Late on Tuesday, a rocket landed near the Israeli city of Hadera, nearly 70 miles north of its Gaza Strip launch site. That’s the greatest distance a Hamas rocket has ever traveled from Gaza, and as Israel and Hamas trade blows in an escalating cycle of violence, it’s raising questions about what is in Hamas’s arsenal — and how it got there.
Initial reports indicate that the Hadera rocket was a Syrian-made M-302, an unguided projectile that can carry a payload of over 300 pounds. The M-302 first appeared during Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon when Hezbollah fired it at targets inside Israel. There’s been little documentation of the rocket since. The M-302 is big — up to 15 feet long — but like other unguided rockets launched from Gaza, it’s inaccurate.
“The fact is that these are never going to be precise enough for the warhead to really matter all that much, unless it hits a target out of almost sheer accident,” Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told Foreign Policy. No casualties have been reported from Tuesday’s strike.
Nonetheless, the M-302 represents a significant upgrade for Hamas. Most rockets fired out of Gaza are produced domestically. They travel short distances, are detonated with crude fuses, and are designed to be quickly set up, launched, and cleared to avoid detection.
Pictured below is a launch site for domestically produced rockets in Gaza:
The M-302, on the other hand, is fired from a large, boxy launcher either in a fixed location or from the bed of a truck. Its payload and range are much greater than those of the rockets produced domestically by Hamas, which typically carry warheads of up to about 30 pounds and can travel anywhere from one to 10 miles.
The image below is a screenshot from a video purporting to show an M-302 launcher in Syria.
The M-302s were likely smuggled into Gaza in late 2013. In March, an Israeli raid on a Panamanian-flagged freighter in the Red Sea revealed one such shipment of rockets hidden under a load of cement. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) allege that they were destined for militants in Gaza and that they were shipped out of Iran. An IDF spokesperson said that there are likely dozens more still in Gaza.
The video below documents the IDF’s seizure of M-302s aboard the freighter:
As Israeli airstrikes continue, it’s unlikely that more rockets of this type will make it into Gaza immediately. A limited supply of the weapon will restrict Hamas’s use of it.
But there are benefits to keeping a stockpile. “You’re going to try to conceal at least enough,” Cordesman said, “so that Israel can never predict the point at which Hamas would run out of longer-range systems.” Missiles like the M-302 are ineffective militarily, Cordesman said, but they serve a strategic and a political purpose: show Palestinians that Hamas can strike deep into Israel and demonstrate to Israelis that escalating airstrikes in Gaza will not inhibit Hamas’s ability to hit back.
Since Monday, Palestinian militants have fired more than 280 rockets into Israeli territory, wounding two. Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip have, since Saturday, killed 53 Palestinians, including 18 children.