Weapons: The Russian Rockets Bombarding Israel

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March 30, 2006: After Palestinian terrorists fired rockets from Gaza into southern Israel recently, the Israelis found missile fragments belonging to a Russian designed BM-21 rocket. For the last four years, Palestinians had been using home made Kassam rockets. This was the first time a factory made rocket had been fired into Israel by the Palestinians.

Hamas designed the first Kassam in late 2001. This version, the Kassam I, was a 60mm weapon, about 31 inches long, weighed twelve pounds and carried a one pound explosive charge. It's range was about three kilometers, and it was unguided. You aimed it and hoped for the best. Hamas began firing these at Jewish settlements in Gaza, and into southern Israel as well, in early 2002. By 2003, larger versions were built. This was the Kassam II, which weighed 70 pounds, was 150mm in diameter and six feet long. It had 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 ten kilometers, and a warhead of 22-44 pounds. This one weighs about 200 pounds.

By the end of 2005, over 400 Kassams had been fired at Israeli targets. About a third of them were the short range Kassam I's, fired at Israeli settlements in Gaza. The rest were larger Kassams fired into southern Israel. So far, the Kassams have killed six people ( two Israeli Arabs and four Israeli Jews). Several hundred Palestinian terrorists have died from the Israeli attacks on the Kassam workshops and launching sites.

The discovery of BM-21 components indicates that the Palestinians can now buy, or build, more accurate, and longer ranged, rockets. The 150 pound, 122mm Russian designed BM-21 rocket is nine feet long and has a range of 20 kilometers and a 45 pound warhead. Developed in the late 1930s, the 122mm rocket is normally fired in large numbers from many launchers at spread-out targets. That's because the rockets are unguided. Aim lots of them at a target and you'll hit something. Aim a few of them at something, and you usually won't, But the rockets are made by many countries, are relatively easy to get, and favored by terrorists for attacks that terrorize, rather than actually do any damage.

An Egyptian company manufactures the BM-21, including a longer range version of the 122mm rocket. This one has a range of 45 kilometers. The additional range is achieved by reducing the size of the warhead. Another terrorist favorite is the is the 42 pound, 107mm, 33 inch long, Russian BM-12. 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, they can only be aimed at a large target, like a large village, or small town, with any expectation of hitting anything.

Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian terrorist group that is firing the rockets, says the BM-21s are Russian made, and of the 30 kilometer range variety. Although Israel still controls the main cargo crossings from Egypt into Gaza, the Palestinians and Egyptians are now in charge of dealing with smuggling operations. Before the Israelis pulled out of Gaza last Summer, it was a constant struggle to keep missile components out. Now, higher quality parts are getting in, and the terrorists are building more accurate missiles. While Israeli radars, aircraft and artillery still operate against the launching sites in northern Gaza, the missiles are still launched. Not as many as in the past, when, in 2004, as many as sixty a month were fired. But with more accurate missiles, Israeli civilians are more likely to get killed. This is primarily because larger Israeli towns, like Ashkelon, are now within range. Ashkelon's southern suburbs contain several industrial facilities, which make excellent targets for the rockets.

 


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