Gaza's Bottle Rockets

Why Hamas' Arsenal Wasn't Worth a War

A smoke trail from a rocket launched from the northern Gaza Strip, July 16, 2014. Baz Ratner / Courtesy Reuters

Hamas’ rocket fire into Israel has occasionally been described by the international press in dire terms -- as a “non-stop onslaught,” an “unbearable” and “incessant” assault that is “paralyzing the country” and making life “intolerable” for ordinary Israelis. One CNN report even claimed that Israeli soldiers were collapsing from the psychological trauma of the explosions. It has made for a nasty portrait of Hamas and its military strategy, one that could even be read as a tacit endorsement of Israel’s stated goal of disarming the group with military force.

But a closer examination of Hamas’ military capabilities and goals reveals a very different picture. Most of Hamas’ arsenal is comprised of homemade rockets that are decidedly incapable of inflicting mass civilian casualties, flattening apartment blocks, or causing conflagrations that consume entire cities. “Hamas’ rockets can kill people and they have,” a counter-intelligence veteran of the U.S. CIA who spent his career monitoring Israeli and Palestinian military capabilities told me recently, “but compared to what the Israelis are using, the Palestinians are firing bottle rockets.” Far from justifying the ground campaign in Gaza, the nature of Hamas’ arsenal makes Israel’s ongoing military operation entirely counterproductive.

At the outset of the current conflict, according to Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), Hamas had 6,000 rockets deployed in Gaza, with an additional 5,000 deployed by its affiliate organizations, Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian Resistance Committees. Their combined arsenal is comprised of four rocket types: the short-range Qassam rocket with a range of 17.7 km (11 miles); the Grad rocket with a range of 48 km (30 miles); the M-75 with a range of 75 km (46 miles); and the M-302 with a range of 160 km (99 miles). The M-302 is by far the most sophisticated rocket in the arsenal, capable of reaching Haifa, which is 90 miles from Gaza City. 

But even though Gaza has thousands of rockets, a large number of which can reach central Israel, Hamas’ arsenal poses only a negligible threat to Israel’s population. The vast majority of Hamas’

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