The Palestinian Plan—Overwhelm Israeli Defenses
Rocket and drone attacks can swamp anti-missile batteries
On July 7, Palestinian militia group Islamic Jihad launched some 35 small rockets nearly simultaneously at southern Israel—the latest escalation of this summer’s tit-for-tat violence.
The Iron Dome missile battery near Ashkelon could intercept only three of the rockets. Twenty of the projectiles hit populated areas, injuring one person in the city of Sderot.
This was the militants’ master plan—to saturate the Iron Dome with tens or hundreds of cheap munitions. But the Palestinians never assumed the tactic immediately would work. And they knew the Israeli air force would retaliate against the rocketeers.
The Palestinians had back-up plans.
On July 8, the Israeli air force attacked 50 sites in Gaza, largely targeting rocket launchers. The air strikes temporarily suppressed the Palestinians’ short-range ballistic attacks on southern Israel.
And that’s when the militants put their other plans in motion.
For starters, they switched to targets deeper inside Israel—targets they knew were outside the Iron Dome’s defensive umbrella. They aimed R-160 rockets at Haifa, in northern Israel along the coast.
The R-160 is a modified version of the infamous Fadjr-5 missile with an added booster. The R-160 carries a 450-pound warhead, just like the Fadjr-5, but it can travel 170 kilometers, more than double the range of the Fadjr-5.
But the extra range comes at a cost. The R-160 is wildly inaccurate. All the rockets the Palestinians fired at Haifa fell into unpopulated areas or the sea.
The militants’ next move was to deploy suicide teams in Israel. Not suicide bombers—rather attackers who never expected to survive their assaults. The first special operations teams deployed from the sea on July 9.
Israeli sensors tracked the Hamas frogmen the moment they rose from water. Israeli helicopters swiftly killed six of the special troops, thwarting the amphibious attack.
In following days the Palestinians tried again. Several small teams armed with assault rifles tried to infiltrate Israel by way of beaches and underground tunnels. The Israeli air force bombed 10 tunnels. Eleven more Palestinian attackers died.
Repeatedly stymied, Hamas deployed its last and most desperate weapon—a rudimentary drone it calls Ababil.
The Ababil is named for a mystic bird mentioned in the Quran. The flying creatures attacked an army of elephants marching on Mecca, dropping rocks called sedjil to stop the pachyderms.
The drone Ababil weights almost 180 kilograms and has a ferry range of 200 kilometers. The radio-controlled Palestinian drone features a boxy fuselage and an h-shape tail—both of which are easy to build, but also very easy for radar to detect.
Ababil-1A is the reconnaissance version. Ababil-1B packs four unguided rockets. Ababil-1C is a suicide drone with a 20-kilogram warhead. The drones have, at best, very simple optical cameras.
Hamas claims that the drones have been flying over Israel for two years now, but the Palestinian group hasn’t offered any evidence of past flights.
The Ababils’ current operations began on July 13 on two simultaneous fronts, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Patriot anti-missile batteries shot down both drones. Another five of the robotic aircraft managed to overfly Sderot and Ashkelon.
Hamas’ drones are more primitive than even North Korea’s pilotless planes. They’re ungainly, easy to detect, essentially unarmed and mostly blind. Yet they still pose a considerable threat … because they occupy Israeli air defenses.
Just as Islamic Jihad’s initial rocket barrage succeeded in briefly overwhelming the Iron Dome defenses, Hamas’ drones can help swamp Patriots and other missile batteries. The more targets the Palestinians put in the air, they greater the chance something will get through.