February 28, 2011: Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) conducted a series of major training exercises in the Gaza Strip on February 10th. The PIJ operatives displayed a surprising amount of sophistication and coordination in their maneuvers. During the exercise, PIJ operatives practiced operation and use of small arms, RPGs, and light weapons, sniping, and planting Improvised Explosive Devices (bombs). The levels of sophistication, equipment, and competence displayed by the terrorists at the exercise might seem alarming, but the Israelis have known for a long time that Hamas, PIJ, and Hezbollah are situated in such a way that obtaining military equipment and conducting unconventional warfare training is not as difficult as in other parts of the world.
For one thing, Palestinian Islamic Jihad is actually based in, and supported by, Syria, as well as Iran. They can thus use those countries for training. Second, with the Gaza Strip under Hamas control, interference with the group's military training is non-existent. A shaky ceasefire (halt to attacks on Israel) may be holding, but terrorist groups continue to drill and train. Secondly, PIJ, like Hamas and Hezbollah, understands a fundamental tenet of asymmetric warfare in the 21st century: without weapons, you're stuck. PIJ is a small group compared to Hamas, and absolutely tiny compared to the thousands of fighters and sympathizers that are wielded by Hezbollah, but it grew considerably in the '90s and its current numerical strength of core fighters and sympathizers is unknown.
No matter its size, PIJ knows that its success is dependent on access to arms, tight organization, and methodical training. This single factor often makes the difference between an insurgency becoming a major player in its geopolitical region, or becoming just another group of angry people with a cause. While an organization may have only a few dozen members (some splinter Irish Republican groups are this tiny), a few dozen well-organized, heavily-armed terrorists who know their stuff often make bigger headlines than hundreds of angry, but unarmed and ill-trained, potential insurgents. This is one of the primary reasons why Palestinian insurgent groups last so long.
Fortunately for PIJ and any new upstart militant group in the Gaza Strip, the Egyptian-Gaza border is likely to become even more porous in the coming months. With Egypt's Border Guard cops having been corrupted or intimidated wholesale for years, and the entire Egyptian military shouldering the responsibility for governing a nation of 80 million citizens, putting a halt to the weapons and contraband (including drugs) smuggling in Gaza, just got bumped down the list of priorities. Before the current crisis in Egypt, the country had deployed major regular military formations, including some special forces, in a concerted effort to stamp out the contraband runners. With nobody watching on the Egyptian side, Gaza weapons traffickers are seeing a major potential opportunity. Whatever goods the Gaza Strip currently lacks, guns and ammo won't be missing in quantity anytime soon for militants that want them. Ceasefire or no ceasefire, there is still no shortage of people in Gaza who hate the Israelis and want to purchase arms.