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Hamas’ primary weapons in Israel attack: Deception and the element of surprise

Security specialists believe that the Islamic fundamentalist group managed to break through Israeli defenses due to its ability to combine different assault methods

Guerra Israel Gaza
Hamas missiles are intercepted by the Israeli air defense system, known as the Iron Dome, over Ashkelon, October 10, 2023.Marcus Yam (LOS ANGELES TIMES / GETTY)

Last Saturday, Hamas used relatively modern armaments to infiltrate itself into Israeli territory, killing at least 1,200 people and kidnapping around 130, most of them civilians, in just a few hours. The fundamentalist organization deployed drones, homemade projectiles, paragliders and even a bulldozer to break through Israel’s defenses. At 29 separate points, Hamas managed to breach the six-meter-high fence with which Israel has encircled the 365 square-kilometer (141 square-mile) Gaza strip, home to 2.2 million Palestinians. But the most decisive factor, according to specialists consulted, were weapons as old as they are effective: the element of surprise and deception of the enemy.

Fabian Hinz, a military analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), believes that the main novelty of the attack was the momentary combination of several factors: launching missiles, the use of paragliders, the deployment of small boats, and drones. “Thinking about such an operation and convincing others of its benefits can be difficult. Keeping it secret is more complicated. And what is even more complex is to execute it, to make it effective,” he says via videoconference.

The analyst believes that Hamas may have benefited from the fact that Israel never thought the militia intended to start a war. Regarding the possibility that the Hamas offensive was supported by Iran, Hinz acknowledges that it is very difficult to prove. “We don’t know if Tehran was aware of the operation. What we do know is that Iran has been teaching Hamas for years how to make its own missiles. The weapons smuggled into Gaza are light weapons, mostly rifles. But the rockets or projectiles are homemade. They can weigh between 20 and 300 kilos, although most weigh around 100 kilos. The ones that have been used so far are not precision-guided. We don’t know if Hamas is saving these missiles for later.” Authorities in Tehran, meanwhile, have denied any involvement in the operation by the fundamentalist militia that holds sway in Gaza.

Rockets fired from the Gaza strip towards Israel on Wednesday, October 11, 2023.
Rockets fired from the Gaza strip towards Israel on Wednesday, October 11, 2023.Fatima Shbair (AP)

4,000 missiles in three days

Hamas launched around 4,000 projectiles over three days, a figure similar to the 4,360 it poured on Israel in May 2021, during the 11-day war. On this occasion, the Israeli air defense system, known as the Iron Dome, was overwhelmed. No one knows the extent of the arsenal Hamas still has at its disposal. In 2021, Israeli intelligence estimated the total number of rockets held by the various factions in Gaza to be around 30,000. For his part, Hinz believes it is very likely Hamas has some military resources at its disposal that it has not yet made use of.

The Israeli army was no stranger to the glider attack. On the night of November 25, 1987, a Palestinian used a hang glider to fly from southern Lebanon to the Israeli camp at Gibor, where he killed six soldiers.

Hinz believes that the decisive factor in the coming days will be whether Lebanon’s Shiite militia Hezbollah joins the war. “Hamas is 15 to 20 years behind Hezbollah, in terms of military preparedness. The Shiite militia has Iranian Fateh-110 missiles, which weigh 500 kilograms and have a range of 300 kilometers,” he explains.

A Western expert who asks for anonymity agrees, emphasizing that none of the weapons used by Hamas so far are new to this group. “But combining all these factors has been very effective,” he notes. For this specialist, the key factor has been a strict policy of what is known as OPSEC (Operational Security), the ability to keep an operation of this scale secret. “In addition, the strategy of misdirection and, ultimately, the surprise factor was key.”

For his part, Lucas Webber, co-founder of the Militant Wire website, explains in an e-mail that Hamas has strengthened its arsenal and its operational capacity in recent years. “The group has developed an indigenous cottage weapons industry that includes drones, multiple rocket launch systems, and air defense systems, all of which were used in the recent attack.”

Webber believes that should Israel undertake an invasion of the Gaza strip, it will face grenades, drones, landmines, and mortars. “Israeli forces will be entering a hostile environment that is also one of the most densely populated areas on the planet. The abundant tall buildings also allow for ambushes and snipers. This type of urban warfare will pose challenges, despite Israel’s considerable military advantages over Hamas.”

Spanish security analyst Jesús Manuel Pérez Triana believes that the most relevant aspect of the attack from a technical point of view was the efficient use of drones. “Previously, they used very rudimentary drones. Now it is as if they were imitating the devices being used in the Ukraine war. We have also seen in videos how they destroyed Israeli watchtowers with drones. This attack served to blind the Israeli command post.”

However, Pérez Triana points out that the key factor was the chain of errors made by Israel and induced by Hamas. “Everyone made the same mistake of believing that, as of 2021, Hamas no longer wanted to start a war. The destruction of the organization’s infrastructure and the loss of key leaders in the spring 2021 conflict with Israel seemed to have achieved the result of deterring Hamas from attacking Israel, which turned its attention to the West Bank. The Israelis thought that Hamas only wanted an increase in work permits for Gazans. But in reality, they were preparing for a full-scale attack.”

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