Qassam-2 missile a wild card in Mideast conflict
March 5 marked the first time that a Qassam missile hit a target behind the "Green Line" that separates Israel from the Palestinian territories, the Israeli Defense Forces said. It also was the first time a rocket attack caused Israeli casualties since hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians reignited 17 months ago.
The Qassam-2 missile has been fired periodically at Israeli targets since it was first used in February.
Israeli officials have warned that the Qassam-2 strikes, which enable militant groups to strike deeper into Israeli territory than ever before, could lead to a major escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. The U.S. State Department called the February 10 incident "deeply troubling" and urged the Palestinian Authority to halt its use.
The Qassam-2 is a homemade, "extremely primitive" artillery rocket with an estimated range of up to eight kilometers, or five miles, according to Jeremy Binnie, Middle East editor for Jane's Sentinel Security Assessment in London. (Missile specs)
The nearly 6-foot-long (180-centimeter) missiles, propelled by a mixture of sugar, oil, alcohol and fertilizer, are believed to be in the hands of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist organization whose military wing has carried out terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and military targets.
On February 6, the Israeli military announced it had seized a shipment of eight Qassam-2 missiles as they were being transported by Palestinians between two West Bank cities.
It's believed that the Qassam-2 can be produced quickly. The rocket is considered the next step up from the Qassam-1 and the homemade mortars that Hamas used previously, according to Binnie.
Those mortars had a shorter range, so the Israelis could more easily track them with relative ease and move quickly to intercept the attackers, Binnie said. But the Qassam-2 rockets -- bearing warheads containing 11 to 15 pounds (5 to 7 kilograms) of explosive material -- could be more difficult to trace.
"Also, they could potentially be used en masse to target a settlement or other large Israeli target," he said. "They would cause significant damage and there would be little the Israelis could do about it."
Binnie said it's unclear how the Qassam-2, whose accuracy he describes as "poor," might affect the military balance between Israel and the Palestinians.
"Although the Israelis maintain overwhelming military superiority, they may find themselves powerless to stop these missiles if the Palestinians can develop reliable technology and tactics," Binnie said.
The missiles also could lead to harsher Israeli retaliation and prompt more incursions to look for missile factories, said Binnie.
"It will become a battle as to whether the Palestinians can continue manufacturing these things," Binnie noted.
The Israelis say the missiles, though highly inaccurate, nevertheless leave their population centers exposed to attack.
Could the deployment of the Qassam-2 missile escalate the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians?
Does Qassam-2 suggest a greater threat to Israeli security?
Does Qassam-2 signal that Palestinians or Hamas could eventually have access to even more potent, longer-range ammunition?
Could Qassam-2 affect the balance of power between Israel and the Palestinians?
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