Israel vs. Hamas: A Targeted Killing on Video – Then Rockets, Bombs, Shells Fill the Air – And a Heavy Long-Range Missile Made in Iran

The latest round of violence between Israel and the Palestinian faction Hamas in Gaza began on Wednesday, when the Israeli air force with great specificity killed the Hamas military commander.  Even as the death toll stood at 3 on the Israeli side, and kept rising to well over 40 on the Palestinian side, the conflict reached new levels of tension when rockets were fired from Gaza toward Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

We can now update the number of missiles that were fired at the greater Tel Aviv area (known in Hebrew as Gush Dan) on Saturday: not two, as previously reported, but three.  One was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, which has made many Israelis feel very proud.  Its radar and computer array calculates the eventual destination of a rising rocket — so that it doesn’t waste approximately $30,000 per intercept by firing at rockets that aren’t going to hit populated neighborhoods.  Many people on the Tel Aviv beach on Saturday looked up and saw the explosion in the air, when the Iron Dome protected them by destroying an incoming projectile.

Since the start of this mini-war, six missiles were fired at Gush Dan.  They are called Fajr missiles, and they are made in Iran.  They were smuggled into the Gaza Strip by way of Sudan (where the Israeli air force is reliably reported to have carried out two air strikes — very far from Israel — in recent years, to disrupt smuggling routes that start with the arrival of ships from Iran).  The last IAF attack on Sudan was three weeks ago, when a huge storage area was destroyed.

A Fajr missile is 6 meters (about 19 feet) long and weighs 900 kilograms (about 2,000 pounds, or one ton).   The warhead itself weighs 180 kilograms, including 90 kg. of explosives.

Compare that with the rockets that have been fired, for years, at Israeli towns in the south — close to Gaza.  Those are Katyusha or Grad rockets, carrying only 7 kg. of explosives.

The impact of a direct hit by a Fajr would be very significant.  One might say that a Fajr is equivalent to more than 20 suicide bombers, as those people each carried 3 to 5 kilograms of explosives on their bodies.

The range of a Fajr is up to 72 kilometers (45 miles), so indeed Tel Aviv can be reached.  Israel intelligence believes that hitting Tel Aviv is an explicit and important goal for Hamas.

It is estimated that Hamas and PIJ (Palestinian Islamic Jihad) still have two or three dozen Fajr missiles, after the initial Israeli air raids on Wednesday targeted the Fajr storage areas in Gaza with great accuracy.  Intelligence  about these long-range missiles had been collected — with a high priority — by Aman, the military intelligence agency, and Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic security agency that has a long history of penetrating and eavesdropping on terrorist cells and organizations.  Israeli intelligence sees this as a success, as of now, using humint (human intelligence) and sigint (signals intelligence) capabilities.

Some assassinations by Israel have been kept secret, never confirmed by the Mossad (which doesn’t have a spokesman anyway) or other security agencies in Israel.

But Wednesday’s targeted killing of Ahmed Jabari, the military commander of Hamas — the radical Islamist Palestinian faction in Gaza — was officially confirmed by the Israel Defense Forces. The IDF even issued a silent, black-and-white video of Jabari’s car being blown up: a rare instance of a nation boasting about an assassination and displaying it on worldwide TV and websites.

Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, speaking on Al Jazeera English television, said the killing of Jabari was the start of an offensive officially titled Operation Pillar of Defense. (In Hebrew, it is Pillar of Cloud, a Biblical reference to the form that God took when He led the Hebrews toward the Promised Land during their Exodus from Egypt.)

The IDF also said on Wednesday that its air force accurately struck at least 20 sites where rockets and launchers were stored underground by Hamas and by Islamic Jihad.  The Israelis say the Palestinians had recently launched hundreds of rockets at Israeli towns, schools, and forces.

Based on previous occasions when senior Hamas men were killed by Israel — sometimes announced, and sometimes confirmed only by a wink and a nod by Israeli officials — there is reason to expect the Palestinian radicals to attempt harsh retaliation against Israelis. Hamas activists are hinting that suicide attacks and other creative and bloody responses may occur soon, as well as a likely hail of rockets on Israeli targets.

An Al Jazeera reporter in Cairo said (on Wednesday) that Egyptian officials consider the escalation of violence in Gaza to be “Operation Re-elect Benjamin Netanyahu.”  Parts of President Mohammed Morsi’s Islamic Brotherhood party in Cairo clamored for him to break relations with Israel, and he did quickly withdraw Egypt’s ambassador from Tel Aviv.

As of Saturday night, some Israeli officials were expressing the hope that Morsi, after speaking on the phone with President Barack Obama, might help the United States by pressing Hamas for a ceasefire.  Obama also reached out to Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, and he hurriedly arranged a trip to Cairo — for consultations and possible ceasefire contacts.

November 17, 2012

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