Palestinians are bringing new and different capacities to bear in their current battle with Israel. It is clear that there have been inroads at the levels of combat skill, arms and management. While we should not overestimate the efficacy of these developments, when compared to the past and when the conditions surrounding Gaza are taken into account we must acknowledge that the resistance has accomplished something.
The four major resistance forces in Gaza have enhanced the capacities of their soldiers through training exercises that have come to follow military — or military-like — programmes and curricula. The troops are now reported to have approached the level of the Hizbullah brigades. The latest development in combat forces is the creation of a commando regiment, elements of which succeeded in infiltrating into naval targets in Israel causing the enemy considerable confusion.
It is believed that troop numbers have increased considerably as well. The Ezz Al-Din Qassam Brigades, for example, can be regarded as a “standing army” consisting of some 7,000 soldiers. In other words, it is structured hierarchically and militarily like a standing army, to the degree that its soldiers receive a monthly salary equivalent to about $700 (although these salaries have been affected by the repercussions of recent inter-Palestinian political developments). Nevertheless, the number of people bearing arms and able to participate in combat in the Qassam Brigades, alone, may be as high as 25,000. Similar numbers would be distributed among the Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad Movement, the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the National Resistance Brigades, the military wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), the Mujahideen Brigades, which broke away from Fatah, and other smaller paramilitary groups.
Nevertheless, given that the current confrontation with Israel is not in the nature of a regular military confrontation, with one side consisting of militias operating in the manner of a standing army, weapons are the most important factor in the battle. In this regard, the Palestinians have developed new types of weapons and have begun to manufacture local versions of other types.
The most salient additions to the list of weapons being deployed in the current battle are the Baraq 70, the Nasser 5, the Cornet, the G80, the M-75, the R-160, the S-55, unmanned aircraft and the Ababil-1. The Qassam Brigades have succeeded in producing three models of such aircraft: the A1A designed for reconnaissance tasks, the A1B, which can be used for offensive/assault operations, and the A1C, which is used for one-off assault operations.
The process of developing the resistance factions’ military infrastructure began with the Grad missile. It was both costly and difficult to smuggle this kind of missile into Gaza. However, within three years, the resistance managed to produce a home-grown clone with a range three times longer than the original and much less costly.
In addition, the Palestinian resistance factions took considerable advantage of the conditions in Egypt following 25 January 2011 in order to smuggle arms into Gaza. This was confirmed by a high level source in the Qassam Brigades who said: “The brigades did not waste a single second. This was a golden era for the resistance’s arms. These basically consist of Russian weapons that come from Iran or elsewhere, or even from the free market that exists on both sides of the borders. Although the borders are now tightly controlled, arms are abundant. The closure of the tunnels slowed the flow of arms but did not stop it entirely. The promise of money makes smugglers very resourceful in finding new means to smuggle merchandise.”
The source added: “We were certain that the situation in Egypt after the revolution would not last and that the Muslim Brotherhood would not remain in power for a single year let alone a single term. We were certain of this and we knew that we had to take as full advantage of that period as possible in order to secure arms and ammunition.”
The Palestinians also benefited from developments in Syria. In spite of the impression that Hamas was damaged by distancing itself from the regime in Damascus, realities on the ground tell otherwise. Huge quantities of arms made their way from Syria to Gaza, to which testifies Israeli media coverage of the current battle. In addition, a reliable source that has been closely following military developments told Al-Ahram Weekly that the reason that these large quantities of arms were channelled into Gaza was so as to ensure that they would not fall into the hands of the Free Syrian Army. The source added that members of the official Syrian army carried out the smuggling operations under the supervision and protection of Hizbullah forces.
It is believed that the Islamic Jihad Organisation is key in the process of securing weapons and money. In spite of such leverage power, the organisation does not appear interested in rivalling or superseding Hamas. Indeed, it prefers for Hamas to remain front and centre while it works in the background to secure supply lines. The Islamic Jihad has also brought in trainers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and its members are said to have benefited greatly from the training they received.
As significant as the new quantities and diversity of arms are, their chief importance for the Palestinians is the extent to which they worry Israel. What the resistance movements seek is to achieve is a form of balance of terror that would drive home the failure of Israel’s high-tech defence systems in the face of rudimentary weapons. Thus, the ability to fire off crude missiles that are likely to fall half a kilometre off mark is an achievement from the perspective that the idea is not to hit targets but to create alarm in Israel. This said; the missiles are less crude than before. Palestinian engineers also boast of having developed stronger missiles that can defy the capacities of Israel’s “Iron Dome” defence system.
As for the Ababil, a source says that Palestinian technicians have been able to modify these modest and simple aircraft in order to transform them into booby-trapped drones capable of flying over 60 kilometres into Israel. This is a qualitative step forward in the levels of arms, as the drones are capable of reaching Tel Aviv and Haifa.
It is also important to draw attention to another crucial aspect of this battle: its high cost with respect to Israel in particular. According to highly placed sources in the Israeli Finance Ministry, the operation against Gaza that Israelis refer to as “Protective Edge” is costing the civil sector $14 million a day. By the end of the first week, the military cost alone exceeded a billion shekels, Maarev reported Monday.
Military expenses include the costs of aerial sorties, launching the defensive missilery of the Iron Dome system, calling up and deploying reserve forces, transporting military machinery and equipment, and operational expenses. Israeli tax authorities have reported that they have already received more than 400 requests for compensation for property damage due to missile barrages from Gaza.
*This article was first published in Ahram Weekly