Rocket-launching terror squads in Gaza used to have several minutes to set up their weapons, shoot them and disappear before Israel could muster any counter action.
Today, an Israeli military official says, the cells have mere moments before they are spotted and targeted by Israeli missiles, thanks to streamlined intelligence and more readily available firepower.
“If in the past it would take a considerable amount of time from sighting (a terror squad) till being able to fire on them, meaning that you would lose (sight of) the squad, today that hardly ever happens,” an air force official told The Times of Israel.
In the most recent two rounds of confrontation, the air force has been able to eliminate a growing proportion of the Gaza rocket cells before they can fire off a projectile, the official said.
He confirmed that, in the escalation of the past few days, six squads were successfully targeted while in the process of trying to fire on Israel.
Some 150 rockets and mortars were fired from Gaza toward Israel over the past week. The flare-up began on June 16 when two Grad rockets were fired from the Sinai Peninsula into southern Israel. Two days later, three Sinai-based terrorists, from the newly-established, al-Qaeda-affiliated Mujahideen Shura Council of Jerusalem snuck into Israel and opened fire on construction workers building the fence along the Israel-Egypt border, killing Said Fashfasha of Haifa. Later in the day, Hamas squads began firing on Israel. The IAF responded with a series of strikes and counter strikes.
The terror squads often fire from within the low cover of the Gaza Strip’s many citrus orchards, blending in with trees and civilians in the region.
The air force official said that if the weaponry is prepared in advance, the terror squads can fire a rocket within seconds of their arrival at the launch area. But the air force, he said, has shortened its response time. From the moment a squad is sighted, it takes “between several seconds and several minutes” for Israel to act.
The official could not be more explicit about the manner in which the process has been expedited but he did say that today, in the Southern Command, the officers in charge of gathering either intelligence information or incoming surveillance photos, detailing the work of terror squads, “sit at the same desk” as those air force officers who have the capacity to order the strikes.
He did not elaborate on what type of aircraft are used in the strikes.
Hamas, which did not participate in the previous round of violence in March, claims on its website to have mostly targeted military installations in southern Israel this time, according to the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center.
The IAF officer disputed this, saying that the main characteristic of the latest round of violence was short-range fire, mostly beneath the range of the Iron Dome batteries, which can pick up incoming projectiles from within several kilometers to several dozen kilometers away.
The IAF’s advances have been partially countered by Hamas ingenuity, the official acknowledged. The Izz al-Din al Qassam brigades, responsible for most of the fire on Israel during this round of violence, have begun using cellular-activated timers on their rockets, allowing them to fire from a concealed position.
“Hamas,” the official said, “is an organization that never stops trying to improve itself.”