Hamas has acquired dozens of large, highly explosive rockets, more powerful than those previously in its arsenal, that could be used to devastating effect on the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip, Army Radio reported Tuesday.
Each rocket is said to contain hundreds of kilograms of explosive material, far beyond the capacities of the other missiles and mortar shells believed to be in the terrorist group’s hands.
In the 2014 Gaza war, Hamas launched thousands of rockets and mortar shells at Israel and had dozens of its attack tunnels destroyed. In the two and a half years since the conflict, it has worked to refill its spent weapons caches and rebuild that military infrastructure.
According to Israeli assessments, it achieved that goal earlier this year.
According to the Army Radio report, the new rockets have a short range of a few kilometers, comparable to that of a mortar shell, but pack an explosive punch unlike anything seen before in the hands of Hamas.
While the Iron Dome anti-missile system can intercept short-range rockets, it is less effective against mortar shells and other projectiles with shorter ranges, as it cannot locate, target and shoot them down quickly enough.
Thus far, the Gaza-ruling terrorist groups has manufactured dozens of these rockets since the 2014 war.
Though new to Hamas, this type of armament is not entirely new to Israel, as the Iran-funded Hezbollah terrorist group is believed to possess similar, if not superior, capabilities.
The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas has largely held since the war. In 2016, for the first time in 30 years, no Israelis were killed as a result of attacks from Gaza. And the past two and a half years have also seen historically low numbers of rocket attacks emanating from the Strip.
Nevertheless, Israeli officials refer to the next round of conflict with the terrorist group as an issue of when, not if, and the apparent assassination of Hamas leader Mazen Faqha last week raised the possibility of such a clash.
On Monday, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal accused Israel of killing Faqha and changing “the rules of the game” — and vowed revenge.
“Israel decided to change the rules of the game, and we accept the challenge,” Mashaal said in a speech broadcast at a memorial service in Gaza, in reference to Friday’s killing of Faqha. “The Zionist occupier took from us a great hero and for this we will not sit quietly.”
Israel has not acknowledged any involvement in the killing.
In anticipation of future conflict, Israel is now drawing up contingency plans to evacuate up to a quarter-million civilians from border communities to protect them from attacks by Hamas, Hezbollah or other terror groups, it was reported last week.
A senior security official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with protocol, said the idea resulted from lessons learned in the 2014 war, in which communities were not evacuated but residents eventually left on their own.
Tens of thousands of Israelis left their homes near the Gaza border as the fighting dragged on, turning some areas into ghost towns. The exodus was sparked by Palestinian shelling along with the fear of heavily armed Gaza terrorists infiltrating Israel through tunnels.
Border communities vulnerable to mortar shells and heavy short-range rockets like the ones now believed to be in the hands of Hamas are the most in danger.
Israel’s Iron Dome defense system was seen as a game-changer in the 2014 war, ensuring a decisive protective edge from short-range rockets fired from Gaza. But the security official said there were not enough of the defensive systems to cover attacks on multiple fronts, and it is mostly ineffective against mortar fire.
The AP contributed to this report.