The Israeli military on Wednesday night released details on six of the more than 65 sites it bombed Tuesday in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket and mortar fire, saying one target was a collection of “advanced maritime weaponry” that Hamas planned to use for sea-based terror attacks.
The Gaza-ruling Islamist terror group has also been suspected of possessing remote-controlled submarines for over a year — since the apparent assassination of a Tunisian engineer credited with helping design them — though the IDF has never publicly acknowledged that Hamas has this capability.
Underwater drones could be used to attack any number of Israeli targets at sea, including natural gas drilling platforms, civilian ships and navy vessels.
On Tuesday, Hamas, the Palestinian 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 over 100 of the projectiles fired were on a trajectory to hit Israel, while many more were apparently launched but failed to clear the border.
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 (above) more specifically identifying five of the targets. In addition, the IDF said a Hamas naval base was hit, which contained the “advanced maritime weaponry”
These were: 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; a Palestinian Islamic Jihad depot for storing locally produced rockets; and the Hamas naval armory.
The army said the naval armory contained “advanced maritime weaponry capable of naval infiltration and carrying out terror attacks by Hamas naval forces.”
The Israeli military has long believed that Hamas was expanding its naval capabilities, both in terms of advanced technology and in training frogmen to infiltrate into Israeli territory from the sea and to attack Israeli vessels.
“Hamas is making serious developments in the underwater domain,” a naval officer told The Times of Israel last year.
Mohammed al-Zoari, a Tunisian expert in unmanned vehicles, was said to be constructing small, remote-controlled submarine drones for the terrorist group when he was killed by gunmen in December 2016. (The Mossad was blamed for the killing; Israel would not comment on the allegation.)
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.
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.
The head of the IDF’s Southern Command said Wednesday that Hamas and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip were “very deeply deterred” by the air force’s bombardments.
“We struck many valuable targets, important targets that we’ve waited a long time for an opportunity [to strike them]. I think at this point, there’s a significant achievement for us,” Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir told 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.
Critics of the army’s actions on Tuesday and Wednesday noted that the military did not strike the terror cells firing the rockets and mortar shells at Israel. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry did not report on any casualties in the IDF’s strikes.
Also on Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the military delivered the “harshest blow” in years to Gaza terrorist groups, which he said were inspired by Iran.
“Since yesterday the IDF has strongly retaliated against the firing from the Gaza Strip and has hit dozens of terrorist targets in the harshest blow we have dealt them in years,” Netanyahu said.
“The Hamas regime, Islamic Jihad and the other terrorist organizations, inspired by Iran, are responsible for the escalation,” the prime minister said. “I will not detail our plans because I do not want the enemy to know what to expect. But one thing is clear: When they test us, they pay immediately. And if they continue testing us, they will pay dearly.”
TOI staff contributed to this report.