Terrorist attack policies
In June 2007 Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, neutralized the military and political strength of Fatah and the Palestinian security services and established a radical Islamic entity in the Gaza Strip (“Hamastan”), which is separate from the PA in Judea and Samaria led by Abu Mazen and Fatah. That fundamental change in the status of Hamas, which turned it into an administration responsible for the lives of the Gaza Strip’s 1,400,000 residents, also influenced its terrorist attack policy.
In view of the changes, Hamas, more than the other terrorist organizations, was forced to provide a response to the tension between the political exigencies and its dedication to the path of terrorism employed to realize its strategic and political goals. The response to the dilemma was to continue its terrorist campaign, especially from the Gaza Strip, while regulating the dosage in a way that would enable it to undertake a controlled escalation of rocket fire without provoking Israel into a broad military action in the Gaza Strip. At the same time Hamas continued its accelerated military buildup, intended to enable it to face the IDF effectively when the latter does enter the Gaza Strip.
The following are some of the main aspects of Hamas’s terrorist attack policy manifested in 2007:
i) Focus on routine terrorist activities which Hamas perceives as “justified” to maintain its anti-Israel campaign: mortar shell fire targeting military and civilian objectives along the Gaza Strip border, attacks on the border crossings (at the expense of the civilian Palestinian population), light arms fire, planting IEDs along the security fence, etc.
ii) The continuation of a “routine” of high doses of rocket fire targeting the western Negev population centers subcontracting to the PIJ and other organizations, permitting and sometimes encouraging them to carry out “routine” rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
iii) An occasional increase in rocket fire as a deterrence, creating a “response equation” with Israel. For example, in response to an unusual action by the Israeli security forces, such as a broad land incursion into the Gaza Strip, a response to targeted killings of senior operatives, the (accidental) harming of civilians, etc. In most instances the response involves intensive rocket and mortar shell fire and a time-limited escalation in the terrorist activities against Israel.
iv) Intentional escalation to meet internal Palestinian political needs, involving exceptional amounts of rocket fire into Israel to attract attention away from events in the Gaza Strip and toward the confrontation with Israel, creating an escalation for a limited time. An obvious example occurred in May 2007, at the height of the violent conflict between Hamas and Fatah, when Hamas initiated an unprecedented barrage of rocket fire.
v) Hamas still aspires to rehabilitate its operational networks in Judea and Samaria to open a second front against Israel and to ease the pressure on the Gaza Strip. However, the Israeli security forces’ intensive counterterrorist activities have prevented Hamas from carrying out showcase attacks from Judea and Samaria, although its operatives attempted to initiative mass-casualty attacks (attempts to carry out a suicide bombing attack in Tel Aviv and planting IEDs to attack IDF forces near the trans-Judea road).
In May 2007 Hamas initiated an escalation in rocket fire, attempting to end the violent confrontations with Fatah by deflecting the fire toward Israel. Once Hamas had taken over the Gaza Strip (June 2007) the level of rocket fire returned to “routine,” although the monthly average of more than 60 rockets was higher than the period before the takeover. The rise can be explained by Hamas’s policy of a keeping a higher level of rocket fire, and not as a response to an exceptional IDF activity in the Gaza Strip.
In 2007 there were 740 identified mortar shell hits, compared with 22 in 2006. The step-up began after the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. Since then it has fired the greatest number of mortar shells, using them as a tactical weapon against IDF forces and Israeli villages close to the border.
Signs of life from Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier abducted by Hamas: In 2007 the efforts to secure the release of Gilad Shalit continued without success. On June 25, the anniversary of his abduction from Kerem Shalom, Hamas issued an audio cassette, a step touted as a “humanitarian message.” It was made public by Hamas’s military-terrorist wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, without mentioning the other organizations which had participated in the abduction. On the tape Gilad Shalit called upon the government of Israel to accede to the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades’ demands. He said his health was deteriorating and that he needed prolonged hospital treatment. The text was obviously written by his captors, the Hebrew was poor and the word “brigades” appeared in Arabic.
Hamas’s military buildup in the Gaza Strip
During 2007, Hamas accelerated its military buildup. The process was the result of several factors:
i) The many difficulties faced by Hamas since it came to power, especially since its takeover of the Gaza Strip: Hamas has been forced to struggle with a series of difficulties including its political isolation, an economic blockade, IDF activities, internal subversion, political competition with Fatah and the unending propaganda war waged against it by Fatah and Abu Mazen’s PA. They have given it a sense of being menaced and present it with continual challenges, requiring it to form military-security systems to ensure its rule in the Gaza Strip and protect it from its many enemies, internal and external.
ii) The need to find a response to the IDF’s counterterrorist activities in the Gaza Strip accompanied by fear that Israel will reconquer the Strip or parts of it: The scenario of an IDF takeover resurfaces every time Palestinian terrorism escalates and along with it increased IDF counterterrorist activities. Hamas also continually needs to deal with the IDF’s intensive counter-terrorist activities in the Gaza Strip, including targeted killings of terrorist operatives, attacks on bases and facilities and limited land activities in the northern and southern regions.
iii) Hezbollah’s success in providing an asymmetric response to the IDF’s might during the second Lebanon war made it a role model for Hamas. The second Lebanon war and the results of the constant rocket fire at Sderot and the western Negev population centers made it clear that rockets were strategically important because of Israeli civilian vulnerability. The lessons of the second Lebanon war also illustrated the importance of a strong military force which could stand fast and survive to protect Hamas’s control of the Gaza Strip, like the military force Hezbollah established in south Lebanon.
Hamas’s military build-up is based on two main systems: the internal security system, centering around the Executive Force, its main security arm for controlling the Gaza Strip; and its military-terrorist system, centering around the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, which deal with planning and carrying out terrorist attacks against Israel and defending the Gaza Strip from within. The operatives of the internal security system and of the other Palestinian terrorist organizations would integrate into the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades’ program for defense should the IDF enter the Gaza Strip.
The overall strength of Hamas's military forces
The Hamas’s military strength rests on the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, its military terrorist wing. In our assessment, it has more than 10,000 operatives in the Gaza Strip. That figure may be larger because of Hamas’s intense recruiting process since it took over the Gaza Strip. It can be expected that most of the operatives will reinforce the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades in an emergency situation vis-à-vis the IDF, while routinely the regular hard core is composed of several hundred skilled operatives. Its acting commander is Ahmed Ja’abari.
A considerable number of the operatives expected to reinforce the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades routinely serve in the internal security forces. Those forces, centering around the Executive Force, today number around 10,000 operatives, most of them either Hamas members or supporters. Thus the total number of Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades and internal security force operatives controlled by Hamas is, in our estimation, about 15,000.
About 3,000-4,000 operatives belonging to the other Palestinian terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip can be added to the strength of the Hamas forces. At least some of them may join the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades in an emergency situation and accept its orders to fight the IDF. Thus the entire strength Hamas has at its command in the Gaza Strip is close to 20,000 armed men of varying degrees of skill and professionalism.
Hamas's military wing (the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades)
In the past few years, especially since the disengagement, Hamas’s military-terrorist infrastructure has gradually transformed itself into a hierarchical structure with semi-military patterns of action. That change means the unification of local terrorist networks throughout the Gaza Strip into one military wing with an orderly structure which has adopted military components both in its commanding and directing the forces and support systems (manufacturing, acquiring andsmuggling weapons, etc.). However, it is not a classic military organization, and under fire Hamas can be expected to employ the principles of asymmetric warfare: the operation of small fighting units (platoons and squads), focusing on hit and run attacks, blending in with and disappearing into the civilian population, making extensive use of civilians as human shields, etc.
Hamas’s military wing includes territorial brigades and designated units deployed throughout the Gaza Strip, each of which has more than 1,000 operatives. Each brigade has a number of battalions and each battalion has several companies. Each company has three platoons composed of three combat teams (including fighters, anti-tank operatives, saboteurs, medics).
The brigades are deployed as follows:
i) A brigade in northern sector, commanded by Ahmed Ghandour.
ii) The Gaza City sector, which apparently has two brigades commanded by Ahmed Ja’abari.
iii) A brigade in the central sector, commanded by Ayman Nawfal (today detained by the Egyptians).
iv) A brigade in the southern sector, which apparently has two brigades (in accordance with geographical conditions), one in Khan Yunis, commanded by Muhammad Sinwar, and the other in Rafah, commanded by Ra'ed al-Attar.
Ordinarily, as noted above, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades have a few hundred skilled operatives. They attack civilian targets in Israel (firing rockets and mortar shells) and military targets bordering the Gaza Strip (firing mortar shells, lightweapons fire, planting IEDs, attempts to carry out mass-killing attacks and abduct soldiers in Israeli territory).
The underground system
One of the main components of Hamas’s military build-up is a vast underground system which includes a network of tunnels dug under various regions of the Gaza Strip for attack and defense. The network is intended to create a threat to IDF forces operating in the Gaza Strip, to neutralize some of the IDF’s capability to damage the Hamas infrastructure and to give Hamas’s military wing an operational breathing space during prolonged, extensive fighting.
As part of its military buildup project, Hamas is making an effort to equip itself with advanced standard arms and ammunition alongside independently-produced arms and ammunition. Hamas places great significance on artillery (rockets and mortars), antitank weapons, and IEDs to be used against the IDF’s infantry and armored combat vehicles (since those types of weapons proved themselves in Hezbollah’s fighting against the IDF on the Lebanese scene).
The arms and ammunition smuggled into the Gaza Strip are usually obtained from three major sources:
i) Arms and ammunition provided by Iran and Syria, either directly or through Hezbollah. The arms and ammunition are smuggled to Sinai and then make their way to the Gaza Strip through the extensive network of tunnels. The breach of theborder fence between the Gaza Strip and Egypt allowed Hamas and other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip to smuggle considerable amounts of arms and ammunition, including artillery rockets and anti-tank weapons.
ii) Arms and ammunition acquired from arms dealers. The arms and ammunition are smuggled to Sinai (or purchased there) and are then smuggled into the Gaza Strip through the network of tunnels.
iii) Independently-produced arms and ammunition. These arms and ammunition, which include improved Qassam artillery rockets and other types of rockets, are manufactured in lathe shops and workshops in the Gaza Strip. The raw materials are smuggled into the Gaza Strip from Egypt and Israel, including chemicals, metal parts, and other substances used for the production of arms and ammunition.
Exceptionally, Hamas obtained large quantities of weapons after it took over the security services of the Palestinian Authority in June 2007. Some of the weapons were advanced items which Hamas had not possessed before (it would have taken Hamas months or even years to smuggle them through the tunnels).
Rockets and mortars
For Hamas and the other terrorist organizations, firing rockets and mortar shells is an asymmetrical, simple, readily available and cheap solution to Israel’s military superiority. While it does have problems, they believe that it allows them to continually disrupt the life of the civilian population within the rockets’ range for prolonged periods of time. That destabilizes Israel’s social fabric, bypasses the security buffer zone built by Israel along the Gaza Strip, and creates a kind of “balance of terror” that would make it difficult for Israel to carry out its counter-terrorism operations. The rockets are launched from denselypopulated areas, sometimes near residential buildings and in some cases from rooftops and schoolyards, and Palestinian civilians are used as human shields.
Hamas’s rocket supply is based on several hundred independently-produced Qassam rockets, with diameters ranging from 90mm to 115mm and ranges of 9-13 km (6-8 miles). The Hamas military wing has several independently-produced longrangerockets which can reach 19 km (almost 12 miles). Hamas also possesses at least dozens of standard long-range Grad rockets (122mm), with a range of up to 20.4 km (12 ½ miles), smuggled into the Gaza Strip or confiscated from the Palestinian Authority security services following the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. The breach of Rafah Crossing in January 2008 helped increase the number of standard rockets, and perhaps even a number of rockets for ranges longer than 20.4 km.
The assistance provided by Iran to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations allows them to improve their military capabilities, both by arming themselves with standard rockets and standard mortar shells smuggled into the Gaza Strip, and to receive the technological assistance necessary to create improved rockets with longer ranges than those existing today.
In the last several years Hamas and the other terrorist organizations have ascribed increased significance to anti-tank weapons in fighting against the IDF. That is also a result of the successful use made by Hezbollah of advanced anti-tank missiles against IDF forces in the second Lebanon war. The second Lebanon war accelerated Hamas’s stockpiling of advanced anti tank weapons in the Gaza Strip.
Explosives and IEDs
Since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip it has smuggled significant amounts of high quality explosives and raw materials for manufacturing explosives into the Gaza Strip. According to a report issued by the Israel Security Agency, between the takeover of the Gaza Strip and early 2008, Hamas smuggled at least 80 tons of explosives, more than half the amount of explosives smuggled to the Gaza Strip since the disengagement. That has resulted in the improvement of the performance of IEDs as well as warheads of the artillery and anti-tank rockets in the possession of Hamas and the other terrorist organizations. Hamas also tries to imitate Hezbollah with roadside charges and powerful underbelly charges. They are placed near or under roads to disrupt the IDF’s combat maneuvers and take a heavy toll in human lives and weapons. Such IEDs can also be expected to be hidden in houses or other sites where the IDF is likely to carry out its activities.
Other weapons and ammunition
Following the Hamas takeover of the Palestinian security services, the rifle stockpile of the military wing increased from thousands to tens of thousands (including millions of bullets). Hamas now has sufficient amounts of small arms to increase the number of Hamas operatives in the military and security services. Hamas and the other terrorist organizations have several SA-7 shoulder missiles, which have not been used so far (Hamas’s entire air defense has so far consisted of firing machineguns and small arms at aircraft). There are also dozens of standard and improvised sniper rifles, heavy machineguns also used for anti-aircraft fire, recoilless guns, binoculars, and some night vision equipment.
Independent weapons manufacturing
Hamas has in its disposal a network for independent weapons and ammunition manufacture, as well as for storage and delivery to combatants. It includes several dozen operatives organized into professional work groups. Several dozen production sites are based in the Gaza Strip inside densely populated civilian areas. Weapons and ammunition are manufactured for defense and offense. Over the past year Hamas operatives continued their efforts to independently produce a considerable portion of the weapons and ammunition they require for routine terrorist activities, to reduce their dependency on smuggling. Situated in the heart of civilian areas, the production facilities expose the residents to risks due to attacks by Israel and to “work accidents.”
Hamas and the other terrorist organizations obtain weapons and ammunition from various sources, some from Iran and Lebanon, and some from other countries, such as Sudan. In addition, the terrorist organizations acquire weapons and ammunition from Bedouins in the Sinai desert and from arms dealers operating outside the Gaza Strip. The weapons and the raw materials needed for independent manufacture are transported to the Gaza Strip through a network of smugglers from the Egyptian border, a lifeline for Hamas and the other terrorist organizations.
Since the IDF’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as part of the Israeli disengagement (September 2005), there has been a dramatic increase in weapons smuggling from Egypt into the Gaza Strip through the Philadelphi route. The IDF forces operating along the Egyptian border were first replaced by Palestinian security forces belonging to Fatah. Now, following the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, its own operatives patrol the border in order to facilitate arms smuggling. The presence of Hamas forces and the ineffectiveness of the Egyptian security forces have left the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt wide open, making it possible to carry out extensive smuggle activities with relative ease.
The main method of smuggling used by the terrorist organizations is the network of tunnels dug from Rafah to Sinai in the Rafah region and along Philadelphi route. The smuggling takes place through scores of subterranean tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip to Egypt.
The tunnels are used to smuggle weapons, military equipment, raw materials for the independent weapons and ammunition manufacture, and even funds (tens of millions of dollars). Anti-tank missiles, standard 122mm Grad rockets, dozens of tons of standard explosives, mines, anti-tank launchers, rifles, and bullets have been smuggled into the Gaza Strip through the tunnels. In addition, they are used to smuggle terrorists from the Gaza Strip into Israel through the Israeli-Egyptian border. The breach of the border fence at Rafah (January 22-February 3, 2008) reduced dependence on the tunnel network for a short time and allowed a massive influx of vehicles laden with weapons and ammunition into the Gaza Strip.
Smuggling is also conducted through border crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip under cover of delivering commercial or humanitarian equipment. That results in the absurd situation in which much of the raw materials used in the manufacture of rockets and explosives used to attack Israelis originate in Israel (for example, potassium nitrate and sugar are two basic substances used to create propellants for IEDs and rockets). The use of potassium nitrate is therefore forbidden in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip; accordingly, the terrorist organizations attempt to smuggle it in various ways and means.
The terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip take advantage of the fact that Israel grants entry permits to Gaza Strip residents for special humanitarian reasons (for example, life-saving treatments at hospitals). This is done in several ways, mainly by purchasing fake medical authorization to undergo medical treatment in hospitals in Israel, Judea and Samaria, or elsewhere in the world.
The funds necessary for the purchase of weapons (and the military buildup process in general) are introduced by Hamas into the Gaza Strip in covert ways, mostly through money changers and traders in the Arab world. Terrorist organizations also make extensive use of the tunnels to smuggle large sums of money, up to tens of millions of dollars on each run.
Training in the Gaza Strip and abroad
Hamas’s military buildup process also includes training courses to increase the military professional skills of operatives from all levels and in all occupations. Hamas has a core of several hundred highly-trained operatives who have undergone basic and advanced military training, specializing in such fields as anti-tank weapons, small arms, machineguns, sabotage, etc. Those operatives have acquired fighting skills that allow them to engage in personal combat, squad combat, and possibly in larger-scale formations as well.
Operatives belonging to the Hamas military wing undergo intensive, systematic training in the Gaza Strip, which include elementary training (fitness, rifle shooting, and field training) as well as advanced professional training in sniping, anti-tank warfare, intelligence, and artillery. Elementary training is held in the Gaza Strip and taught by local instructors (some of whom were trained abroad). The advanced professional training is given abroad - in Iran, Syria, and Lebanon (through Hezbollah). At the same time, operatives of the internal security services (the Executive Force, the police, etc.) also undergo basic and advanced training in the Gaza Strip and elsewhere (Iran and Syria), preparing them to serve in Hamas’s military wing in emergency situations.
Following the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, as part of the acceleration of the military buildup Hamas operatives were sent to training courses in Iran and Syria. They were smuggled back into the Gaza Strip and transferred the know-how and skills they had acquired to operatives belonging to Hamas’s operative wing and internal security services. In 2007, Hamas undertook the most extensive and significant training effort in the history of its military wing to improve its operative capabilities.