The Role of Long-Range Rockets in an Israel-Hamas Cease-Fire

4 MINS READNov 20, 2012 | 01:41 GMT

As more reports of a possible cease-fire agreement come out of Israel, the question of how many long-range rockets Hamas has in its arsenal remains unknown. Ultimately, these rockets will determine whether a truce is imminent.

Israel's Channel 2 news reported that Israel has demanded a three-day truce before it would discuss the details of a long-term cease-fire. However, Israel is continuing its air campaign in Gaza, striking government targets and the Islamic National Bank in Gaza City. Hamas has already responded with rare late-night rocket volleys, further undermining the latest calls for a truce.

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Short-range rocket and mortar fire is not the key issue in negotiations. Israel has dealt with that threat for years. The real issue is the quantity of long-range Fajr-5 rockets that remain in Gaza. Al Arabiya reported early Tuesday morning that Egypt would announce an agreement whereby the Gaza blockade would be lifted, but there is no indication that the deal will address Israel's concerns over Hamas' ability to replenish its supply of rockets.

Meanwhile, Israel confirmed that no Fajr-5s were fired from Gaza today, the first day we have not seen any Fajr-5 attacks since they started Nov. 14. This could mean that either Hamas is running out of rockets, or the group is keeping quiet to avoid an Israeli ground invasion.

But for Israel, an invasion is not without its costs. The Israeli parliament will decide Tuesday whether it will allow the army to continue to keep 75,000 reservists mobilized (some 35,000 of those reservists have been deployed). Maintaining a forward military posture along the border with Gaza for an extended period of time is incredibly expensive. Not only does it cost the army money, but the state also loses money by having the reservists out of the work force. A vote against the extension would indicate that Israel is backing away from an invasion; a vote in favor of the extensions would indicate that Israel believes an invasion is still an option.

As long as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are under threat from Fajr-5 rockets, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Cabinet will be under heavy political pressure to show that they are protecting the core of Israel's population. But Israel does not know the extent of the Fajr-5 threat. Previous Israeli estimates from 2012 have said that Hamas has "dozens" of Fajr-5s. So far, Hamas has used approximately 20, not including an unknown number of rockets that Israel Defense Forces reportedly have destroyed. It is possible that Hamas and various Palestinian militant groups have very few left and are bluffing to get concessions out of Israel. On the other hand, they may have considerably more and are deliberately withholding them to preserve the threat for when Israel is not threatening a military invasion. Hamas would benefit from convincing Israeli leadership to stand down only to continue with the Fajr-5 attacks once Israel has returned to a normal military posture.

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It is unclear how well Israeli intelligence has ascertained the status of the Fajr-5 rockets. The fact that Hamas was able to stockpile the rockets in the first place indicates an intelligence failure from the outset, and Israeli leadership may question the quality of forthcoming intelligence estimates on the Fajr-5s. If the rockets are buried underground, hidden throughout Gaza's urban landscape or stored unassembled to prevent them from being destroyed in one strike, they will be extremely difficult to account for. 

It is likewise unclear whether there are any negotiations involving a third party willing to secure Hamas' Fajr-5 arsenal, but Israel certainly will demand this. Who that third party would be is unknown. Israel would not necessarily trust the Egyptians, who are the most publically engaged in negotiations. Israel will have to make this assessment by itself. An Israeli military invasion is the most effective way to secure Fajr-5s, but an invasion is extremely costly, both economically and politically. Negotiations and deals with Hamas are the less costly option in the short term, but if they fall through, and if Tel Aviv comes under threat again, they could turn out to be far more politically costly in the long run.

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