With stress and strain between Israel and Palestine hitting the 24 hour news cycle again, I wanted to take a look at one aspect of the "crisis", Palestine's possession of Qassam rockets, one of the projectiles that they are using to attack Israel.
Let's open by looking at a map showing the wall that the Israelis have built around the West Bank and Gaza to protect their West Bank settlements and the remainder of the country:
Here is a photograph of the wall:
With the building of this massive fence around Palestinian territory by the Israelis, the Palestinians have had to resort to other tactics to attack Israeli territory. Thus, the advent of the Qassam rocket in 2002.
Qassam rockets are basically a homemade projectile consisting of a length of steel, cast iron or aluminum pipe with a small finned tail section containing the impact detonator and a small warhead often containing TNT on the top end. The explosive is sourced through underground tunnels that connect the Gaza strip to Egypt or by sea, sometimes from eastern Europe. The fuel used to propel the Qassam is rather clever; it is an often unstable mixture of melted sugar (glucose) and commercial grade fertilizer which is sourced from Israel. These rockets have no guidance system so cannot really be classified as a missile since the flight path that they take is rather random and completely uncontrollable. A team of rocket makers can manufacture up to 100 rockets in a night shift. The total cost of the raw materials for a rocket? Around $650 dollars.
Qassams are launched from crude wooden scaffolds or from truck-mounted launchers and are fired in a series ranging in size from one to six rockets. The small size of the Qassam makes it very easy for individuals to transport them from place to place and to launch them very quickly, making it very difficult for the Israelis to intercept launches.
Here is a fascinating video showing the manufacturing operation, set up and launch of Qassam rockets:
Here is a photo showing what damage a Qassam can do:
Here is a photo showing the damage that can be done to a Qassam when it bounces off of a hard surface like a road:
There are four types of Qassam rockets used by Hamas, each has a different size and content of explosive and propellant giving each of the four a different range as shown on this chart:
Israeli intelligence believes that Hamas has stockpiled several hundred Qassam rockets. On top of the Qassam, Hamas has imported Russian-designed Grad rockets with a range of up to 40 kilometres which have been used in the current "friction" between Israel and the Palestinians. A Hamas-fired Grad was launched in late October and fell just short of hitting Israel's nuclear facility at Dimona. Prior to the firing of this Grad, an Iranian stealth drone managed to photograph the reactor building and its air defence system radar, intelligence that may have helped Hamas guide its first attack on Dimona.
The Grad can be fired from a truck-mounted multiple launch system as shown here:
It does not appear that Hamas currently has the capability to fire multiple Grads from a multiple launch system at this time.
Israel protects itself from a wide selection of rockets fired by Hamas, Fatah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad with its "Iron Dome" missile defense system. This defense system enables Israel to intercept rockets fired from the Palestinian side of the boundary between the two countries as shown here:
You will notice that the Iron Dome is not completely effective; it is estimated that between 10 and 25 percent of attacking rockets are getting through this defense system. Keep in mind, however, that each of the Iron Dome's intercepting missiles costs the Israeli military about $50,000 compared to the few hundred dollars spent on the Qassam rockets.
In the coming days, it will be interesting to see whether this conflict escalates to the point of an all-out military intervention by the Israelis in a fruitless attempt to put an end to the tit-for-tat exchange of violence by both sides. Unfortunately, as in past conflicts, history seems to dictate that the cycle will never end.