Palestinians Intensify and Upgrade Missile Threat from Gaza

DEBKAfile Special Report

July 31, 2004

A Qassam missile fired from the Gaza Strip landed in the southern Israeli Negev early Saturday, July 31, after two days of heavy barrages against Sderot and local kibbutzim. No casualties were reported. In all July, Gaza Strip terrorists fired 61 Qassam missiles across the border, killing two Israeli civilians and injuring a score. The mounting threat has raised the demand to expand the IDF presence to outside the Beit Hanoun sector so as to cover additional launching sites in the northern Gaza Strip before there are more casualties.

DEBKAfile’s military sources add:

When defense minister Shaul Mofaz gave Israeli troops a free hand to halt the hail of missiles, he ran into the limitations posed by Israel’s approaching disengagement from the Gaza Strip. The cabinet will be asked Sunday when it convenes in Jerusalem to determine how far the IDF may drive into the Gaza Strip to stamp out the threat - without placing Sharon’s planned evacuation in question, a quandary that may prove insoluble.

In any case, Arafat has raised the stakes.

Russian-made S-5 unguided aircraft rockets were part of the Egyptian haul earlier this month of a large shipment of missiles, stopped before they were smuggled to the Palestinians through the Rafah tunnels. The S-5 would be an important boost to the Palestinian arsenal; some may still defeat attempts to stop them and reach the Gaza Strip – either through the smuggling tunnels or by other routes, especially after Israeli troops are pulled back.

DEBKAfile reveals the Palestinians are planning to convert these Soviet-era 20-25-km range rockets into surface missiles capable of hitting southern Israel’s key cities of Beersheba, Ashkelon and Ashdod. The rockets were originally Soviet-designed for use by the Mi-24 helicopter, the Russian equivalent of the American AH-64 Apache, in Afghanistan.

DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources believe Arafat may have purchased them from old stocks in Yemen, Sudan or Syria.

In Palestinian hands, they will upgrade the missile threat beyond that of the hit-or-miss Qassams. Since Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon, the Hizballah have lined up some 13,000 missiles along the Israeli border. But the Shiite terrorist group is subject to certain outside constraints before it can shoot missiles into northern Israel. Arafat faces no such restrictions.