Speculation has been rife about the motivations behind Hamas’ more than 100-rocket-a-day barrage against the Israeli population, week after week. The most popular theory is that the Palestinian Islamists are aiming for a spectacular victory over Israel by hitting an important strategic target and/or causing a high number of fatalities. Until one or both those objectives is achieved, the Palestinian Islamists won’t stop shooting.
But, as the Israeli Operation Defends Edge ended its first week on July 14, another explanation was finding acceptance among well-informed military and intelligence observers: They don’t believe Hamas tacticians have squandered 1,000 rockets thus far on a whim or at random. They are most likely motivated by three goals, which are also important to Hamas’ future plans – and not just Hamas:
1. Why would Hamas keep on shooting when so many of its rockets miss their targets or are destined to be downed by Israel’s Iron Dome interception batteries? The answer is that its tacticians have a hidden agenda. The rocket crews and their masters are testing the strengths and weaknesses of Israel’s wonder weapon for future reference.
Hamas knew in advance of the massive rocket blitz it launched against Israel in the last week of June that the Iron Dome defensive shield was if not impermeable then a major impediment.
At the same time, by battering the very areas where this shield was deployed, Hamas planners sought to expose its weak points and provide the Palestinians terrorists and their allies, Iran and Hizballah, with valuable data about the linchpin of Israel’s defenses.
This explanation would account for the changing focus of the rocket barrage: After three days of concentrated fire on Israel’s three main cities, the Tel Aviv conurbation, Jerusalem and Haifa, Hamas turned Monday, July 14, to its familiar victims around the Gaza Strip’s borders. In those three days, data had been collected on Iron Dome’s performance and handed over to the analysts.
2. When the distribution of Hamas targets is examined, a premeditated program becomes visible: They were not randomly aimed at Dimona, Tel Aviv, Modiin and Hadera, but sought out the nuclear reactor (Dimona), Israel’s national and business heartland (Tel Aviv), the national power center (Hadera), Ben Gurion airport (Modiin), Israeli air bases near Negev towns, and military and port installations in Haifa, Ashkelon and Ashdod.
Hamas strategists noted that when the rocket fire intensified, so too did the Iron Dome interceptions.
While not averse to hitting Israel’s prime strategic sites directly, the Palestinians were their missed launches to develop data for guidance systems that would make their rockets and mortars more accurate in future conflicts.
The first Hamas drone from Gaza over Ashdod coast, shot down by a Patriot anti-missile early Monday, served this strategy,
The drone appears to have spent some time over the Mediterranean without approaching the Israeli coast before it was detected and downed. It may have been gathering information on the Israel coast and the strategic facilities located there.
Hamas later boasted that it had lofted not one but six unmanned aerial vehicles, whose range was 60 km and which were claimed capable of both surveillance and attack.
The IDF responded fast by declaring the southern coastal area a closed military zone.
Israel’s armed forces have been engaged in rocket-air combat for seven days, conducting a total of 1,470 air strikes, compared with more than 1,000 rockets fired by Hamas and its partner Jihad Islami.
Hamas still retains the bulk of its rocket stockpile. Some observers suggest that the Israeli Air Force will soon run out of worthwhile targets. The air force’s target bank is renewed almost hourly by incoming data. To replenish the dwindling stock, the military would have to expand its intelligence assets and resources, including surveillance and other means of monitoring the sites used by the enemy for control and command, as welll as informers.
Inserting a variety of sensitive intelligence resources at key points in the Gaza Strip is an essential requisite – not just for the current conflict, but for the long term. They would be there to have quality intelligence ready and available in real time, so providing a key factor for tipping the scales in the current and future rounds of violence.
Special forces working under cover to “label” targets for dedicated payloads to be delivered by air or “smart artillery” would provide such intelligence, just as Hamas uses rocket attacks and drones to suss out the secrets of Israel’s advanced defenses.
Above all, the clandestine insertion of special forces into the Gaza Strip could break the standoff between Israel and Hamas by cracking the control and surveillance communications systems linking commanders with the ranks and the politicians running the territory.
Ironically, the primitive nature of those communications makes them invulnerable to the IDF’s sophisticated Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) methods.