Hamas has been dealt a heavy blow after severely miscalculating the Israeli response to its rocket attacks, analysts believe.
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Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad have so far lobbed nearly 4,000 rockets from Gaza into Israeli territory in less than two weeks. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has successfully managed to intercept the majority of these in midair.
Nevertheless, 12 Israelis have been killed and hundreds more injured.
On the Palestinian side, some 219 people have been killed in the ongoing flare-up, according to Gaza’s health ministry. Of those, Israel has said that at least 150 were combatants.
According to Dr. Harel Chorev, an expert on Palestinian affairs and head of the Network Analysis Desk at Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center, Hamas has suffered significant losses during this round of fighting. “Hamas lost in every strategic calculation: Many of their tunnels in the Strip are destroyed and their maritime forces are also paralyzed,” Chorev told The Media Line.
“Since the damage is very high, this will be a lesson that Hamas will take into account. Unlike in 2014 [during] Operation Protective Edge, they were not ready.”
Israel pummelled a network of underground tunnels in the Palestinian enclave that were being used to hide rockets and launchers. IDF spokesperson Brig. Gen. Hadai Zilberman on Wednesday said that Israeli Air Force planes had targeted 15 km (roughly 9 miles) of tunnels, dropping 122 bombs on the southern Gaza Strip overnight on Tuesday.
When Hamas initially began launching rockets into Israel last week, they mistakenly believed that the fighting would only last a day or two, Chorev said. “It will be very hard for them to recover their underground infrastructure,” he stated. “They thought that it would be inconvenient for [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu to attack now, which is quite the opposite. It was quite good for him, politically.”
Hamas’ ongoing strategy, he added, relies on a combination of guerrilla tactics and more traditional military weaponry like rockets and mortars. While Israel has been mostly successful at countering the group’s rockets and has efficiently targeted fighters in Gaza without needing to send in ground forces, Hamas has also notched a few surprising victories of its own. Namely, in helping to stoke the
divisions between Arab and Jewish Israelis across Israel. The rioting and unrest recently seen in several towns and cities, Chorev argued, “is the main asset of Hamas and they are totally surprised by it and trying to inflame [the situation] more and more.”
The Islamist group, which runs the Gaza Strip, has also managed to score a few points in other key strategic areas, including undermining the Palestinian Authority, which recently called off general elections in the West Bank. In addition, they succeeded in putting the international spotlight on the Palestinian issue. In terms of firepower, Hamas has also advanced, according to a former Israeli counterterrorism chief. “Naturally, when the pace of [rocket launches] is greater and the warhead is larger, then the damage is more significant,” Brig. Gen. (Res) Nitzan Nuriel, a fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, told The Media Line.
Nuriel, a former director of Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau, pointed to Hamas recently devising a system that can launch multiple rockets at a time.
“Their missile capabilities – from the size to the range and the warhead dimensions – in all of these areas Hamas has improved,” Nuriel said. “They’ve improved thanks to Iranian know-how as well as through experimentation.”
Many of the materials the group uses to manufacture their weapons come through the Rafah Border Crossing, located between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Some of these are standard construction materials, like pipes. “The Egyptian system is not as hermetically sealed as our [blockade] is, so I am guessing that Hamas is managing to smuggle in materials through the Rafah crossing,” Nuriel said. “Ten percent of the pipes entering the Strip are turned into rockets or else the metal is melted down in order to be recast into a relevant shape.”
Daniel Sonnenfeld contributed to this report.