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July 17, 2018 12:36 pm

IDF: Hamas Plans to Strike Israel with Exploding Drones

avatar by Steven Emerson

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A Hamas military drill in the Gaza Strip in March 2018. Photo: Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa.

As Israel moves more Iron Dome anti-missile batteries to its border with Gaza, Hamas terrorists are moving forward with plans to spread their arson-by-air attacks deeper into the country. Israel held an emergency cabinet session on Sunday after another Hamas provocation over the weekend. Israel’s military hit dozens of Hamas targets in Gaza after terrorists launched an estimated 200 missiles at Israeli communities on the border.

According to Palestinian media reports, Israel also deployed three drones to strike Palestinians launching incendiary kites and balloons, wounding three terrorists.

“It’s important to emphasize that we have no intention of tolerating this — not rockets, not kites, not drones — nothing,” warned Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman during the cabinet meeting.

For years, Hamas has been diverting resources intended for civilian rebuilding efforts in Gaza to enhance its military capabilities, including a growing drone program. Hamas, like other terrorist groups, has used drones for a variety of purposes including attacks, reconnaissance, and testing air defenses. In the past, Hamas has deployed several drones to infiltrate Israel and exploited these incidents as propaganda victories. Now Hamas may have found another potential use for drones: to enhance its arson terror campaign.

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Looking beyond incendiary kites and balloons, Israeli defense officials believe that Hamas wants to deploy exploding drones to increase the organization’s arson-based terror efforts.

According to an Israel Hayom report, Hamas is preparing to mount explosive material on unmanned aerial vehicles to target Israel communities situated deeper in the country. The terrorist group has also already started to affix timers to incendiary aerial devices to delay their detonation and maximize damage to Israeli land.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan warned that “we are seeing an obvious trend” and Hamas operatives “are constantly increasing their kites’ range and they are using ‎other airborne devices,” which “may even reach Judea ‎and Samaria (West Bank).”

Previous reports pointed to Iran building a fleet of suicide drones for its main terrorist proxies, including Hamas, to assemble and launch kamikaze style attacks. But Hamas also maintains an increasingly sophisticated domestic drone program as well.

Israel’s national security is threatened by several militant groups with established drone programs on its borders, including Hezbollah, the Islamic State, and Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. Even Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) now threatens Israel directly by deploying drones into its airspace to test Israel’s resolve.

Like Iran, Hamas is attempting to create “new rules of engagement” in its war against Israel. The terrorist organization recognizes that Israel’s military will likely avoid direct responses against terrorist cells launching incendiary aerial devices into Israeli territory.

Israel’s air force struck several Hamas military targets after terrorists deployed incendiary kites and balloons that caused severe fires in Israeli communities on the Gaza border. Hamas escalated the violence last month by launching 45 mortar shells and rockets at Israel. Similar tit-for-tat incidents have emerged since Hamas began encouraging and planning this new method of arson terrorism during the violent border riots on the Gaza border at the end of March.

Many of these devices continue to land on Israeli territory, sparking destructive fires that burn thousands of acres of crops and natural forest. Containing the fires is a major strain on Israel’s resources,and significantly disrupts civilian lives. Israel has largely relied on firing warning shots at Palestinians launching incendiary devices.

On Sunday, Israel’s security cabinet directed the military to adopt tougher countermeasures against Hamas’ use of arson terrorism. But considerable debate within Israel’s security establishment remains on how to tackle the threat.

In a reportedly heated exchange on Sunday, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot challenged Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s push to allow the military to directly target cells launching incendiary aerial devices — a more aggressive policy than the current use of warning shots. Eisenkot allegedly argued that lethal force in this situation is immoral.

Israel has increasingly relied on drones in an attempt to take down incendiary kites and balloons. There may be an emerging “drone, counter drone” struggle between Israel and its terrorist enemies — similar to the dynamic between the United States and global jihadists. To address the wider UAV terrorism threat, Israel has reportedly assassinated key drone experts abroad, while continuing to target enemy UAV storage facilities in airstrikes and intercepting shipments of UAV-related material to terrorist organizations.

UAV terrorism will grow as the technology becomes less expensive and more effective. A sophisticated militant organization should have no issues launching explosives-laden drones. The Islamic State, for example, deployed its first suicide drone attack using a modified commercial UAV.

Amid Hamas’ new provocative strategy, Israel will continue evolving its efforts to counter emerging terrorist threats — including drone-based arson attacks.

Steven Emerson is considered one of the leading authorities on Islamic extremist networks, financing, and operations. He serves as Executive Director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, a non-profit organization that serves as one of the world’s largest storehouses of archival data and intelligence on Islamic and Middle Eastern terrorist groups.

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