Iranian missile helps even the odds in Israel-Gaza conflict

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2012, 4:30am

In a straight fight between Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, there is no question who has the upper hand.

Israel's armed forces are among the world's most sophisticated. Their ability to mount a drone strike of the kind that killed Hamas military leader Ahmed Jaabari attests to a deadly combination of precise weaponry and accurate intelligence.

But in the latest round of the conflict, the Palestinians have used a weapon that gives them a rare if short-lived advantage - a rocket that can strike at Israel's civilian heartland. This is the Fajr-5, developed by Iran and also supplied to Hezbollah, Tehran's Lebanese ally.

It has a range of up to 75 kilometres, which means it can hit Tel Aviv and elsewhere in the heavily populated conurbation in central Israel.

Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, announced on Wednesday that Israel had destroyed most of these missiles in air attacks during the first hour of its continuing offensive.

But Islamic Jihad, another militant Palestinian faction, said on Thursday that it had launched a Fajr-5 at Tel Aviv, triggering the city's first air-raid alert since it was hit by Iraqi Scuds during the 1991 Gulf war. The missile is not a game-changer, but it does even out the stakes.

Moshe Yaalon, Israel's deputy prime minister, signalled on Friday that the Palestinian arsenal was now more or less depleted.

"I don't know if they still have one or two missiles left," he said. "But they don't have a stockpile that can threaten central Israel."

Firing those that remained was a "use it or lose it" strategy, said global intelligence analyst Stratfor.

The Fajr (dawn in Arabic) is in a different league from shorter-range rockets like the home-made Qassam - built in workshops in Gaza - with ranges of up to a dozen or so kilometres. Qassam variants have repeatedly hit towns in southern Israel since 2005. Missiles that hit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on Friday were described as Qassam M75s.

Grad missiles, also thought to have been supplied by Iran, have a range of up to 20 kilometres. Exactly how the Fajr-5 reached Gaza is not known.



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