Hamas rockets reaching deeper into Israel
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Rockets from the Gaza Strip have been raining down on Israel in recent days. But unlike in previous attacks, the missiles are reaching further into Israeli territory than ever before.
In total, more than 220 rockets have hit Israel since the outbreak of hostilities with Gaza. The Israeli army’s air strikes have so far failed to stop the salvos from Hamas militants and their Islamic Jihad allies.
For the 20,000 residents of the town of Sderot in southern Israel, just one mile from the Gaza Strip, such attacks have been a regular part of life for the past 15 years. But for those in Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem and Hadera, cities situated some 110km to the north, the site of Hamas rockets in the sky overhead is perhaps more startling.
The fact that such cities are now in the firing line is a product of the increasingly sophisticated military hardware being used by Hamas and its allies. For the past two years, the armed groups of the Gaza Strip have developed, or smuggled in, increasingly long-range rockets.
Rockets from Iran, Syria
Among them are Iranian Fajr-5 rockets which, with a range of up to 75km, are capable of striking Tel-Aviv. The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards admitted to having supplied Gaza with the 333mm Fajr-5s in November 2012.
Syria-designed M-302 rockets, with a range of 160km, have also been used in recent days. In March this year, Israel intercepted a ship in the Red Sea, bearing the Panamanian flag and carrying 40 M-302s that Israel said were destined for Islamic Jihad in Gaza.
But Hamas has also developed its own rockets. These include the M-75, which has a range of 100km and are assembled with components smuggled into the Palestinian enclave through underground tunnels. Then there are the R-160 and Jabari rockets, the latter named in honour of the former head of Hamas’s military wing, killed by an Israeli missile attack on Gaza in 2012.
“Gaza has its own local defence industry,” says Philippe Migault, research director at the France-based Institute of International Relations and Strategy (ISIS), adding that “Hamas producing makeshift munitions is nothing new”.
Migault gives the example of the Qassam rockets, also made in Gaza, which initially had a range of just 20km, but are now capable of double that after undergoing modifications.
With a lighter explosive charge, the rockets’ range can be increased still further, though this lessens their effectiveness.
“Hamas presents the firing of M-75 and R-160 rockets as a ‘great victory against the Zionist enemy’,” Israeli journalist Ehud Yaari told French daily Libération. “But they forget to say that they didn’t contain any explosives, so as to penetrate as deeply as possible into Israel.”
‘Full coverage of Israel only a matter of time’
Lacking guidance systems, the rockets fired from Gaza in recent days have so far not resulted in any deaths. The goal is more to “terrorise” the Israeli population, according to Migault, something Gaza’s armed groups will be able to with growing effectiveness as the sophistication of their rocket arsenal increases.
“Full coverage of Israeli territory is only a matter of time,” says Migault. “[Hamas and Islamic Jihad] will soon strike anywhere".
According to Israeli defence experts, Hamas and its allies’ current stock of close to 10,000 missiles could allow it to keep up its attacks on Israel for another ten weeks.
"Hamas has been able to, over the last couple of years, increase not just the number of rockets that it has, but the frequency of its rocket fire," Firas Abi Ali of analysts Country Risk HIS told AFP.
The group’s objective is to fire as many rockets as possible simultaneously with the aim of “overwhelming” Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system, said Ali.
That system, composed of a network of radar-guided missiles, appears to be holding firm, at least for now,
According to the Israeli military, the Iron Dom has intercepted between 75 and 90 percent of rockets fired on populated areas in recent days.