Israel’s assault on Gaza’s rocket arsenals is aimed at countering what it sees as a growing strategic threat posed by Iranian-supplied missiles smuggled in through Egypt.
Though by far the superior military power, Israel has been unable to stop the Palestinian rockets needling its southern towns over the past decade.
The projectiles, while a threat to the Israelis who live within range, are not precision-guided, and sirens give enough warning before they hit. Others have been knocked down by the Iron Dome interceptor system.
However, among the Israelis’ concerns is this: if it goes to war against Iran’s nuclear programme, the Islamist Hamas-governed Gaza Strip could serve as a launch pad for the reprisals.
As with its 2006 offensive against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, Israel’s opening broadside in Gaza last Wednesday was against what it described as underground stores and silos of the longest-range rockets there.
The most powerful of these were Iranian-designed Fajr-5s, with a 50-mile range and a 385 lb warhead capable of reaching Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
At 18 feet in length, the Fajr-5s are hard to transport and conceal. The Israelis say Iran has been manufacturing them for Hamas, which brings them in through Sudan and the Egyptian Sinai region. Israel is widely supposed to have carried out an October airstrike on an arms stockpile in Khartoum destined for Hamas.
Before their current offensive, the Israelis spoke of Gaza having a total of 10,000 rockets and mortar bombs.
Gaza also had a quantity – in the lower thousands, according to Israel – of imported, Soviet-style Grad or Katyusha rockets with ranges of between 12 miles and 25 miles.
Palestinians have fired more than 1,100 rockets and mortars since Wednesday, according to the Israeli military.
Many of the Gaza rockets are in buried launch tubes that have allowed them to be fired at Israel by remote control, sparing Palestinian guerrillas exposure to counterstrikes.
Yesterday, as Hezbollah took to the streets in support of the Palestinians, the Lebanese military reported it had deactivated two rocket launchers on Israel’s border with Lebanon.