GazaWATCH: The Terrorist Threat

Qassams and Rockets

The Qassam rocket is named after the Ezzedeen al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. The rockets and the Brigades are named after Ezzedeen al-Qassam, a Syrian Islamist guerrilla who fought in the Arab revolt of the early 1930s against the British military and the local Jewish population in mandatory Palestine. Qassam and two of his followers were killed in November 1935.

Qassam rockets are homemade projectiles made from common civilian products, including pipes of steel, cast iron, and aluminum. The pipe is affixed at the top end with a small warhead that weighs just a few pounds. At the bottom end of the tube a set of wings is affixed for stability, along with detonators and fuses. The warheads are usually made of homemade explosives, but now are increasingly made of higher-grade explosives. Hamas is known to add metal shrapnel to increase the damage. The fuel used to propel the rockets is usually made of melted sugar combined with commercial fertilizer.

The explosive material is typically smuggled into the Gaza Strip through underground tunnels from Egypt. Other elements for these rockets arrive by ship to Gaza. The raw materials for one rocket can cost up to $800.

Qassams are typically assembled in teams of two. One rocket-maker welds the rocket casings together from metal pipes. The other fills the warhead with the explosives. Next, one rocket-maker mixes the propellant fuel and the other affixes the detonator cap, which makes the missile explode on impact. One rocket takes about 25 minutes to construct.

The production of Qassam fuel is the most technical and dangerous phase of the rocket-making process. Injuries while making fuel are common. The highly combustible fuel mixture is heated under intense flame and then poured into a plastic tube to cool, where a long wire is embedded in the mixture. Once the fuel has cooled and solidified, the plastic tube is removed and the fuel cylinder (complete with a fuse) is placed in the Qassam casing.

The rockets are usually launched from crude, hand-made scaffolds or from truck-mounted launchers. Salvos can range from one to six missiles. Due to the fact that the rockets are small, it is relatively easy for militants to carry them from place to place and even fire them without the use of stationary launchers.

The use of Qassam rockets against Israeli civilians is a relatively recent development. Since its inception in late 1987, Hamas has gained notoriety by carrying out headline-grabbing suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. After a fresh round of Palestinian violence in autumn 2000, tighter Israeli security measures made it more difficult for Hamas to launch its suicide operations. Increasingly, Qassams and other rockets have become Hamas’s weapon of choice.

Rockets are multi-function tools for Hamas and a key component to its strategy. While their indiscriminate nature terrorizes Israel’s population, the rockets also help Hamas maintain its credentials as a Palestinian resistance movement and the organization keep its membership numbers high among those who do not agree with Hamas’s cease-fire policy. Moreover, that a rocket or two every so often only attracts one Israeli counter-attack means Hamas can aggravate Israel without risking an all-out Israeli response.[1]

Qassams were first fired at Israeli civilian targets in October 2001. They were initially directed at Israeli citizens living in the Gaza Strip before the unilateral pullout in 2005. The number of rockets launched drastically increased following the 2005 withdrawal, but saw a large drop after Israel’s Operation Cast Lead.

Qassam Rockets Fired Per Year

Total rockets fired from 2001-2012: 7,665

Year Rockets Fired Comments
2001 4 Beginning of rocket fire on Israeli residents in Gaza
2002 35 First year that rockets hit within Israeli territory
2003 155 Smuggling from Egypt increases
2004 281 Rocket strikes in retaliation for Israeli targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders.
2005 179 108 until the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, 71 afterwards
2006 946 First year of mass production
2007 896 421 until the Hamas takeover in mid-June, 475 afterwards
2008 1,752 1,199 January – June 18
223 June 19 (beginning of the ceasefire) until December 19
330 December 20 (beginning of Operation Cast Lead) until December 31
2009 578 428 January 1 – 31
2010 129 On March 19, a rocket landed in Netiv Ha’asara, killing a Thai man in the first rocket-related death since Operation Cast Lead.
2011 375 On April 7, a Kornet missile was fired at a school bus, killing teenager Daniel Viflic ten days later. On Aug 20, Yossi Shushan of Ofakim was killed by a Grad rocket explosion. On Oct. 29, Moshe Ami of Ashkelon was killed when shrapnel from a Grad rocket hit his car.
2012 2,335 1,506 November 14 – 21 (Operation Pillar of Defense)

Note: These figures are approximates, as it is impossible to verify each and every single rocket fired.
Source: Israel Security Agency, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and JPC research

[1] “The Challenge of Gaza,” The Saban Center at Brookings, Analysis Paper 23 (2011): 5-6.

Hamas is not the only group that fires rockets into Israeli civilian centers. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and several lesser-known groups have also claimed responsibility for rocket attacks. Contrary to media reports, the rockets fired by these groups are not Qassams and, although similar, they have different names and capabilities.


Since the end of Operation Cast Lead, Hamas has gone to great lengths to rebuild and upgrade its weapons capabilities by amassing new and improved missiles. One such missile is the Kornet, an advanced anti-tank laser-guided missile made by Russia. The first Kornet launched from Gaza was on December 6, 2010 at an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) tank. On April 7, 2011 another Kornet missile was fired at a school bus, killing one child.

According to a cable released by WikiLeaks to Haaretz, the IDF reported to the U.S. in 2009 that Hamas has “sophisticated anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs )…to include the Russian-made Konkours system. Hamas also had SA-7 surface-to-air missiles and sophisticated improvised explosive devices of all varieties.” The cable also stated that Hamas has an Iranian-made 122 mm rocket that “was designed specifically for Hamas, as it came in four pieces that could fit through narrow tunnels and be reassembled in Gaza.” Moreover, the cable noted that “Israel has sensitive intelligence that Iran is constructing an additional Hamas-specific missile, based on the Fajr, that will have a range beyond 40 kilometers,” or 25 miles. The Fajr, a rocket made in Iran with help from North Korea, comes in two types—the Fajr 3 with a 25-mile range and the Fajr 5 with a 45-mile range. According to some reports, militants in Gaza already possess the Fajr-5. In addition, in 2011 it was reported that Iran and Hezbollah were working with Hamas to create a long-range rocket built with materials easily available in Gaza.[1]

Qassam Rocket

Class Qassam I Qassam II Qassam III Qassam IV
Weight 77 lbs 88 lbs 110 lbs 110 lbs
Diameter 4.5 inches 4.5 inches 4.5 inches 4.5 inches
Length 6 feet 6 feet 8 feet 8.5 feet
Maximum Range 1.86 miles 4.35 miles 6.21 miles 9 miles
Weight of Warhead 17.6 lbs 8.8 lbs 17.6 lbs 22lbs

(Also known as Qasam, Kassam and Kasam)

Kornet Rocket

Class Kornet
Weight 59.5 lbs
Diameter 6 inches
Length 47 inches
Maximum Range 3.4 miles
Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)

PIJ uses its own version of Qassam rockets, known as Quds 2 and Quds 3. The most advanced rocket is the Class B Quds 3, which has a maximum range of 5.6 miles and is similar in design and capabilities to the Qassam II. In March 2006, PIJ began upgrading its Quds rocket in an attempt to strike the city of Ashkelon, approximately 9 miles from northern Gaza. In 2008, PIJ claimed to have successfully achieved this capability. PIJ is the only Palestinian group known to fire vehicle-mounted rockets. The Iran-sponsored group, however, has a slower rate of rocket production compared to Hamas.

Quds Rocket
Class A Quds 2 B Quds 2 A Quds 3 B Quds 3
Weight 51.7 lbs 73.7 lbs 77 lbs 92.4 lbs
Length 5 feet 3.6 feet 4.25 feet 6.5 feet
Diameter 3.5 inches 4.5 inches 4 inches 5 inches
Range 3.72 miles 4.35 miles 5.28 miles 5.6 miles
Warhead Weight 17.6 lbs 17.6 lbs 15.4 lbs 17.6 lbs

(Also known as Qods, Kuds, and Kods)


The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of the Fatah movement, has developed its own brand of rockets, too, known as the al-Aqsa and al-Yasser. They are similar in design, size, and construction to the Qassam rocket. The range of the al-Aqsa rocket is superior to the Qassam I, but inferior to the Qassam II, reaching a maximum of 4.3 miles. The al-Yasser is said to have a range of more than 9 miles.

Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)

The rocket manufacturing capability of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) is far inferior to Hamas. The PRC has three types of rockets: the Short Nasser with a range of 3.72 miles, and the Long Nasser 3 and the Nasser 4, which have a range of 5.6 miles. The primary difference between these two rockets is their length and weight.

Nasser Rocket

Class Short Nasser 3 Long Nasser 3 Nasser 4
Weight 55 lbs 66 lbs 88 lbs
Length 4 feet 5.25 feet 6 feet
Diameter 3.5 inches 3.5 inches 4.5 inches
Range 3.75 miles 5.6 miles 5.6 miles
Warhead Weight 22 lbs 22 lbs 22 lbs

(Also known as Nasir and Nassir rockets)

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has only one type of rocket, the Sumud. This rocket has a maximum range of 4.3 miles. The military wing of the PFLP, the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, has launched these rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot.

Technical Range of all Types of Rockets:

Organization Rocket Models and Max. Ranges
Hamas Qassam I – 1.86 miles
Qassam II – 4.35 miles
Qassam III – 6.21 miles
Qassam IV – 9 miles
Kornet – 3.4 miles
PIJ Class A Quds 2 – 3.72 miles
Class B Quds 2 – 4.35 miles
Class A Quds 3 – 5.28 miles
Class B Quds 3 – 5.6 miles
PRC Short Nasser 3 – 3.75 miles
Long Nasser 3 – 5.6 miles
Nasser 4 – 5.6 miles
Fatah Al-Aqsa – 4.3 miles
Al-Yasser – 9 miles
PFLP Sumud – 4.3 miles
All Groups Grad Rockets (a type of Katyusha) – 25 miles

[1] “The Challenge of Gaza,” The Saban Center at Brookings, Analysis Paper 23 (2011): 5.


Hamas and Gaza’s militant groups continuously work to improve their rocket capabilities €”such as range, accuracy, and shelf life[1]†either through developing new technology or by smuggling-in improved weapons from abroad. According to one member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades interviewed in the first half of 2011, Grad rockets, once difficult to acquire, have been coming through the tunnels at an increasing pace so that now all militant groups have them.

Israel, for its part, continues to work against the tide, locating and preventing vessels with weapons for Gaza from reaching their destination. In March 2009, an Iranian weapons convoy in Sudan believed to be carrying Fajr missiles intended for Hamaswas destroyed, likely by Israel. The Iranian Fajr missile is capable of hitting Tel Aviv. And in March 2011, the Israeli Navyboarded and searched an Egypt-bound ship called “Victoria” after confirming reports that the vessel was carrying illicit arms. Israeli officials determined that the weapons, including anti-ship missiles, were sent by Iran and were on their way to the Gaza Strip.

In August 2011, Brigadier General Yaron Levi, the Navy’s intelligence chief, reported that Hezbollah’s model “is being copied today to the Gaza Strip. In the future, we will have to deal with missiles, torpedoes, mines, above-surface weapons and underwater ones, both in Gaza and Lebanon.” He added, “we assume that everything that Iran has can be brought to theaters closer to us.”

The process of arming Gaza has only been made easier by the Arab uprisings of 2011. Of most importance are the changes taking place in Egypt; the interim government that took over after Hosni Mubarak’s fall dismantled many of the former ruler’s restrictions on Gaza meant to prevent Hamas from increasing its weapons capabilities. For example, after Mubarak’s leave,Egypt stopped construction on the steel wall that was to prevent smuggling between Egypt and Gaza, decreased its level of security in the Sinai Peninsula as a result of the chaos, and opened its border with Gaza to pedestrian traffic in May, allowing rocket or military experts interested in training Hamas easy access. According to Israeli defense officials, in the months following Mubarak’s fall, the decrease in security allowed Hamas to acquire improved high-trajectory rockets, ready-made explosive devices, anti-tank missiles, and possibly anti-aircraft missiles. That same report cites that the war in Libya also opened new avenues for smuggling weapons to Gaza.

Indeed, since Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s fall, it is believed that Grad missiles with ranges of 60-70 miles, shorter range rockets, guns, and ammunition have been smuggled into Gaza from Libya. There is also the fear that MANPADS (Man-Portable Air Defense Systems), which are capable of shooting down an aircraft flying up to 12,000 feet, have found their way to militants on Israel’s border. In September 2011, it became clear that thousands of advanced weapons, including deadly heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles, went missing during Libya’s uprising. Soon thereafter, Egypt acknowledged that over the previous few months it arrested five groups of smugglers on their way to Israel carrying weapons from Libya, including anti-aircraft missile launchers.

Gaza’s militant groups also continuously develop new techniques and tactics to use in their fight against Israel. According to a July 2011 report, the militants in Gaza now use Google Earth, a satellite mapping tool developed with the help of the CIA, to pinpoint the exact location of target sites in Israel, such as specific roads or buildings, to aim their rockets.

Tunnel Network

Hamas uses an intricate network of underground tunnels to bring goods and people in-and-out of Gaza to escape Israel’s blockade of the Strip. Goods that come through the tunnels include: fish, sheep, infant formula, and other food products; clothing and shoes; construction materials such as cement; fuel; cigarettes; electrical appliances; toys; drugs; medicine; and vehicles such as motorcycles and fully assembled cars. Of utmost concern for Israel, however, is Hamas’s smuggling-out of people for advanced training, as well as its smuggling-in of experts, rocket parts, and other weaponry.[2]

The tunnels are impressive structures; they can run over 400 feet long, lie more than 40 feet deep, and have ventilation shafts and phone lines. It takes months, and tens of thousands of dollars, to build one. Homeowners who allow Hamas to use their houses to conceal tunnels can receive upwards of $20,000 in compensation funds for their assistance.[3] Over 1,000 tunnelsare believed to cross underneath the Egypt-Gaza border.

On August 18, 2011, Gaza militants carried out a coordinated terrorist attack in southern Israel that killed eight Israelis. The terrorists are believed to have used the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt to travel to the Sinai, and then cross the porous Sinai-Israel border further south into Israel. As a result, Israel moved-up the completion date for a fence it is building along the border with the Sinai Peninsula to prevent infiltration and similar attacks.

While most reports on Hamas’s tunnel system usually point to smuggling only, the group also uses a large tunnel infrastructure inside Gaza to move items and people, such as top leaders, around the small piece of land without Israeli detection.[4] The tunnels also allow Hamas militants “to attack and retreat, to ambush and kidnap,” and to blow up Israeli vehicles driving over the tunnels without them suspecting anything. In 2009, Hamas used the cease-fire with Israel to build underground rocket systems that could be detonated remotely and are connected to the tunnel infrastructure so that Hamas fighters can access the rockets as needed without detection.[5]

Hamas’s smuggling activities and tunnel building can only be expected to continue unabated at this point. While Israel occasionally destroys a tunnel or two with an aerial bombing in response to a rocket launch, Egypt is the only country truly capable of preventing Hamas’s smuggling and tunnel efforts. But since Mubarak’s fall in February 2011, it is unlikely that Cairo will strictly enforce security measures on the Gaza-Egypt border. An August 2011 report by the AFP confirmed that tunnel activity spiked after February.

Other forms of attacks

Aside from rocket attacks, Gaza’s militants terrorize Israel’s population in other ways such as with shootings or planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) near the border powerful enough to harm IDF troops policing the area. Between 2000 and 2009, Palestinians in Gaza carried out over 5,000 shooting attacks against Israelis. And while a majority of the attacks occurred before Israel withdrew from the territory in 2005, there were 77 incidents in 2006, 98 in 2007, and 82 in 2008 before the number dropped to just 4 in 2009.[6] Most of the attacks are shootings at farmers working their fields.[7]

Hamas and other militant groups in the Gaza Strip also routinely fire mortar shells into Israel. Mortars are high-trajectory weapons that have a shorter range than the rockets launched from Gaza, but are still deadly. Between 2001 and 2010, militants in Gaza fired more than 4,300 mortar shells at Israeli soldiers and civilians.

[1] “The Challenge of Gaza,” The Saban Center at Brookings, Analysis Paper 23 (2011): 5.
[2] “The Challenge of Gaza,” 7.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid., 16-17.
[6] Ibid., 6.
[7] Ibid.