Israelis living and serving security in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip report that Hamas snipers have been harassing them in recent weeks as a scare tactic, which appears to be evolving into a major offensive. Only very few of these incidents have been reported – and dismissed by military officials as “stray bullets” – although witnesses have spotted snipers shooting out of the windows of high-rise buildings in the Gaza Strip.
While the rebuilding of terror tunnels which the Israeli military demolished in last summer’s war continues apace, the cash-strapped Palestinian extremists have now hit on stealthy sniper fire as a less expensive, less detectable and easier means of unnerving Israelis across the border.
The shooters take aim from a hidden firing position and, before they can be located and pinned down, flit to the next point and resume shooting at an unpredictable target. This tactic is designed to unsettle the Israeli civilians living in the region and the troops securing it, while boosting morale in the ranks of their own military wing after the devastation it suffered last year.
The extensive use of snipers may be Hamas’ next surprise tactic for IDF strategists, as they analyze the lessons of the last round of fighting, debkafile’s military sources suggest – albeit not the only one. Its military arm is also busy shooting new, more advanced rockets out to sea to test their range.
In the last stage of last year's operation, an IDF Givati Brigade auxiliary company discovered two Austrian Steyr HS.50 snipers rifles in a two-storey building outside the southern Gaza town of Khan Younes. This weapon had a basic effective range of around two kilometers using 0.5 inch caliber bullets.
The Austrian manufacturer sold Iran thousands of these sniper’s rifles between 2006 and 2009. Only a small part of this transaction was disclosed. However, a substantial quantity was shipped in unopened crates to the Gaza Strip via Sudan and the smuggling tunnels of Sinai to their destination in the Gaza Strip, Hamas’ Ezz e-din Al-Qassam armed wing.
To disguise the Steyr’s provenance, Hamas pretended it was homemade under the label Ghoul.
If Hamas deployed its large arsenal of hundreds or thousands of Steyr rifles for shooting out of apartment windows, from battle stations or fast-moving vehicles, it could seriously disable Israeli civilian life in towns, villages, on the roads, the railway and the fields around the enclave..
The models the IDF spokesman reported to have reached Hamas are outdated and have undoubtedly been overtaken by a new generation of rifle, which would be semi-automatic, with 1 inch caliber magazines, and an effective range of more than three kilometers. It is likely to be fitted with a thermal laser range-finder for night combat.
If and when the Steyr rifle reaches such West Bank towns as Tulkarm and Qalqilya, Hamas would have a weapon capable of immobilizing Israeli life within a wide radius. The armed sniper's easy mobility would present IDF counter-terror units with a new predicament.
Rafael has developed an electro-optic device called Spotlite which pinpoints snipers with 95 percent accuracy, but it only works after he fires the first shot and stays in place. Once he is on the move, he becomes almost impossible to intercept.