Hamas develops new tactics to inflict high Israeli casualties

Fighters defend against soldiers' advance into southern Gaza using special explosive technique

Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades fighters in the Gaza Strip. The military wing of Hamas is under orders to decisively defend southern Gaza against the Israeli assault. AFP
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Hamas has developed sophisticated new tactics with a special bombing technique to cause maximum Israeli casualties, The National can disclose.

Its leaders have also ordered a “tactical shift” since the seven-day truce ended on December 1 – from delaying Israeli advances to decisively defending their ground in southern Gaza.

They are also using “complex ambushes” in which drones, mortars, mines and small arms fire are used simultaneously on Israeli formations.

But for the first time in the war they have used multiple EFPs – explosively formed projectiles – against armoured vehicles and have hit at least one tank.

In addition, entire houses have been rigged with explosives in what is called an HBIED (house-borne improvised explosive device).

Analysts suggest that a decision has been made to inflict a high number of Israeli military fatalities in an attempt to weaken domestic support for the war.

“The EFPs will increase the risk of casualties for Israeli forces,” said Noam Ostfeld, an Israeli-born analyst at Sibylline intelligence company. “In the long run, the casualties from EFP on [Israeli forces] will increase pressure from the domestic level to reach some kind of ceasefire.”

Deadly cone

EFPs are made from copper machined into a cone with explosives packed behind it. Detonation collapses the cone from its apex sending a slug of hot metal travelling at speeds of more than 3km a second or 11,000 kph.

If the slug penetrates armour it then fragments into “ridiculous amounts” of spalling and shrapnel inside, causing several casualties, said military analyst Sam Cranny-Evans.

“This is a sophisticated tactic as an EFP travels so quickly and it has so much kinetic energy, it's really hard to stop,” he said. “They can be effective from up to 50 metres, so this will be a big challenge and problematic for Israel’s armoured fighting vehicles.”

Another advantage is that an EFP can be initiated by an infrared trigger rather than waiting for a vehicle to drive over it and can be planted in houses while still achieving penetration.

Amael Kotlarski, of Janes, the defence intelligence company, said another advantage of EFPs was their “reasonable ease of manufacture”.

“It can defeat an active protective system as it is moving too fast to be intercepted by the Israeli Trophy system. In some cases, it can also defeat explosive reactive armour because it punches through it rather than initiating the defence.”

In the past week Hamas has used EFPs at least six times against targets advancing into southern Gaza and around Gaza city.

Tactical shift

Since the truce ended it appears that Hamas has moved into a “deliberate defence” mode “to attrit [weaken] and degrade the Israeli will to continue the ground operation into the Gaza Strip”, the Institute for the Study of War think tank said.

“The shift in tactics suggests that Hamas and Palestinian militias are preparing to become decisively committed to defending against the Israeli ground operation,” it added.

The new tactics are based on lessons learnt during the first month of fighting in which it was observed that Israelis were not using main roads when advancing.

Planting EFPs is one method in which the Palestinians can “more effectively counter this Israeli approach” with a Merkava tank struck by a device on Tuesday near Khan Younis, southern Gaza.

It is also highly likely that Hamas used the seven-day truce to revise its tactics and devise new methods of halting the Israeli advance across Gaza.

“Hamas had a bit more time to refresh the troops to gain a bit more understanding where everyone is because basically the IDF [Israeli forces] stayed in the same area during the truce,” Mr Ostfeld said.

Until recently, Hamas had been staging “shoot-and-scoot” tactics using a couple of fighters armed with an assault rifle and rocket-propelled grenade, usually accompanied by a cameraman, firing a few rounds before withdrawing.

This was designed as a delaying tactic to help Hamas move personnel and equipment through its 500km tunnel system into the southern strip.

Al Qassam attacks

It now appears that Hamas has committed its well-trained military wing, the Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades, to the main defence.

In a deliberate, complex ambush on Tuesday, Al Qassam claimed that it detonated numerous claymore and anti-personnel mines east of Khan Younis.

In another attack Hamas detonated a house-borne improvised explosive device, collapsing the building close to Israeli forces.

Its fighters also filmed Israeli soldiers relaxing in temporary quarters in Gaza before filling a tunnel beneath them with explosives and detonating it under about 60 soldiers.

It is unknown how many casualties the Israelis suffered in the attacks but since the Gaza operation began, 82 Israeli soldiers have been killed.

“If they are fighting with the Al Qassam Brigades, then these are more highly trained and well equipped and it would stand to reason to see more complex ambush patterns using different types of weapons systems on Israelis,” Mr Kotlarski said.

This would include “layered effects” in which, for example, an anti-tank device such as an EFP would immobilise a vehicle, which would then be attacked by fighters with shoulder-fired weapons.

Antipersonnel mines would also be used in side streets to prevent infantry moving up in support of the armour.

“Once ambushes move to that much more determined and complex phase it means that every time it happens, the Israelis have to fight through,” Mr Cranny-Evans said.

Iran technology

It is almost certain that Iran has provided the extremists with the technological knowledge to make EFPs, which require an industrial lathe and high-quality explosives.

After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Iran supplied militias with thousands of EFPs that had significant success in targeting British and American armour.

“Iran has got a complex and advanced history of IED development, so it’s entirely possible that they've had technical input from the Iranian manufacturing,” Mr Cranny-Evans said.

Mr Kotlarski agreed that Hamas received some technical assistance from Iran “as some of the EFP are clearly right from Iranian designs”.

Updated: December 08, 2023, 7:32 AM