How does Hamas get its weapons? With a combination of intelligence, wit and foreign mentorship

Analysis || “Launching a bunch of rockets is actually very simple. The surprise is how thousands of rockets can be stored, moved, assembled and fired, excluding the Israelis, Egyptians, Saudis, etc. (…)”.

Last weekend’s brutal attack on Israel by the Islamist militant group Hamas included thousands of rockets and missiles, bomb-dropping drones and untold numbers of small arms and ammunition.

But the attack came from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, a 360-square-kilometer stretch of Mediterranean coastline bordered by Israel on both sides and Egypt on one side.

It is a poor area, densely populated and has few resources.

For nearly 17 years it has been completely isolated from the rest of the world, with Hamas taking control, leading Israel and Egypt to impose a strict blockade on the region, which continues.

Israel maintains an air and naval blockade of Gaza and extensive surveillance operations.

This begs the question: How was Hamas able to amass the amount of weapons that allowed it to launch coordinated attacks that continued to launch rockets into Israel — killing more than 1,200 people and wounding thousands more?

The answer, experts say, is a combination of tact, improvisation, determination and an important foreign “beneficiary”.

The Iran factor

“Hamas obtains weapons through smuggling or local construction and receives some military support from Iran,” says the CIA’s World Factbook.

While the Israeli and U.S. governments have yet to establish Iran’s direct role in last weekend’s attacks, the Islamic Republic has long been a key military backer of Hamas, smuggling weapons into the region through secret cross-border tunnels or boats that escaped from the Mediterranean Sea, experts say. siege

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“Hamas’ tunnel infrastructure remains enormous, even as Israel and Egypt continue to degrade it,” said Bilal Saab, senior fellow and director of the Defense and Security Program at the Middle East Institute (MEI) in Washington.

“Hamas has smuggled weapons from Iran into the Gaza Strip through tunnels, including long-range systems,” said Daniel Baiman.

Charles Lister, a senior member of the MEI, said, “Iran has sent Hamas its most advanced ballistic missiles (…) by sea.

But Iran has also been a guide, analysts say.

“Iran also helped Hamas with its domestic production, allowing Hamas to build its own arsenals,” CSIS’s Baiman said.

A senior Hamas official based in Lebanon detailed Hamas’ weapons production in a redacted interview with Russia Today’s Arabic news channel RTArabic, published on its website on Sunday.

“We have local factories for rockets with ranges of 250 km, 160 km, 80 km and 10 km. We have factories for motors and their projectiles. We have factories for Kalashnikovs (machine guns) and their cartridges. We manufacture. We build the cartridges in Gaza with the permission of the Russians. Coming,” said Ali Baraka, head of Hamas national relations.

On September 11, 2013, a Palestinian man was introduced into a smuggling tunnel in the south of the Gaza Strip, on the Gaza-Egypt border. Mahmoud Hames/AFP/Getty Images/File

Recirculation

Regarding the large articles, MEI’s Lister said Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a branch of the Iranian armed forces that reports directly to the country’s supreme leader, has been training Hamas engineers with weapons for nearly two decades.

“Access to advanced systems over the years has given Hamas engineers the knowledge they need to significantly increase their domestic production capacity,” Lister said.

Tehran keeps up-to-date training of Hamas weapons manufacturers

“Hamas missile and rocket engineers are part of Iran’s regional network, so frequent training and exchanges within Iran are an integral part of Iran’s efforts to professionalize its proxy forces across the region,” Lister said.

But the way Hamas obtains the raw materials for these locally manufactured weapons shows the group’s intelligence and efficiency.

Gaza has none of the heavy industries that support arms production in most parts of the world. According to the CIA Factbook, its main industries are textiles, food processing and furniture.

But one of its main exports is scrap iron, which can supply materials for making weapons in a network of tunnels beneath the enclave.

That metal, in many cases, came from earlier, devastating fighting in Gaza, according to Ahmad Fouad Alkhatib, who wrote on the subject for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Fikra Forum in 2021.

When Gaza’s infrastructure was destroyed in Israeli airstrikes, what remained — sheets of metal and pipes, electrical wires — found their way into Hamas weapons workshops, emerging as pipes from rockets or other explosive devices, he wrote.

Recycling unexploded Israeli munitions for their explosive material and other components contributes to Hamas’ supply chain, Alkhatib wrote.

“The IDF operation indirectly supplied Hamas with goods that were strictly controlled or prohibited in Gaza,” he wrote.

Of course, all of this didn’t happen overnight.

Firing so many explosives in a short period of time like Saturday means Hamas has been building its arsenal through smuggling and manufacturing for a long time, said Aaron Pilkington, a U.S. Air Force analyst for Middle East and Caribbean affairs. University of Denver.

Barakah, head of Hamas in Lebanon, said the militant group had been preparing for two years for last weekend’s attack.

He made no mention of outside involvement in planning the attack, only in a Russian media report saying that Hamas’s allies “support us with weapons and money. First of all, it is Iran that gives us money and weapons.”

Analysts say the scale and scope of Hamas’ attacks on Israel have caught them off guard, leaving Israeli and foreign secret services vulnerable.

“It’s important to remember that firing a bunch of rockets is actually quite simple,” Pilkington said.

“The amazing thing is to store, move, assemble and fire thousands of rockets, avoiding the Israeli, Egyptian, Saudi secret services, etc. (…). It is difficult to understand how the Palestinian militants would have done it. This (…) without Iranian guidance”.

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