The drone attack against an IDF Humvee by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad over the weekend was a dangerous escalation by the Gazan terrorist group. But it wasn’t the first time.
In late May, PIJ used a drone to drop a mortar shell on a tank stationed at the border. The attack, during a violent flare-up between Israel and terrorist organizations in Gaza, was filmed by the group and later released on social media.In the video, small explosions can be seen on and next to the tank, with Arabic captions reading “your defenses are nothing to us.”
A few days before, a drone armed with explosives launched from the northern part of the Gaza Strip landed in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council.
While no one was injured in any of the attacks, the incident over the weekend was a warning to the IDF: terrorist groups in the blockaded coastal enclave are continuing to innovate and find new weapons to attack Israel’s military.
Beginning in late March 2018, during the “March of Return” protests, Hamas began using kites, balloons and condoms to burn Israeli land. It was a cheap but effective tool that Israel had trouble containing.
Close to a year and a half later, incendiary balloons are still being flown across the border, frustrating the military and first responders who rush to the scene to put out the flames.
Now drones are the new “it.”
This weekend’s attack is a wake-up call that Israel must take seriously because drones, like rockets, pose threats not only to troops but to the thousands of residents who live in communities near the border.
This time, an IDF Humvee was lightly damaged by an improvised explosive device dropped by the drone. And Israel hit back hard, first shelling the cell that launched the drone, and then striking Hamas targets across the northern and central Gaza Strip for close to an hour.
In comparison, five rockets were launched toward southern Israel communities the night before, leading Israel to strike several Hamas targets.
The military understands the threat, and it understands that a rocket attack on southern communities is an indiscriminate attack on civilians, while the drone attacked a military target. While there were no injuries or casualties in either event, both need to be met with an iron fist.
Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Strip have been working for years to improve their drone capabilities, both by smuggling in civilian drones and by manufacturing them locally. Israel, for its part, has worked to thwart Hamas from increasing their drone arsenal, stopping them at border crossings and, according to foreign reports, eliminating Hamas operatives involved in their drone program.
In February 2017, a Hamas drone that was making its way toward Israel from the Gaza Strip fell into the sea after being shot down by an Israeli F-16. The previous year, Hamas’s chief drone expert and engineer, Mohamed Zouari, was gunned down in his car near his home in the Tunisian city of Sfax in an operation blamed on the Mossad.
In 2012, during Operation Pillar of Defense, the IDF said it struck Hamas facilities in Gaza that were being used to develop drones capable of carrying explosives. Then-GOC southern commander Maj.-Gen. Tal Russo said at the time that the IDF destroyed “advanced weaponry like the development of a UAV that isn’t used for photography, but for attacks deep inside Israel.”
The IDF has been dealing with this phenomenon for years, and with the increase of small easily operable drones that can be bought cheaply online from anywhere in the world, the threat is only increasing.
And while they are cheap, they are difficult to spot and intercept even for skilled sharpshooters, making them the perfect weapon for terrorists.
Dozens of civilian companies have been working to provide solutions to intercept drones, and the air force is said to be testing several different technologies to intercept or hack drones with the aim of integrating them in the coming months.
In the meantime, the men and women on the ground who are the first at the scene, even before the military, are getting frustrated.
Eyal Hajabi, chief security officer at the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, told The Jerusalem Post that the threat posed by drones is something that has increased over the past few months and is likely not limited to military targets.
“They stopped launching balloons and started with drones,” said Hajabi. “Since 2018, we have not had any quiet. [There are] rockets, tunnels, anti-tank, kites and now drones. For the rockets, we have the Iron Dome. [For] tunnels, we have an underground barrier. For anti-tank missiles, we have more barriers, but for the threat of kites – which is so primitive – we don’t have a solution, and now we have the drone threat, which is new and dangerous.”
And for Hajabi, this is not a threat that only targets the military. “The moment they succeed against the military, they will try to target communities,” he said. “Wherever they find a target, they will want to strike. We can’t say that these drones are targeting only military jeeps or positions, but if groups in Gaza can fire hundreds of rockets toward civilian communities, who is to say that they won’t send drones to communities?”
Just like the incendiary kites and balloons that wreaked havoc on Israel’s South, the threat of drones needs to be dealt with before one of them hits its mark, killing Israeli troops or civilians and dragging Israel into another war with the Gaza Strip.