The terror group Hamas has begun deploying against Israel advanced long-range missiles provided to the militant group by Iran, forcing the Israeli military to specifically target these weapons caches in air strikes, according to Israel’s ambassador to the United States.
The Israeli Defense Forces has begun striking Hamas missile factories that are capable of producing these long-range Iranian rockets, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer told a small crowd of leading pro-Israel officials and other insiders on Wednesday.
"Hamas has a considerable arsenal, some of it has been smuggled in, [and] some of those long range rockets they’ve fired in the last couple days were smuggled in" via illicit shipments sent by Iran, Dermer said on Capitol Hill during the July 9 Symposium, which brought together leading pro-Israel advocates in Washington, D.C.
The deployment of these advanced missiles endangers the majority of Israel and highlights the unseen role that Iran is playing in the latest confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians.
Hamas is believed to possess several dozen Syrian-produced M-302 rockets, which are based on Iranian technology and have the ability to penetrate deep into Israel. One such missile was fired Tuesday on the northern Israeli city of Hadera, which is located near Haifa.
Israel has begun specifically targeting these weapons stockpiles as well as the Gaza-based factories that have been constructing advanced missiles, including the M-302, Iran’s long-range Fajr 5 rocket, and the Iranian-modeled M-75.
Missiles of this sort can only be produced in Gaza due to training, assistance, and technology provided by the Iranians, according to experts and Israel intelligence reports.
"Hamas has extended its range of rockets," Dermer said, striking well "north of Tel Aviv." Around six million Israelis, or three-fourths of the population, are now within striking distance, he said.
The Iranian shipment of M-302s intercepted in March just scratches the surface of Iran’s military support for Hamas, Dermer said.
"You remember that ship that we interdicted a few months ago in the Red Sea was carrying 40 long range rockets," he said. "Well, one of those types of rockets was actually fired yesterday into Israel."
"But in addition to the rockets being smuggled in—and the smuggling route went from Iran to Sudan and up through the Sinai into Gaza—in addition to that, Hamas has developed a domestic manufacturing capability for these long range rockets and part of Israel’s military operation is to not only go after the missile batteries but to go after these factories that are essentially making these weapons."
Iran began shipping advanced missiles to Hamas soon after Israel’s 2012 military campaign against the group ceased, according to Israeli intelligence assessments.
"Iran used the window of opportunity to keep supplying the Palestinian terror organizations," according to a new report by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), an Israeli security analysis group.
"The characteristics of the recent escalation is a clear proof that Iran and the terrorist organizations took advantage of periods of calm to smuggle large amounts of ‘balance-breaking’ weaponry via the sea and the Sinai, and to train terrorist organization members in Lebanon and Iran on how to operate these lethal weapons," the JCPA concluded.
Iran’s role in arming Hamas has only become clearer as the hostilities continue.
"The overwhelming number of rockets fired by either Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza strip originate in Iran, are shipped to port Sudan, are smuggled up through Egypt across the Sinai, and then delivered into Gaza," according to former U.S. Treasury Department terrorism finance analyst Jonathan Schanzer, who was recently on the ground in Israel.
"We’re now seeing the reemergence of Iran as a major player after perhaps a year or two of disagreement with Hamas over Syria," Schanzer said.
Israel could have a tough time destroying Hamas’ weapons stockpiles if it relies solely on airstrikes.
Hamas has built a complex underground tunnel system that runs the length of the Gaza Strip. It is using these underground networks to store and transport missiles and other arms, according to Amos Yadlin, the former leader of the IDF’s military intelligence organization.
The tunnels are also used to launch surprise attacks on Israel that cannot be detected beforehand.
Israel will not be able to completely dismantle Hamas’ underground arms and offensive network without launching a ground operation into Gaza, Yadlin wrote in a newly released report by the Institute for National Security Studies.
Israel’s capture of the Iranian weapons shipment earlier this year has proved to be "only the tip of the iceberg of Iran’s involvement in supplying these organizations in Gaza—particularly [Palestinian Islamic Jihad], which is considered an Iranian client and depends on it for its continued activity," according to the JCPA report.
By the time Israel’s latest military campaign began earlier this week "it was clear that the Gazan terrorist organizations had received missiles that could reach the Haifa region from the Gaza Strip," the JCPA explained in its latest intelligence report.
The launch of the long-range M-302 rocket at Hadera constitutes the furthest rocket strike ever by Hamas on an Israeli town.
Hamas has fired well over 300 rockets at Israel in total over the past several days, causing residents in major epicenters such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to seek shelter.
In addition to Hamas, the Iranian-funded Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) has been firing many rockets into Tel Aviv and southern cities such as Be’er Sheva.
PIJ, which acts at Iran’s behest, is in possession of multiple Iranian-made rockets, including the Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 missiles.
"PIJ reported that one of the rockets fired at Tel Aviv was a Burak-70 type. The organization also possesses Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 missiles produced in Iran," according to the JCPA. "If the fighting with Israel escalates, the organizations are likely to launch more of these missiles toward the Greater Tel Aviv area and northern cities (Hadera, Haifa), believing that to put an end to Israeli attacks, they will need to ramp up the pressure on Israel with strikes on major cities to create a balance of terror that will force Israel to end its operation."