With longer reach, rockets bolster Hamas arsenal
- Article by: ETHAN BRONNER
- New York Times
- November 17, 2012 - 8:41 PM
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - When Israel assassinated the top Hamas military commander in Gaza on Wednesday, setting off the current round of fierce fighting, it was aiming not just at a Palestinian leader but at a supply line of rockets from Iran that have for the first time given Hamas the ability to strike as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
The commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, had shifted Hamas' low-grade militia into a disciplined force with sophisticated weapons like Fajr-5 rockets, which are named after the Persian word for dawn and have significantly increased the danger to Israel's major cities. They have a range of about 45 miles and are fired by trained crews from underground launching pads.
Hamas had perhaps 100 of them until the Israeli attacks last week, which appear to have destroyed most of the stockpile. The rockets are assembled locally after being shipped from Iran to Sudan, trucked across the desert through Egypt, broken down into parts and moved through Sinai tunnels into Gaza, according to senior Israeli security officials.
The smuggling route involves salaried employees from Hamas along the way, Iranian technical experts traveling on forged passports and government approval in Sudan, Israeli officials said.
Jabari's strategy has been so effective and alarming for Israel that it is preparing for a possible next stage in the four-day-old battle: a ground war in which its troops would seek to destroy remaining rocket launching bases and crews and munitions factories.
Under Jabari, Hamas also developed its own weapons industry in Gaza, building long-range rockets as well as drones that they hoped to fly over Israel just as Israeli drones roam the skies of Gaza, sowing fear in its population.
The current operation to eliminate the Hamas rocket launchers could serve to cripple the ability of Iran's allies in Gaza from retaliating should Israel ever carry out its threat to attack Iranian nuclear facilities.
"Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are building weapons with experts from Iran," one top security official said Saturday, speaking on condition of anonymity. "What we took care of last night was their own production facility for UAVs," he added, referring to unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. "This was all the work of Jabari, who was a very sophisticated and strategic thinker."
A number of recent Israeli military attacks were aimed at cutting the supply chain into Gaza. In late October, a munitions factory in Sudan was hit from the air. Israel did not acknowledge carrying out the attack, but the winks and nods of officials here make clear that it did. Israel has carried out several other such attacks on Sudan, including on convoys, in the past few years.
One official here said that until Israel ended its military occupation of Gaza in 2005, there were only primitive weapons factories there. The Hamas rockets had a flight capacity of about a mile, they could not be aimed and they flew in a wild cylindrical pattern. Hamas then built better rockets that could fly up to 12 miles.
That changed little until 2007, when Hamas fighters pushed the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority out of Gaza into the West Bank and took over governing the coastal strip.
"At that point, Jabari turned his neighborhood defense operation into a real army," said a retired Israeli general whose portfolio included Gaza and who spoke on condition of anonymity.
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