IDF: Hamas Is Upgrading Anti-tank Capabilities in Gaza

Hamas, smaller factions improving anti-tank arsenal in preparation for future round of Gaza ground fighting.

The Israel Defense Forces is concerned about the increase in incidents on the Gaza border, especially the apparent improvement in Palestinian militants' anti-tank capabilities.

Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas' Qassam Brigades, March 26, 2010

Early yesterday the air force attacked three Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip: a weapons storage facility in the north and two other sites in the south. No Palestinian casualties were reported.

The attack followed the wounding of a security officer in a community in the Eshkol Regional Council on Wednesday night during a mortar attack from the Strip. The man was lightly injured and taken to Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva.

An IDF spokesman said Israel considers Hamas responsible for any attack from the Gaza Strip, so it retaliated against installations run by the organization.

On Tuesday, the IDF uncovered four areas where improvised explosive devices had been laid along the border with Gaza; Palestinian militants had hoped to strike Israeli patrols.

Earlier this week Palestinians significantly damaged an Israeli tank by firing an anti-tank missile from over the border. The Palestinians have improved their anti-tank capabilities by smuggling in sophisticated arms from the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, the IDF says.

Hamas and smaller factions are trying to upgrade their anti-tank capabilities to be better able to slow down IDF armor in another round of serious ground fighting.

During Israel's Gaza offensive two years ago, known as Operation Cast Lead, Hamas found it difficult to disrupt the movement of Israeli armor, so the Palestinians identified anti-tank capabilities as a key place for improvement.

The Palestinians are using the Hezbollah model. During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Hezbollah fighters used advanced anti-tank missiles and hit tanks and armored carriers.

Senior IDF sources told Haaretz that there has been a noticeable increase in recent weeks in fighting in the Gaza Strip, mostly stemming from the Palestinians' efforts to place explosive devices near the border fence.

It would appear that both Hamas and the IDF are resuming their struggle to control a strip several hundred meters wide inside Palestinian territory.

Palestinian militants hope to place mines and other explosives in that area to hamper penetration raids by the IDF.

Outgoing Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said Wednesday at a meeting with paratroopers that the situation in Gaza was "fragile" and that the army may have to operate there more extensively.