The “threat” from homemade Hamas “bottle rockets” has been used by Israel for over ten years to justify deadly airstrikes and a suffocating blockade of Gaza.
As the 1.8 million residents of the Gaza Strip face a humanitarian catastrophe — living under an illegal blockade, forced to drink sewage due to the destruction of vital infrastructure, and with their hospitals, schools and other civilian buildings treated as “militant targets” by the Israeli military — Israel’s government has announced that it is “on the threshold of war” with the coastal enclave, setting the stage for another mass slaughter of Gazan civilians, disguised as an ongoing military operation since Operation Protective Edge was launched in 2014.
On Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched its largest military operation against the Gaza Strip since 2014 in response to “a barrage” of an estimated 70 mortar shells that struck several Israeli locations near the Strip late Tuesday. The mortars resulted in non-life-threatening injuries for three IDF soldiers and one Israeli civilian but led Israel to strike more than 25 targets in Gaza in retaliation, even though the Palestinian resistance groups responsible for the mortars, Islamic Jihad and Hamas, had agreed to a ceasefire hours prior.
In explaining the recent bombings that ended that ceasefire, Israel has asserted that all of the targets it most recently bombed were used in the manufacture or storage of armaments used by Islamic Jihad and Hamas, though Israel’s history of bombing civilian infrastructure by linking it to Hamas casts reasonable doubt on this claim.
While the IDF framed its recent bombing in Gaza as retaliatory, it failed to acknowledge that the mortars – admittedly fired by Hamas – were also retaliatory in nature. Indeed, the same day that Hamas launched mortars over the Gaza-Israeli border, Israel struck more than 60 targets in the Gaza Strip. Tuesday’s violence was preceded by Israeli tank fire targeting Rafah in the Southern Gaza Strip on Sunday, an attack that killed three Palestinians.
A week prior, Israel had also targeted what it termed Hamas’ “naval force,” which was in actuality Gazan boats en route to meet the 2018 Freedom Flotilla aimed at breaking Israel’s internationally condemned and illegal blockade of Gaza. Less than a week before bombing the flotilla, Israel had also bombed the Strip, allegedly targeting Hamas.
All of these bombings, of course, came after the IDF massacred over 100 unarmed Palestinian protesters and shot over 13,000 more who were participating in the Great Return March.
Not only that but, since the year began, the IDF has rained bombs down upon Gaza, which has no air force of its own, continuing over the course of the Great Return March and to the present. Only some of those strikes have been launched in response to reports of rocket fire from Gaza, although not one of such rockets resulted in civilian casualties. Even Western corporate media outlets such as Reuters have noted that many of the rocket attacks launched from Gaza have been direct responses to President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, after several years of relative quiet from the Strip.
Furthermore, many of the Israeli airstrikes launched this year have targeted civilian infrastructure and agricultural land, which are hardly “Hamas-linked” targets. The IDF has repeatedly stated that Hamas, which has governed the Strip since winning elections in 2007, “bears responsibility for all events in the Gaza Strip,” including IDF airstrikes.
It is also worth noting that Israel maintains one of the most powerful militaries in the world, with a booming arms industry to boot. Last year, Israel’s defense budget topped $14.6 billion in addition to the $10.1 million in military aid provided by the United States every day that year. The IDF currently ranks 16th among the world’s most powerful militaries and has an estimated 200 nuclear weapons at its disposal. Some analysts have asserted that Israel’s nuclear weapons stockpile is similar to that of the United Kingdom’s in terms of its size and sophistication.
As a counter-intelligence veteran of the CIA, who spent his career monitoring Israeli and Palestinian military capabilities, told Norman Finkelstein in 2014 — “Hamas’ rockets can kill people and they have, but compared to what the Israelis are using, the Palestinians are firing bottle rockets.”
Furthermore, the growth of Israel’s domestic arms industry has turned Israel into one of the top ten arms exporters in the world. Many of those weapons are first tested in Gaza and later advertised as “combat proven.”
A great disparity of weaponry
In comparison to the IDF, the armaments of Hamas and other armed groups certainly seem like “bottle rockets.” Armed groups in Gaza had several types of rockets at their disposal prior the launching of Operation Protective Edge in 2014: the Qassam with a range of 11 miles; the Grad rocket with a range of 30 miles; the M-75 with a range of 46 miles; and the M-302 with a range of 99 miles. The latter two – the most sophisticated rockets of that group — were manufactured abroad, in Iran and Syria respectively, and acquired prior to 2012. Hamas’ small supply of those two rockets was largely used up during the war in 2014.
Similarly, the Grad rockets are manufactured abroad, made in countries such as Iran and China, and their numbers in Gaza have diminished since the tunnels that were used to smuggle them into the enclave were largely destroyed by Israel — as well as Egypt, following the ouster of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who allegedly aided Hamas while in power.
Thus, the main rockets currently being used by Hamas are variants of the Qassam rocket, which is manufactured in Gaza out of scrap metal and commonly found items. Its propulsion system is composed of a mixture of table sugar and the widely available fertilizer, potassium nitrate, while its warhead is a mix of smuggled or scavenged dynamite combined with another common fertilizer, urea nitrate. They are cased in scrap metal and lack any guiding technology, making them nearly impossible to aim.
Western and Israeli media reports in the past have placed the cost of each rocket at around $800, though this price fails to account for the fact that much of the material, particularly the more costly components such as the dynamite and metal casing, is scavenged and recycled. Thus, the price of the rocket – when reduced to the sugar and fertilizers used in its construction – is considerably less costly.
Furthermore, the primitive nature of the weapon and its inability to be accurately aimed at exclusively Israeli targets has been cited by Palestinian resistance groups in Gaza as regrettable. A rocket manufacturer for Islamic Jihad told Der Spiegel that, “if we kill soldiers, then we are more than happy. If it hits a child, then naturally we are not happy,” adding that “children shouldn’t be killed in any war in this world.” He further opined that Gazan resistance groups have used Qassams despite the threat they can present to civilians because Palestinians have no other choice but to fight the Israeli government with the only weapons available to them, asserting that “either we resist, or they treat us like slaves.”
A psychological threat and ever-ready pretext
The primitive nature of Gaza-produced weapons and the minimal physical threat they present has long been known to Israel. Indeed, Israel admitted years ago that rockets launched out of Gaza are of little concern. In 2006, then-Director General of Israel’s Defense Ministry Yaakov Toran told Ynet News that “Qassams are more a psychological than physical threat. Statistically, they cause the fewest losses […]”
While the Qassam rockets and similar armaments have received minor upgrades over the years, the death toll of Israeli civilians from those weapons – especially when compared to the death toll of Palestinian civilians over the same time period – shows that Gaza’s rockets remain a predominantly psychological threat. This is particularly true ever since Israel implemented the partially U.S.-funded and costly Iron Dome missile defense system in 2011, which Israel has repeatedly claimed successfully shoots down many of the rockets fired into Israeli territory from Gaza. However, the missile defense system’s effectiveness has been called into question after recent malfunctions.
Despite its superior armaments and sophisticated targeting technology, IDF bombs and gunfire are, in practice, just as indiscriminate in terms of targeting civilians as Qassam rockets, which cannot be aimed due to their lack of sophistication. As an anonymous Gazan who builds Qassam rockets told Der Spiegel, “Look at the Israelis. They have F-16s and Apache helicopters and can shoot with amazing accuracy. And they still kill our women and children.” Israel’s well-documented tendency of targeting civilians in Gaza was again proven true just this past month, with Israeli generals having confirmed that IDF snipers active during the Great Return March were deliberately targeting children, women, and members of the press.
Making life hell for Gazan civilians
Given that the threat of Gaza-launched rockets is psychological and given also the massive disparity between Hamas and IDF armaments, the frenzy over these homemade, primitive rockets each time they are launched seems remarkably overblown. Yet, this threat has been used by Israel for over ten years to justify its blockade of Gaza, which has made life hell for its 1.8 million civilians, half of whom are under the age of 18.
The ineffectiveness of the blockade in preventing rocket construction has been pointed out by the rocket builders in Gaza themselves, one of whom stated that “the Israeli blockade doesn’t affect us; it’s just intended to plunge the people into misery.” Israel’s own government has similarly admitted that the blockade has done “more harm than good” when it comes to thwarting rocket attacks launched into Israeli territory from Gaza.
Indeed, it is the civilians of Gaza who have long been the target of the blockade, not Hamas – as indicated by Israel’s history of covertly supporting and empowering Hamas. According to past WikiLeaks releases, Israel once openly considered Hamas “a useful counter-force” and “has approved a number of times to American embassy sources that they [Israel] are planning to keep the economy in Gaza as low as possible, while always attempting to prevent a humanitarian crisis.”
Little has changed since then, as Hamas’ meager munitions continue to be used to justify the illegal blockade of Gaza that targets its many civilians. The only notable change is that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza can no longer be avoided, leading some to suggest that Israel’s recent bombing of the Strip is the prelude to what it plans will be its last war against an independent Gaza.
Feature photo | Flames of rockets fired by Palestinian militants are seen over Gaza, May 30, 2018. Hatem Moussa | AP
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and a contributor to Ben Swann’s Truth in Media. Her work has appeared on Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has also made radio and TV appearances on RT and Sputnik. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.