Weapons: The Gift From Gaza




December 31, 2008: In Gaza, Hamas is trying to escalate its rocket assault on Israel. In the last few days, Hamas has brought out its longer range rockets and, for the first time, fired a rocket into the town of Ashdod, 30 kilometers from Gaza. Several rockets have landed in Ashkelon, which is 20 kilometers from Gaza. Since Israel withdrew from Gaza in August, 2005 (as a peace gesture), Palestinian terrorists have fired over 6,300 rockets and mortar shells into Israel. The vast majority have been aimed at the town of Sderot, which is only three kilometers north of Gaza. But now, with rockets able to reach out to 30 kilometers, over 600,000 Israelis are in danger.

The homemade "Kassam" (or "Quassam", or "Quds") rockets are built in Gaza workshops. Building these rockets has become a major industry there, where the local economy has largely collapsed because of terrorist attacks on Israel, resulting in Israel and Egypt shutting down access to the area in an effort to halt the attacks. Most Gazans are living off food, and other aid provided by the United States and Europe, as well as cash contributions from Iran and oil rich Arab states. Islamic radical groups like Hamas saw the Israeli withdrawal in 2005 as a sign of Israeli weakness and defeat, and an example of how terrorism can win.

Kassams began landing in Israel during late 2001, shortly after the Hamas Palestinian terrorist organization perfected the design. This was the Kassam I, and it was 60mm in diameter, about 31 inches long, weighed twelve pounds and carried a one pound explosive charge. Its range is about three kilometers. Like all the Kassams, you aimed it and hoped for the best. In early 2002, Hamas began firing these at Jewish settlements in Gaza as well. By 2003, larger versions were built. There was the Kassam II, which weighed 70 pounds, is 150mm in diameter and six feet long. It has a range of eight kilometers, and a 11-15 pound warhead. It wasn't until June, 2004, that one of these Kassam rockets actually killed an Israeli. By then, about 200 Kassams had been fired into southern Israel.

Later came the Kassam III, which is 6.7 feet long, 170mm in diameter, has a range of about 12 kilometers, and a warhead of 22-44 pounds. This one weighs about 200 pounds. There are many variations in these designs, and larger rockets have been used as well, including the Kassam IV, with a range of 15 kilometers, and a BM-21 clone, called the Nasser 4, with a range of up to 20 kilometers. Costing only $400 to build, materials for the Nasser 4 rockets are smuggled in via the many tunnels between Gaza and Egypt.

By the end of 2005, over 400 Kassams had been fired at Israeli targets. In the next six months, another 600 rockets were fired. About a third of them were the short range Kassam Is, fired at Israeli settlements in Gaza. The rest were larger Kassams fired into  widely scattered settlements in southern Israel.

About a thousand Kassams were fired into Israel during 2006. This doubled, to two thousand in 2007, and during the first four months of 2008, another 2,000 were fired. In the two months before the ceasefire last June, about 400 a month were fired, in addition to about a hundred mortar shells. Since the ceasefire went into effect, about 30-40 Kassams or mortar shells a month were fired into Israel. When the ceasefire expired on December 19th, the volume of fire more than tripled.

When Israel began attacking Hamas and other terrorist targets on December 27th, the Palestinians increased their rocket attacks. But after peaking at about a hundred fired on the 28th, the number launched has declined with each day. Israeli UAVs, aircraft and jets are constantly over Gaza, seeking out rocket workshops, storage areas and launching sites. Since the bombing began, nearly 400 Palestinians have died, as well as four Israelis.

To date, over 7,000 Kassams have been fired, plus a few dozen factory made rockets and over a thousand mortar shells. For every 30-40 Kassams or mortar shells fired, an Israeli is killed or wounded. Until this year, for every 2-3 Kassams or mortar shells fired, a Palestinian is killed or wounded by Israeli military operations against the firing sites and workshops that build the rockets. In the last year, the Israelis have been more precise in their retaliation, trying to limit Palestinian civilian casualties. For the Palestinians, causing Israeli civilian casualties is their main goal.

Hamas has concluded that suicide bombings, and similar terrorist attacks inside Israel are too difficult because of effective Israeli counter-terror attacks. But the rockets work, sort of. While they don't cause many Israeli casualties, Israeli counter-measures kill more Palestinians, which are useful for diplomatic and propaganda reasons. Dead women and children are particularly useful, which is why the rockets are often launched from residential neighborhoods, and young teenagers are encouraged to get involved with the rocket launching operations.

The Israelis believe that, if left alone, Hamas will have rockets with a range of 40 kilometers, within two years, if not already. The 20 and 40 kilometer rockets will only be used for a decisive battle, one Hamas feels it has a chance of winning. Israel has stopped waiting for that.

The current Israeli attacks, and likely ground invasion of Gaza, is intended to destroy Hamas, and other rocket firing terrorist groups, before more Israelis get killed, or even fired on, in large numbers. Hamas has hopes that someday soon they will attacking in conjunction with Hezbollah (firing rockets into northern Israel), and Iran firing rockets into Tel Aviv. Or something like that. So far, most Hamas war plans appear to have been created more for their propaganda impact, than for their practicality. So far, the war the Palestinians began in late 2000, has left nearly 6,000 people dead, over 80 percent of them Palestinians. A ground invasion of Gaza would leave 500-1,000 Palestinians dead, and would eliminate most of the rocket stockpile. But it would not eliminate the rocket threat. Only the Palestinians can do that, and so far, they seeming unwilling to do so.

Israel knows that Hamas has been stockpiling an arsenal of rockets in Gaza. Israeli intelligence officials believe Hamas currently has, in Gaza, several hundred factory made BM-21 rockets, each with a range of 20-40 kilometers. They also have some shorter range (six kilometers) B-12 rockets. These are not smuggled in much, because the locally made Kassam II has about the same range. However, the B-12 is more reliable (more reliable trajectory and fuze, so more are likely to land where aimed and explode.)

The B-12 is a 107mm, 42 pound, 107mm, 33 inch long, Russian designed rocket that is very popular with terrorists. This rocket has a range of about six kilometers and three pounds of explosives in its warhead. Normally fired, from a launcher, in salvoes of dozens at a time, when used individually, it is more accurate the closer it is to the target. This 107mm design has been copied by many nations, and is very popular with guerillas and terrorists because of its small size and portability.

The 122mm BM-21s weigh 150 pounds and are nine feet long. These have 45 pound warheads, but not much better accuracy than the 107mm model. However, these larger rockets have a maximum range of 20 kilometers. Again, because they are unguided, they are only effective if fired in salvos, or at large targets (like cities, or large military bases or industrial complexes.)

Meanwhile, up north in Lebanon, Hezbollah have stockpiled over 40,000 factory made rockets, mainly BM-21s brought in from Iran via Syria. This is three times as many rockets as they had in the Summer of 2006, when over 4,000 rockets were fired into northern Israel, killing about fifty people, most of them civilians. Over a thousand Lebanese died from Israeli counterattacks. Hezbollah and Hamas plan to launch a joint rocket attack on Israel eventually. The Israelis have been planning more effective countermeasures, which they have not been discussing openly.

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