The IDF believes that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have obtained several hundred advanced Russian-made antitank missiles – such as the Kornet and the Fagot – which have a range of more than 4 kilometers and are capable of penetrating armored personnel carriers and some IDF tanks.
Terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip had a small number of these missiles ahead of Operation Cast Lead – Israel’s offensive against Hamas in 2009 – but only used them in a handful of known instances.
“They were not trained well then, and as a result, the missiles were not effective,” a senior IDF officer explained this week. “Since then, the groups have significantly increased the stockpile and have also sent specific terrorists to Iran for extensive training where they became anti-tank missile experts.”
The level of expertise was demonstrated earlier this year when Hamas fired a Kornet anti-tank missile at a school bus near Nahal Oz, which killed 16-year-old Daniel Viflic.
The missile was fired from a distance of close to 3 kilometers and the operator had to fire in between the Gaza security fence and electrical cables. “He also had to hit the bus, which was not easily seen on the road,” the officer said, explaining the complexities of the attack as a demonstration of the level of expertise in Gaza.
The anti-tank missiles are obtained by Hamas in several different ways. In some cases, they are purchased directly from Russia by Syria and are then transferred to Hamas or Hezbollah.
In other cases, Hamas operatives buy the weaponry on the black market and then smuggle it into the Gaza Strip via the tunnels it maintains under the Philadelphi Corridor.
“The Gaza Strip is completely different today than what it was almost three years ago,” a senior defense official said. “The amounts of weaponry are significantly higher as well as the type of weaponry and its sophistication.”
In face of the threat, the IDF is moving forward with plans to install the Trophy active protection system on Merkava Mk 4 tanks that are in production ahead of their delivery to the 401st Armored Brigade. Two of the brigade’s battalions have already received the system and the remaining battalion will finish receiving it by the beginning of 2012.
The Trophy system creates a hemispheric protected zone around armored vehiclessuch as the Merkava tank, which operated prominently in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
Using advanced radar, the system is designed to detect and track a threat and counters it with a launched projectile that intercepts the anti-tank missile.