Tel Aviv, Asharq Al-Awsat – With the passage of over seven years since the first Palestinian missile was launched towards Israel, an Israeli report acknowledges that, “Despite the fact that Palestinian missiles are primitive and that most of them do not cause serious harm to Israel, they are nonetheless considered a grave threat. They have affected the lives of 190,000 Israelis and 3,000 have abandoned their hometowns, especially in Sderot [small town in Negev].”
The report also indicates that the damage inflicted upon Palestinians is much larger than that upon Israelis, whether in terms of the number of deaths and injuries or political, militant and financial damage. This is the summary of the report issued by Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre, which it made public worldwide on 14 December 2007 as part of a media campaign against armed Palestinian organizations.
This campaign takes on a special dimension since the publication of this report coincides with an escalating military campaign launched by Israel in Gaza. However, head of Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre, Dr. Reuven Erlich has denied that there is a direct correlation between the two issues. He told Asharq Al-Awsat that, “We have been preparing this study for years and we have summarized it today after exactly seven years have elapsed since the launch of the first Palestinian rocket on Israel.”
The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre in Israel is affiliated to the NGO Israel Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Centre (IICC) and is headed by Dr. Reuven Erlich who is a retired army general and a renowned researcher in the field of terrorism. According to the centre’s official statement, it specializes in “The Palestinian Authority and its policies regarding terrorism and terrorist organizations; Palestinian terrorist organizations and their activity during the lull in the fighting; anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli incitement and hate propaganda; terrorism-sponsoring countries (especially Syria and Iran ); the Hezbollah organization; the global financing of terrorism; links between Palestinian-Middle Eastern terrorism and global jihad; suicide-bombing and its source in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the involvement of women and children in Palestinian terrorism; the information about Palestinian terrorism and the ways in which to put an end to it.”
With this agenda, the centre has established wide-ranging contact with similar organizations worldwide, both East and West. According to Dr. Erlich, approximately 60,000 people visit the centre’s website on a monthly basis and these figures correspond to the Arab world alone.
The aforesaid centre’s report stated that its aim was to establish an official field of research that can analyze the phenomenon of missiles that are launched from the Palestinian territories into Israeli towns, particularly Gaza since the Al Aqsa Intifada (the Second Intifada in 2000), in addition to the impact on both parties and the conflict between them.
Moreover, the report points out that launching rockets is not necessarily a means of resisting the occupation, but rather serves multiple objectives. Sometimes it comes as a response to the start of political negotiations for peace, or is in some cases part of the internal struggles. For example, when the conflict broke out between Hamas and Fatah, there were increased missile attacks on Israel so that the Israeli retaliation, which had also increased in intensity, was regarded by many Palestinians as a joint attack executed by Israel in collaboration with Fatah. Sometimes the shelling is in retaliation to Israeli operations. Information indicates that the shelling increased after Israel’s string of assassinations: Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Dr. Abdel Aziz al Rantisi and Jamal Abu Samhadana, among others.
The report also reveals that all the missiles used by the various armed Palestinian groups are locally manufactured and that they are made using simple materials that are available in local neighborhoods. According to the report no preventative measures are taken so that there are no ‘mishaps’ that could have serious repercussions on the residents who live within a close radius. Since the missiles are assembled using primitive methods, they result in many accidents.
However, during the recent years official explosive materials have been obtained (according to descriptions of official reports), however most of them still use agricultural pesticides and sugar. The missiles are mainly made from metal water pipes that are manufactured for this purpose. The process is supervised by individuals who have been trained to make them abroad or who have received instructions via the internet.
However the Grad-class Katyusha rockets [multiple rocket launchers], which are of Soviet-origin are smuggled into Gaza through underground tunnels between Egyptian Sinai and Gaza. These missiles weigh between 62-66 kilograms (kg) and are 280 centimeters (cm) in length 122 millimeters (mm) caliber and can carry up 18kg of explosive material and have a range 20.4km.
The first occasion to mark the launch of these missiles was on 28 March 2006, which marked the day of the Israeli general elections. It landed in a bare plot of land west of Netivot and did not cause any damage. This type of rocket is predominately used by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and according to the report, the sources that have been supplying the rockets are Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah. The report also maintains that there is a considerable amount of these rockets in Gaza today and that they are pending suitable “Israeli occasions” to be launched.
The report states that this type of rocket represents a greater threat today since it is more developed and more accurate than the locally manufactured missiles. Its range can reach as far as the city of Ashkelon, which has a population of 106,000. If fired accurately, the repercussions could be grave and devastating upon the consideration that the majority of missiles launched by Hezbollah in Israeli towns during the last war in Lebanon were Katyusha rockets.
As for the locally manufactured Qassam rockets, which are made by the Hamas movement, despite their rudimentary production, they are still deemed the most developed amongst the missiles launched by Palestinians into Israel. They are made in blacksmith workshops that are located in populated Palestinian towns and refugee camps. After seven years of developing Qassam rockets, they now have a range of 10-12 km. This means that Hamas is capable of bombing several towns in the western Negev area in Israel, including Ashkelon and a number of strategic locations that surround it and Netivot (population 23,000) and Sderot.
The report also mentions the three models of Qassam over the years: the Qassam 1 has a maximum range of 3km; Qassam 2 has a range 8-10km, weighs 30-40kg and has a caliber of 115mm and is 180cm in length with a capacity to carry four kilograms of explosive substances and Qassam 2 short-range, which has a range of 7-6km. The long-range Qassam 3 rocket is believed to have a range of 10km.
Despite the primitive nature of the missiles, they are gradually improving in performance so that they are catching up with the standard of official rockets. Although small metal balls have been added to the rockets with the intention of inflicting more casualties; the explosive material has remained unchanged, mainly comprised of agricultural pesticides and sugar, among other chemicals used.
According to the report, Hamas has been exerting exceptional efforts towards developing technology for the advancement of the missiles so that they may have a greater range and could be stored for longer periods (until orders for their launch are given). But Hamas also imports missiles that have been manufactured in official factories (in Iran and Syria, which are smuggled through underground tunnels in Sinai).
The PIJ has dubbed its rockets “Quds” and it is the organization that has been launching the most missiles over the past year since Hamas has decreased its missile launch activity since it came to power. The Quds missiles are less effective than the Qassam and also have a shorter range; however they are continually being developed. Quds 1: 23.5kg, length 150cm, 90mm caliber and range 6km; Quds 2: 7km range; Quds 3a: range 10km and Quds 3b: 9km range.
The Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) has named the first rocket it manufactured “Nasser”; and it has since developed it into three types: Nasser 3 long-range: 30kg, 90mm caliber, length 90cm with a arrange of 6km. Nasser 4 weighs 40kg and is 180cm long, 115mm caliber and has a range of 9km.
Aqsa missiles are manufactured and used by the Fatah movement and they resemble the rockets made by Hamas, however in the past year it has been revealed that Fatah has developed another rocket named “Yasser” (after late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat), which has a 15km range. The Palestinian Liberation Front’s (PLF) rocket “Samoud” has a 7km range.
As for rocket launchers, they are manufactured abroad and are characterized by being more accurate and lighter in weight than their local counterparts. They are also easier to move; however, they have a shorter range. They were initially used to target the Israeli settlements in Gaza. Following the implementation of the Israeli unilateral disengagement plan, which evacuated the settlements in Gaza, the rockets continued to be launched, however only on the Israeli army patrol positions located on the border or within the Gaza border.
According to the Israeli report; there are three types of rocket launchers used by the Palestinians: the first has an 80-90mm caliber, weighs 3-5kg and can hold up to 400gms of explosive materials with a maximum range of 1.8km. The second type has 135-140mm caliber, weighs 20-25kg and has a range of 4km, while the third has a 240-250mm caliber, weighs 21kg, can hold up to 5-8kg of explosive substance and has a range of 1-2km.
The report examines the impact of these missiles over Israel from two perspectives; the Israeli and the Palestinian. It states that the Palestinians have resorted to missile attacks on Israel in an attempt to find a way to cause unrest among the Israelis despite the enormous discrepancy of military power capabilities between the two sides.
The first rocket launched was in Sderot in November 2001, and the Palestinians had adopted the idea from the Lebanese since they viewed that these rockets were the reason behind the Israeli army’s withdrawal from Lebanon. Another aspect was the cheap cost entailed in local manufacture and the fact that the missiles could affect the lives of tens of thousands of Israelis, due to their long range, whilst also avoiding direct combat with Israeli forces. They also realized the psychological impact that they had on the daily lives of Israeli citizens.
As for the Israeli perspective, the report reveals that the rockets have indeed had a very negative impact on Israel, since it affects the lives of approximately 190,000 Israelis who live in the towns of western Negev. In Sderot, which has been under the heaviest missile attack (803 rockets), 3,000 residents have fled the town (out of 21,000 population).
However, the report points out that the drawbacks affecting the Palestinians are far greater than the “achievements” that they have accomplished: there is a large number of Palestinian casualties, much more than Israelis, as a result of these missile attacks, however the report does not record an accurate estimate for these figures.
“The Palestinians do not publish clear reports about the casualty losses like we do,” Dr. Reuven Erlich, head of the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre told Asharq Al-Awsat, however he made a reference to a “technical fault” during the victory celebrations held by Hamas following the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza (23 September 2005) in which rockets were accidentally activated during a military parade in the Jabaliya refugee camp.* Nineteen Palestinians were killed (the equivalent of Israeli casualties over the past seven years, since the start of missile attacks), while over 80 Palestinians were injured. This is the result of the rockets that are launched towards Israel but end up falling in the Gaza Strip.
Another factor that contributes to the increasing number of Palestinian casualties is the lack of accuracy in launching missiles so that they land in open spaces without inflicting any damage on the targets. The Palestinian missile attacks over the past seven years have caused the deaths of 20 Israelis, all of whom are civilians, including two Arab shepherds (Palestinians of 1948), Selim and Khaled Zidan, and two Palestinian workers, Musalih Omran and Mohamed Mahmoud Gharoum, who were working at an Israeli farm, in addition to a Chinese and Thai worker, three Israeli children and four Israeli women all of which does not secure much international sympathy for the Palestinians; in fact, quite the opposite. Additionally, the targeting of Israeli civilians receives harsh international condemnation, which backfires in the face of Palestinians.
The report points out, however, that the real threat confronting Gaza is if these rockets were smuggled into the West Bank. The success of such an operation would mean that large cities such as Jerusalem, Kfar Saba, Petah Tikva and others may be subjected to missile attacks, which could lead to a much greater number of casualties and injuries that would prove to be unbearable for Israel. As such, it is working to the best of its abilities to prevent this possibility from becoming a reality.
The report mentions the attempts made by Palestinians towards that end and states that it started after the unilateral pull-out from Gaza and increased substantially following the war in Lebanon. However, all attempts failed due to intensive Israeli procedures and operations launched against the Palestinians.
These undertakings have mainly been attempted in the northern area of the West Bank and were discovered by Israel at the beginning of 2002 when it detained a truck full of missiles en route from Nablus, where they had been manufactured, on its way to Jenin. They were intended to be launched from Jenin into the northern Israeli towns.
In January 2004, a Hamas activist was detained in Ramallah and his arrest led to a workshop in the city where primitive missiles were being manufactured. Later in the same year, on 30 December, a PIJ activist was detained and confessed that he was a member of a cell that had been working on a plan to launch missiles into the Israeli city Afula.
A few months later, a cell was arrested and it was revealed that they were working on establishing workshops to produce and develop missiles. Less than two months later, a workshop fitting the same description was discovered in the Palestinian town al Yamun near Jenin.
On October 2005, three members of a cell that was affiliated to the PRC that infiltrated Israel via the Egyptian Sinai from the Gaza Strip was arrested on its way to Jenin to train the town’s youth to make missiles.
The report also documents four missile attacks launched from the West Bank into Israel, one on 8 March 2002 from Tulkaram, and another launched by the PIJ on 8 May 2006 that targeted an Israeli army camp in Jalama Jenin; however, no one was harmed. Two other attempts were made from Jenin by a cell that is affiliated to Lebanon’s Hezbollah on 7 and 30 July 2006. They, too, failed in reaching their targets. The fifth attempt was aborted before the PIJ could reach their target from al Yamun, which was the Israeli town of Ramon.
When the highlights of this report were pointed out to a spokesman from Hamas, he said that he rejected the report since it was neither accurate nor objective. He stated that, “This is yet another document made by the Zionist enemy to incite public opinion against the Palestinian resistance, especially Hamas. The objective is to justify the atrocious crimes that are carried out by the Zionist occupation against our people over the past century, regardless of what the Palestinians do or do not do and before Qassam and after Qassam rockets.”
He added, “It is not true to say that Qassam rockets harm Palestinians more than they do the Israelis. We have only just started to use this weapon and they will witness real horror. Our people know that had it not been for Qassam rockets, Israel would have committed more heinous crimes against us. God willing, we will achieve an Islamic victory over the enemy then our people will know that the sons of the resistance movement were the ones to bring victory.”
* The large explosion at the Hamas rally in the Jabaliya refugee camp killed 19 people and injured over 80. According to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and most observers, Hamas’s mishandling of explosives during the parade was responsible for the explosion. Hamas, however, blamed Israel and fired 30 rockets into the Israeli town of Sderot the following day, wounding five Israelis.