11 Jul 2014

How Hamas brought the fight to Israel’s major cities

From home-made, short-range rockets to weapons that can threaten the populations of Israel’s major cities, Hamas arms are increasing in sophistication – and in destructive capability.

The relatively crude Qassam rockets were used to threaten Israeli towns bordering Gaza from 2001. But the level of the threat to Israel was heightened in 2012 when Hamas began using rockets that could bring the major cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv within range.

That represented an escalation. On Friday, the extent of that escalation was highlighted when Israel’s Ben Gurion airport – a vital Israeli transport hub in Tel Aviv, around 40 miles from Gaza – was closed briefly after Hamas threatened to target it with its rockets.

“In the light of Israel’s… attacks on the residents of Gaza Strip… The armed wing of Hamas movement has decided to respond to the Israeli aggression and we warn you against carrying out flights to Ben Gurion airport, which will be one of our targets today because it also hosts a military air base,” a statement from Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades said.

In March this year, a shipment of long-range M-302 rockets, said by the UN to be from Iran, was stopped by the Israelis on its way to Sudan. Israel said the armaments’ eventual destination was Gaza. Despite that seizure, Israel has claimed that there are still “around 10,000” of the rockets, which are made by the Syrian military under license from the Chinese, in Hamas hands.

According to the US Department of Defense, the range of the original Chinese Weishi-2 design, manufactured by the Sichuan Aerospace Industry Corporation, is around 60 miles. But, according to the Israeli military, models being fired in Gaza are likely to be locally constructed and to have slightly shorter ranges. Even so, both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are within striking distance.

The Iranian Fajr-5 was first used in the conflict in 2012 and could penetrate up to 45 miles into Israel, to bring its major cities within range. Iran has insisted that it has not supplied Hamas with rockets, saying that it is perfectly capable of producing its own.

It has, however, admitted that it supplied Gaza with the technology to build its own versions of the missile. And there is speculation that they have been broken down into parts and smuggled into Gaza, before being reconstructed as what the Palestinian militants call the M-75, in honour of Hamas militant Ibrahim Makadmeh, who was assassinated in March 2003.

Video showing M-75 rocket being fired

In a statement on 8 July 2014, the Hamas military wing claimed that “for the first time” it had managed to strike Haifa, around 90 miles away, using an R160 rocket. It has also fired J-80 rockets at Tel Aviv, around 40 miles from the Gaza Strip.

Israel has both its sophisticated iron dome defence system and the relative inaccuracy of Hamas rockets to thank for the lack of deaths among its civilians in the conflict’s current phase. The reported death toll on the Palestininian side in Gaza is around 100.

Nevertheless, Israel recognises the increasing threat it us under as Hamas improves access its long-range weapons.

Video purporting to show a Hamas militant putting the finishing touches to a rocket