Last night, both Ilana Freedman and I briefed the state coordinators of the National Security Communications Strike Team (NSCST) on the strategic development in the latest rocket war on Israel from Gaza. We were referring to the launch of several Syrian made and Iran supplied Khaibar M-302 rockets with a range of 150 to 160 kms. Freedman notified the group in the briefing that the rockets launched from Gaza had ranged as far north Zikron Ya’akov 12 miles north of Tel Aviv. Today, a rocket struck Ma’aleh Adumim where cousins live. That meant that nearly two thirds of Israel’s population, approximately 5 million, were at risk of strikes in the current rocket war by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). There are an estimated 10 to 12,000 rockets in possession of these terrorist groups in Gaza.
In March 2014, the Israeli Navy intercepted a Panamanian flagged vessel the Klos-C. The ship 40 of the M-302’s and a large quantity of 120mm mortar rounds and hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition for AK-47 and Kalashnikov assault rifles. They were displayed in the southern port city of Eilat on the Red Sea. In the NSCST briefing, Lisa Benson noted that Eilat was very close to the Jordanian town of Ma’an where ISIS supporters have battled security forces. Freedman and I noted that 40 of those M-302 rockets were shipped from Syria to Iran, put aboard the false-flagged Klos-C, hidden underneath sacks of flour. The ship sailed out of a Persian Gulf port down the Arabian sea to be off loaded at Port Sudan and trucked overland via Egypt and the Sinai into Gaza through smuggling tunnels.
Brig. Gen. (ret.) Uzi Rubin, Israel ‘s missile defense architect, presented in an Israel Project interview the full capabilities of the Hamas/PIJ rocket inventory and capabilities. Before its News had this summary drawn from the Yid with Lid blog:
General Rubin explained that Hamas has three families of weapons:
- Home-made, short-range (10-12km) – mainly crude manufacture -in use for 13 years;
- ·Factory-made Grad 122mm with 40 km range used to attack Beersheba and Ashdod;
- Another is the 4-inch M-75 rocket probably designed for the Gaza factions with a range from 75-80 kilometers. That is the one fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Also it seems the missile which landed near Hadera was a Syrian M-302 , with a potential range of 150 – 160 kilometers.
- They also have tactical mortar bombs to distract IDF troops close to Gaza and to hit local villages;
- After Pillar of Defense (Nov. 2012) it was easier for Hamas to smuggle in weapons via Sinai because Egypt was controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. The materials and machinery for local rocket production was probably also smuggled in. It was an open route. A two-way route;
- Rockets were smuggled in from Iran and Syria. Remember the Klos C. A Ship intercepted by the IDF which was carrying Iranian weapons meant for Gaza;
- The locally-made rockets M-75s are well made with components are smuggled in. These are almost factory like but they are not sophisticated. They have the range and the warhead but not the accuracy; and
- Iron Dome is not the solution for everything. It only targets rockets that will hit populated areas.
Listen to The Israel Project interview with Dr. Rubin on this YouTube video:
The existence of the strategic M-302 rockets was the subject of a UN study released in May 2014 on the Klos-C weapons cargo. The report proposed to the Security Council sanctions against Iran. An NBC Report noted, “the Klos-C shipment traveled from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas to the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, and from there in the direction of Port Sudan.” Whether those sanctions might be seriously adopted in the midst of the final days of negotiations by the P5+1 with the Islamic Regime seeking to achieve a final agreement on curtailing Iran’s nuclear program is moot. That leaves Israel to ponder what to do on its own, as the Administration in Washington suggests the myopic view that both sides restrain themselves from further violence.
This is the third day of Operation Protective Edge. Israel’s Air Force and Navy have undertaken in excess of 500 strikes in Gaza. It intercepted Hamas commando teams on Zikim Beach near an IDF Base in Israel. Rockets targted Israel’s nuclear Facility at Dimona and an IAF air base. No Israeli civilian casualties have been incurred, while 53 deaths and 500 injuries have been reported by Hamas spokespersons in Gaza. That umbrella of protection for Israelis is a product of the 90% interception rate for Iron Dome batteries taking down potential rocket strikes against major population centers. This is coupled with the relative inaccuracy of locally made rockets in the Hamas/PIJ inventory. The low number of Iron Dome interceptions is purposeful, as Israel’s Home Command adopted a strategy learned during Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012 to let Hamas/PIJ rockets harmlessly strike unpopulated areas.
Nonetheless, there appears to be resolve in Israel that this time the rocket war and the people behind it must be crushed. That objective is not without significant costs in both blood and treasure given the difficulty pinpointing targets often hidden in schools, hospitals, office buildings and even homes in Gaza. As reported by Israel Hayom, a senior IAF officer said that they were not in possession of complete target intelligence as rocket launchings have originated in underground or disguised office buildings and even homes. A BBC world service report gave evidence of that when a barrage of likely Grad rockets erupted adjacent to their offices in Gaza.
Rubin made the point on the Israel Project interview that current launches of rockets from Gaza are below that experienced during the eight day Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012. He commented that means that Israel could be in for a longer war than previously experienced. That led to the question of when might Israel launch ground operations in Gaza akin to that of Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009. Freedman noted that the reserve call up of 40,000+ authorized by the Netanyahu security cabinet might be focused on reinforcing northern and Golan frontier borders and security in Judea and Samaria. Thus, freeing up regular IDF forces for actions in Gaza. The necessity of ground operations to destroy the infrastructure of rocket inventory, launching sites and removal of Hamas and PIJ leadership was underscored in an Israel Hayom Op-ed by Maj. Gen. (ret.) Uzi Dayan. He was former IDF deputy chief of the general staff and former head of the National Security Council, “Ground operation necessary”. Dayan noted:
The purposes of Operation Protective Edge must be defined precisely: the toppling of the Hamas regime and the elimination of all rockets in Gaza.
Is it possible to defeat a terrorist group? Can these objectives be achieved using military force? The answer to both questions is yes. A terrorist group with a territorial base can be deterred by threatening its hold on that base. The destruction of Hamas governing infrastructure and the targeted killing or expulsion of Hamas leaders are attainable goals.
Will this require a ground operation? Will such an operation involve the loss of troops? Yes and yes. Every military commander knows the challenge is to fulfill the mission and protect soldiers, in that order. Our sensitivity regarding the lives of soldiers is an asset, but when it becomes the main consideration, this undermines the main mission of the IDF — providing security to the citizens of Israel.
Will we get stuck in the “Gaza mud”? No. But we will stay in the areas we capture to deal a lethal blow to terrorist groups, dismantle the rocket infrastructure and topple the Hamas government.
Hamas and the PIJ current rocket war is not the only threat facing Israel. There is the estimated 60,000 rockets/ missiles in fortified areas of Southern Lebanon held by Hezbollah. Those fortified positions were designed by Iranian engineers with the aid of North Korean tunneling experts as Freedman has previously pointed out. Further, the IDF Home Command has to be concerned about an even more formidable missile in Hezbollah’s inventory, the Syrian M-600. It has a range of 250 km sufficient to cover all of Israel and capable of carrying a full range of conventional and non-conventional warheads. That is not lost on Israel’s Home Command, they opened up shelters in the north.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on the New English Review. The featured photos is of Syrian-made M-302 missiles captured by Israeli Naval commandos on display in Eilat March 2014. Source: Ariel Schalit/AP.