Hamas's New Rocket Is Inaccurate. It's Also a Serious Upgrade.

Late on Tuesday, a rocket landed near the Israeli city of Hadera, nearly 70 miles north of its  Gaza Strip launch site. That's the greatest distance a Hamas rocket has ever traveled from Gaza, and as Israel and Hamas trade blows in an escalating cycle of violence, it's raising questions about what is in Hamas's arsenal -- and how it got there.

Initial reports indicate that the Hadera rocket was a Syrian-made M-302, an unguided projectile that can carry a payload of over 300 pounds. The M-302 first appeared during Israel's 2006 invasion of Lebanon when Hezbollah fired it at targets inside Israel. There's been little documentation of the rocket since. The M-302 is big -- up to 15 feet long -- but like other unguided rockets launched from Gaza, it's inaccurate.

"The fact is that these are never going to be precise enough for the warhead to really matter all that much, unless it hits a target out of almost sheer accident," Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told Foreign Policy. No casualties have been reported from Tuesday's strike.

Nonetheless, the M-302 represents a significant upgrade for Hamas. Most rockets fired out of Gaza are produced domestically. They travel short distances, are detonated with crude fuses, and are designed to be quickly set up, launched, and cleared to avoid detection.

Pictured below is a launch site for domestically produced rockets in Gaza:

The M-302, on the other hand, is fired from a large, boxy launcher either in a fixed location or from the bed of a truck. Its payload and range are much greater than those of the rockets produced domestically by Hamas, which typically carry warheads of up to about 30 pounds and can travel anywhere from one to 10 miles.

The image below is a screenshot from a video purporting to show an M-302 launcher in Syria.

The M-302s were likely smuggled into Gaza in late 2013. In March, an Israeli raid on a Panamanian-flagged freighter in the Red Sea revealed one such shipment of rockets hidden under a load of cement. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) allege that they were destined for militants in Gaza and that they were shipped out of Iran. An IDF spokesperson said that there are likely dozens more still in Gaza.

The video below documents the IDF's seizure of M-302s aboard the freighter:

As Israeli airstrikes continue, it's unlikely that more rockets of this type will make it into Gaza immediately. A limited supply of the weapon will restrict Hamas's use of it.

But there are benefits to keeping a stockpile. "You're going to try to conceal at least enough," Cordesman said, "so that Israel can never predict the point at which Hamas would run out of longer-range systems." Missiles like the M-302 are ineffective militarily, Cordesman said, but they serve a strategic and a political purpose: show Palestinians that Hamas can strike deep into Israel and demonstrate to Israelis that escalating airstrikes in Gaza will not inhibit Hamas's ability to hit back.

Since Monday, Palestinian militants have fired more than 280 rockets into Israeli territory, wounding two. Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip have, since Saturday, killed 53 Palestinians, including 18 children.

JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images


America Is Leaving Afghanistan and Civilians Are Paying the Price

With American troops preparing to leave Afghanistan and the Taliban stepping up its attacks across the country, Afghan civilians are increasingly getting caught in the crossfire. According to newly released United Nations data, the number of civilians who were injured or killed in Afghanistan rose by 24 percent over the first half of 2014, compared to the same period in last year. In total, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) documented 1,564 civilian deaths and 3,289 injuries during the six-month span.

The U.N. data indicates that ground combat has overtaken improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as the leading cause of civilian deaths. Ground combat -- which can include the use of mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and small arms -- was responsible for 39 percent of civilian deaths and injuries in 2014, accounting for 474 civilian deaths and 1,427 injuries. The number of casualties caused by ground combat rose 89 percent from the previous year.

And while IEDs are no longer the leading killer of Afghan civilians, civilian deaths and injuries from the homemade bombs are also on the rise. IEDs were responsible for 1,463 casualties in the first half of 2014, a 7 percent increase from 2013 and the highest number of casualties from IEDs in any six-month time span since 2009. Suicide attacks by anti-government forces, the third-leading cause of civilian casualties, caused 156 deaths and 427 injuries.

This increased combat has hit women and children particularly hard. The first six months of 2014 saw civilian casualties among children and women spike by 34 and 24 percent, respectively. The U.N. report found that ground combat accounted for 112 child deaths and 408 injuries, while close fighting killed 64 women and injured 192 in Afghanistan.

Anti-government attacks caused 988 civilian casualties, 553 of which were attributable to the Taliban. Afghan security forces accidently caught 274 civilians in the crossfire, while 38 casualties resulted from cross-border shelling; the U.N. report was unable to directly attribute the culprit of 599 civilian casualties sustained from ground combat. Looking more closely at Taliban-led attacks, the report found that of the 147 attacks for which the Taliban publicly claimed responsibility and which resulted in civilian casualties, 69 directly targeted civilians, including tribal elders, civilian government officials, and justice system workers. The remaining 76 were directed at military targets, which indiscriminately caused civilian deaths and injuries.

The number of civilian casualties caused by the Taliban and other anti-government forces doubled since 2009, when UNAMA began collecting such data.

The findings come amid a shift in Afghanistan's security landscape. President Obama's announcement that American troops will withdraw from Afghanistan by 2016 has placed greater responsibility on the Afghan National Army to maintain security in the country. The increase in civilian casualties caused by ground combat may be one indication that the Taliban is more willing to engage in direct firefights with the Afghan army. While the Taliban would often avoid getting in firefights with well-trained American troops -- by, for example, relying more heavily on IEDs -- the insurgents may favor their odds in a firefight against the less competent Afghan army.

Moreover, fraud allegations from the country's recent runoff election threaten to contribute further to instability in Afghanistan. Preliminary results released Monday handed Ashraf Ghani a commanding lead over his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, whose supporters have threatened to form a parallel government that wouldn't recognize Ghani as the country's duly elected president.

The Taliban, meanwhile, continue to challenge Afghan and international security forces. On Tuesday, a suicide bomber killed 16 people in Parwan province, north of Kabul. The victims included four Czech soldiers and Afghan civilians, among them children.