Weakened But Unbroken Hamas Can Replenish Arsenal -- If Egypt Lets It
By Ulrike Putz in Beirut Spiegel Online
Hamas has fired some 1,000 rockets at Israel. Its arsenal includes missiles
made in Iran and China as well as the homemade Qassam rockets. Israel says
it has destroyed most of them. But as long as fresh supplies keep coming
through Egypt, the power of Hamas will be unbroken.
The arsenal of Hamas in the Gaza Strip has been under constant fire
recently. For six days the Israeli air force -- which claims to be the best
in the world -- has bombed targets in the area until the ceasefire, which is
due take effect on Tuesday night. So it's almost astonishing that there are
any missiles left that can still be fired at Israel. But in Ashkelon and
other Israeli cities near the coastal strip ruled by the Islamists, the air
raid sirens sounded again earlier on Tuesday.
It seems that the military power of Hamas has only been weakened, not
broken. Some of their rocket positions appear to be so well concealed that
the Israeli air force hasn't been able to destroy them. The Israeli
government says some 1,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza since last
Wednesday. The air force has said it destroyed several times more on the
ground, but some -- presumably underground -- rocket launchers were still
working on Tuesday.
Such clues are the only way to assess the size of the rocket arsenal of
Hamas, the types of rockets and the quality of the concealment. The
Palestinian radicals boast about their military capabilities and have in the
past given journalists tours of workshops where young men built Qassam
rockets -- but for tactical reasons, Hamas wants to leave Israel and the
rest of the world in the dark about how many rockets it can fire at Tel Aviv
Weapons From Iran and China
One can only speculate about the firepower Hamas and other extremists in
Gaza have at their disposal in this unequal battle against Israel. Israeli
sources believe that the arsenal was well-stocked with domestic and foreign
makes at the start of the current conflict.
The Islamists are believed to have had some 100 Iranian Fajr 5 rockets and
rocket launchers. The Fajr 5 is six-and-a-half to seven meters long and the
warhead weighs over 175 kilos. It has a range of up to 75 kilometers, which
puts Tel Aviv and Jerusalem within range.
Several Chinese WS-1E rockets are believed to have been in its arsenals as
well. They have a range of some 40 kilometers.
Hamas is also known to have several hundred Grad rockets of various types.
They can be equipped with different warheads and have a range of 20 to 40
kilometers. The Grads too are believed to have come from Iran.
In addition to the imported weapons, Hamas has thousands of rockets produced
in Gaza. The mortar rounds and primitive Qassam rockets made with fertilizer
and explosives smuggled into Gaza have a range of just 10 to 15 kilometers.
Iranian engineers are believed to have been advising the weapons builders
for some time, and better models with bigger ranges are being built.
The ample weapons stocks were thanks to one man: Hamas military chief Ahmed
Jabari. His killing in an Israeli missile strike last Wednesday triggered
the current conflict. Jabari knew how to exploit the changed political
situation in the Middle East. After the Muslim Brotherhood, the mother
organization of Hamas, came to power in the Arab Spring, the path was clear
for the delivery of heavy weapons to Gaza.
Observers say the Fajr 5 has been smuggled to Gaza in the last 18 months,
flown from Iran to Sudan and driven by trucks through the Egyptian desert to
the border with Gaza. It seems inconceivable that this happened without the
knowledge and tacit approval of Egyptian officials. The launchers are more
than 10 meters long and the weapons system weighs 1.5 tons. Once they had
arrived at the border, the rockets and launchers are believed to have been
dismantled and brought to Gaza through tunnels. There are also reports that
weapons from plundered arsenals of former Libyan dictator Muammar Ghadafi
found their way into the Gaza strip.
Israeli Strikes Against Arms Smuggling
Israel had tried to put a stop to the arms build-up before its current
campaign. At the end of October, there was mystery air raid on a weapons
factory in Sudan that is believed to have been carried out by Israel. Before
that in April 2011, an air raid killed a Palestinian man in Sudan. He is
reported to have been the successor of the weapons procurer of Hamas,
Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who was killed by Mossad in Dubai in early 2010.
In March 2011, Israel is also reported to have attacked a weapons convoy in
Sudan. In addition, the Israeli air force has mounted repeated bombing raids
against tunnels used to smuggle goods and weapons into Gaza. Rocket launch
sites have also been repeatedly attacked in recent months. But Israel's
attacks have also targeted the men who procure and fire the rockets. Jabari
was the most prominent weapons specialist of Hamas. But in the months
before, Israel had killed dozens of men who it suspected of belonging to the
There is no doubt that the military capabilities of Hamas have been severely
curtailed. But the attacks haven't broken the organization's power. As long
as the supply route Iran-Sudan-Egypt remains intact, the Islamists' arsenals
will soon be replenished.
But it will be hard to persuade Cairo to put a stop to the weapons smuggling
through its territory. It will take long, extensive negotiations. The
Palestinians and Egypt will demand that Israel and the United States make
concessions. The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is only the start.