Hamas last month for the first time confirmed that the Iran-backed terror group possesses Man Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS), parading them through the streets of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The systems have been described by the State Department as “particularly attractive weapons to terrorists and criminals” due to their ability to, among other things, take down civilian airliners.
Gaza-based terror groups had long been suspected of having access to the weapons. In late 2006 the director of Multinational Forces in the Sinai Peninsula testified that fear of MANPADS had forced changes in how the organization conducted surveillance flights near the border between in the Sinai and the Gaza Strip. The photos and videos were the first open confirmation, however, and came at a time when Hamas has seen its regional and domestic influence precipitously erode.
Hamas sources told Jane’s that they had revealed their anti-aircraft weapons in order to deter Egyptian air assets. There are persistent rumors that the Egyptian military either has or is preparing to penetrate Gazan airspace.
Hamas, however, has no stomach for a battle with Egypt, leading observers to speculate that other motives may have been behind the revelation.
Efforts by Israel and especially by Egypt have complicated Hamas’s weapons acquisition efforts. The Egyptian army has been making concentrated efforts to destroy the underground tunnels that link the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to the Sinai Peninsula since the beginning of the year. At about the same time, the Egyptian news outlet Al-Youm Al-Sabea reported that Hamas was forced to reject a shipment of weapons because an operative found Israeli surveillance devices on them. The latter incident came amid widespread reports that Hamas was cutting ties with arms smugglers who it suspected had been compromised by Israeli security officials.
Analysts have worried that a recent spike in Hamas’s terror activities – ranging from foiled terror attacks in the West Bank to an underground tunnel terror campaign that involved an Israeli kindergarten – is being driven by the group’s efforts to restore its credibility.
It’s not impossible that Hamas’s missile displays are driven by a similar imperative to publicly demonstrate that it is still capable of fielding a robust missile arsenal.
Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has suggested that Hamas’s outward panic is driven by a genuine crisis, and that Western policy makers have a narrow window of opportunity to strike a death blow to the group.