Hamas Rocket Technology Moving Up
Palestinian rockets have regularly inflicted psychological terror and disrupted commerce in Israel, rather than militarily causing physical injury to many Israelis. The launching of a Syrian made Khaibar-1 rocket on July 8th that nearly reached Haifa means that no Israeli target is now out of rocket range from Gaza. Smuggling into Gaza a few Khaibars is not a military game changer. But if Hamas could manufacture large rockets in Gaza, Israel would be psychologically and militarily challenged for the first time.
During Israel’s 2008 Operation Cast Lead and 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense, Hamas fired more than 1,400 rockets into Israel, but only killed a total of 6 Israelis.In both periods of rocket attacks, Hamas demonstrated they were gaining access to more sophisticated technology.
The July 8th missile that struck the coastal town Hadera -- 30 miles north of Tel Aviv and 70 miles from the Gaza Strip -- was a Khaibar-1 rocket (also known as M-302t). According to NBC, Israeli Defense Forces Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said “We understand that there are several dozen of these rockets within the Gaza Strip that can potentially reach that long distance.”
The first indication that Hamas was again upgrading their rocket capability was in March of this year, when a team of Israeli commandos raided the Panamanian flagged “Klos-C” about halfway up the Red Sea. The suspicious cargo ship from Bandar Abbas, Iran, was headed to Sudan, the main rocket smuggling point through northern Africa to Gaza.
Commandos discovered under a cargo of bags of Iranian cement, crates filled with M-302 heavy rockets. The M-302s were built in Syria and have a range of between 65 to 130 miles depending on the number of rocket sections configured.
Israel has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to responding to intelligence related to the smuggling of rockets, or their components, into Gaza. In 2012, the Israeli Air Force bombed a large Iranian-controlled Fajr-5 rocket storage area in Khartoum, Sudan.
Before 2012, Hamas primarily fired home-made Grad, Qassam, and Iranian-designed Fajr-3 rockets to attack Israelis.The “Qassams” range from the 2-foot, 7-inch Qassam-1 that can travel up to three miles, to the 8-foot Qassam-4 which can fly for 10 miles.The Fajr-3 has a maximum range of 28 miles. Hamas could strike the minor cities of Ashdod and Beersheba, but could not strike the centers of Israel power and authority in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
During the 2012 Intifada, Hamas introduced the Iranian Fajr-5 rocket. The weapon is 20 feet long, weighs almost a ton and packs a sophisticated 220 pound warhead. The range is 50 miles. To gain distance, Hamas often launched Fajr-5s without the weight of a war-head to “sacrifice potency for range.” But because of its dimensions, Fajr-5s must be mechanically lifted and moved by heavy vehicle.
This advance gave Hamas the ability to reach Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Dimona. Since Hamas was unable to launch in large numbers in a “blizzard,” they could not threaten to overwhelm IDF defenses and cause large numbers of Israeli casualties. But the Fajr-5 gave Hamas the ability to disrupt commerce in the major Israeli cities as people constantly sought bomb shelters when air raid sirens sounded.
The newly-introduced Khabar-1 is 16 feet long and only weighs only 1,100 pounds. It is not very accurate, but can travel up to 132 miles and packs a large 400-pound warhead. Given the Khaibar’s long distance capability, sirens must sound and the whole nation must go on alert when there is any missile launch from Gaza.
The limitation to Hamas’ combined Fajr-5 and Khaibar-1 capability to undermine the Israeli balance of power advantage in the region is the size and handling difficulty of eluding the IDF’s sophisticated surveillance to import the weapons into Gaza.
Hamas does not currently have the metal casting capability in Gaza workshops to manufacture the solid-fuel engines and exhaust nozzles for either of these larger rockets. Stratfor Global Intelligence believes: “imperfections in casting the rocket fuel lead to uneven burn rates inside the rocket engine, a problem that can throw off the rocket's trajectory and even make it explode during launch. The larger the rocket, the more difficult it is to cast the rocket fuel, so the problem becomes more pronounced with the Fajr-5 and Khaibar-1.”
For now, larger rockets provide Hamas with the strategic psychological benefit of being able to regularly cause sirens to blare across Israel. The IDF knows a small inventory of these weapons does not provide Hamas with militarily strength. This allows the IDF to limit their response to conducting remote bombings and limited incursions. But if Hamas or another militant group gains the ability to manufacture Fajr-5s or Khaibar-1s in Gaza, the Israel would be forced into reoccupying the area.
The author welcomes feedback and will respond to reader comments
From July 15th to July 29th, Chriss Street will be teaching “Entrepreneurship and Capitalist Business Strategy” at Ho Chi Minh University in Vietnam