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Wednesday, November 4, 2009     FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

Hamas test-fires rocket 'of strategic range' into the Mediterranean Sea

JERUSALEM — Israel has determined that Hamas acquired and successfully tested a rocket with a range of 60 kilometers.   

Officials said the unidentified rocket, said to be similar to those already deployed by the Iranian-sponsored Hizbullah, was fired by Hamas from the Gaza Strip into the Mediterranean Sea on Oct. 29.

"We know they have obtained missiles that reach 60 kilometers, a strategic range," Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said. "Tel Aviv and its vicinity are now under the range of Hamas."

Officials said a Hamas rocket with a range of 60 kilometers could strike the Israeli city of Tel Aviv as well as the nuclear facility in Dimona, Middle East Newsline reported. They said Hamas, with help from Iran and Syria, was seeking to achieve strategic deterrence to prevent Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip.

"Iran is financing these activities, training forces and arming Hamas and Hizbullah," Israeli military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin said.

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In a Nov. 3 briefing to parliament, Yadlin said the rocket fired by Hamas was determined to have a range of 60 kilometers. He told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the Hamas rocket was successfully fired.

[On Nov. 3, the Israel Navy detained a merchant ship near Cyprus that contained Iranian missiles and was believed headed for Syria. An Israeli military statement said the ship, Francop, was registered in Antigua and stopped in the Mediterranean Sea about 160 kilometers west of Israel. The ship was then taken to Israel.

"After an initial inspection carried out by navy forces, the ship was found to be carrying a variety of weapons disguised as civilian cargo," the statement said on Nov. 4. "The seizure of the ship was carried out as part of the navy's ongoing routine activity to maintain security and prevent arms smuggling."]

Few details of the new Hamas rocket, which could be fired from a vehicle, were released by the Knesset committee. Later, an official said Israel's military has yet to determine whether the extended-range rocket was developed by Hamas or supplied by Iran or Syria.

But the official said Hamas was believed to have acquired or produced dozens of the Iranian-origin extended-range rockets. He said the artillery rocket, believed to be a variant of Iran's Fajr-3, measured five meters and could contain a warhead of up to 45 kilograms.

Fajr-3, fired by Hizbullah during its war with Israel in 2006, was said to have a range of 43 kilometers. But the official said Hamas could have reduced the warhead by half in an effort to significantly extend the rocket's range.

"We know that Hamas is pursuing both procurement as well as indigenous development and production," an official said. "In some cases, Hamas receives two or three Iranian rockets and learns how to reverse-engineer them for production in the Gaza Strip."

The Hamas rocket was said to be the longest-range weapon in the arsenal of the Islamic regime in the Gaza Strip. During the war with Israel in December 2008 and January 2009, Hamas fired Chinese-origin rockets into Israel with ranges of up to 40 kilometers.

"The [Israeli] security leadership does not ask whether there will be an additional military clash with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, but when," Israeli military analyst Alex Fishman wrote in the Yediot Aharonot daily on Nov. 4.

Yadlin said the new rocket marked a Hamas effort to rearm in wake of the 23-day war with Israel. He said Hamas has replenished and enhanced its missile and rocket arsenal, estimated at more than 3,000.

"Hamas engineers have been trained in Iran and Syria to work in the rocket program," Yadlin was quoted as telling the Knesset committee.

In 2009, Israeli military intelligence monitored Hamas efforts to smuggle Iranian-origin extended-range rockets. Officials said Hamas was believed to have acquired Iran's Fajr-4 rocket, with a range of 70 kilometers.

"Syria has turned into the main factory and weapons cache for Hamas and Hizbullah, as well as for Syria itself, with financial aid from Iran," Yadlin said.

[On Nov. 3, Palestinian gunners fired two missiles from the Gaza Strip into Israel. There were no reports of injuries.]

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