, the group was perhaps prepared to evolve into a more pragmatic entity. With this recent round of violence, and the use of Iranian long-range missiles, we can draw two broad conclusions: Either Hamas' new patrons are behind its latest violence, or they were blindsided by it. If the latter, did they ever have Hamas under control?
3. Did Iran ever relinquish its grip on Hamas? To put it another way, the reports of the demise of the Axis of Resistance (Iran-Syria-Hamas) may have been greatly exaggerated. The ties between Iran and Hamas' military apparatus, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, date back to the early 1990s, when Hamas trained in Sudan with Iranian cooperation and assistance. With the knowledge that Iranian Fajr-5 missiles made their way to Hamas, it is reasonable to wonder if Iran ever left the scene.
4. Did the Israelis target a cache of Fajr-5's in Sudan? Speaking of Sudan, it is widely believed that the Israeli Air Force targeted an Iranian weapons factory in Khartoum last month. Were the Israelis targeting Fajr-5 rockets there? Sudan has long been known to serve as a point of origin for Middle East smuggling routes delivering weapons to Gaza. After that operation, it is possible that Israel realized that a number of those "game-changer" missiles had already reached Gaza, suggesting the aforementioned intelligence failure. Was Gaza part two of a two-part operation that began in Sudan?