IDF releases satellite images of ‘significant’ Gaza targets hit in airstrikes

Amid criticism it pulled punches, military says a serious blow was dealt to Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad in reprisal raids

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

A satellite image showing a suspected Hamas naval force base in the Gaza Strip, which was targeted in an Israeli airstrike on May 29, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
A satellite image showing a suspected Hamas naval force base in the Gaza Strip, which was targeted in an Israeli airstrike on May 29, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israeli military on Thursday released satellite images and details of the more than 65 targets it struck in Gaza in response to massive mortar and rocket attacks by terror groups from the coastal enclave on Tuesday and Wednesday.

According to the army, the satellite images show a “Hamas drone storage facility, Hamas weapons manufacturing site and a Hamas naval force base.”

On Wednesday night, the Israel Defense Forces also released information about those three targets.

The army on Thursday also said it had destroyed the “overwhelming majority of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s naval positions,” which the Iran-backed terror group used for training and storing advanced weaponry.

The army has faced criticism in Israel for its retaliatory strikes, which some analysts and commentators said were too restrained. Many noted that the military did not strike the terror cells firing the rockets and mortar shells at Israel on Tuesday and Wednesday, and instead hit only terrorist infrastructure, which had been cleared of people ahead of the air raids. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry did not report any casualties in the IDF’s strikes.

A picture taken from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 29, 2018, shows smoke billowing over buildings following an Israeli airstrike on the Palestinian enclave. (AFP/ SAID KHATIB)

In the face of those comments, the military described the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets as significant and high-priority, and said the strikes on them dealt a serious blow to the terror groups’ ability to wage war with Israel.

“We struck many valuable targets, important targets that we’ve waited a long time for an opportunity [to strike]. I think at this point, there’s a significant achievement for us,” IDF Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir told military officers on Wednesday.

“I think Hamas and the other terror groups in the Gaza Strip are very deeply deterred, and there is a lack of will and desire to reach a situation of another full-scale campaign,” Zamir said.

The Israeli military has long believed that Hamas was expanding its naval capabilities, including in training frogmen to infiltrate into Israeli territory from the sea and to attack Israeli vessels.

“Hamas’s naval force was damaged significantly and a significant portion of its bases and facilities for producing its specialty weapons were destroyed,” the army said on Thursday.

“The strike significantly damaged the ability for the naval forces in the Strip to operate and has made it harder for the groups to operate on the naval front,” the army said.

According to the IDF, the drone storage facility that was targeted contained small unmanned aerial vehicles that Hamas had equipped with explosives “for the purposes of terror attacks.”

A satellite image showing a suspected Hamas drone storage facility in the Gaza Strip, which was targeted in an Israeli airstrike on May 29, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The army said the attacks on the weapons production facilities both harmed Hamas’s ability to produce new weapons and struck its inventory of already-prepared weaponry.

“[The airstrikes] also harmed the financial investment necessary to develop the weapons,” the army said. “The attacks on these sites significantly damaged Hamas’s rearmament effort.”

A satellite image showing a suspected Hamas weapons manufacturing site in the Gaza Strip, which was targeted in an Israeli airstrike on May 29, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Tuesday, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and other assorted terror groups in the Gaza Strip fired scores of mortar shells and rockets at southern Israel over the course of 22 hours. The army said more than 100 of the projectiles fired were on a trajectory to hit Israel, while many more were apparently launched but failed to clear the border.

A home in the southern Eshkol region damaged by mortar fire from the Gaza Strip early on May 30, 2018 (courtesy: Eshkol Regional Council)

Most of the incoming projectiles that were heading toward populated areas were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, though several exploded inside Israeli towns and communities, causing damage to buildings and injuring four people, three of them soldiers.

In response, the army conducted two rounds of air raids in the Gaza Strip, striking more than 65 targets, including a Hamas attack tunnel, the military said.

The Israel Defense Forces listed a variety of targets hit in the raids — weapons depots, command and control centers, naval bases — but initially refrained from detailing what was struck.

On Wednesday night, the army released a video more specifically identifying six of the targets.

These were, in addition to the Hamas naval academy, two Hamas drone facilities, one for storing drones outfitted with explosives and another a test site; a cache of shoulder-fired SA-7 missiles; a rocket manufacturing plant; and a Palestinian Islamic Jihad depot for storing locally produced rockets.

Hamas naval commandos, seen in a still image from a propaganda video released by the terror group during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, in the summer of 2014. (Screen capture)

Hamas has used unmanned aerial vehicles on a number of occasions, including during the 2014 Gaza war, though they have been of limited utility.

The terror group appears to have stepped up its interest in aerial drones as the technology has gotten cheaper and easier to obtain.

Drones cannot be legally imported into Gaza, and Israel has thwarted a number of attempts to smuggle them into the coastal enclave through the Kerem Shalom Border Crossing.

However, Hamas has adopted a new tactic to get around the Israeli scanners, according to the deputy administrator of Kerem Shalom.

A drone captured by Israel en route to the Gaza Strip (Defense Ministry)

The terror group has importers in the West Bank break down the drones into their component parts and then try to transport the smaller, less detectable pieces through the crossing, he said.

Last week, Israel discovered an intact explosives-laden drone in Israel after it apparently crashed.

The army believes the drone was meant to target Israeli soldiers serving along the Gaza border. It was not immediately clear why the drone had not been used for this purpose.

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