IDF Raid Uncovers Large Underground Rocket Factory and Additional Sites Related to Weapons Manufacturing
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) uncovered a major Hamas underground rocket manufacturing site located under a road used for civilian evacuation in Gaza, the military announced on January 8th. The factory, described as the largest found by the IDF to date, contained raw materials to produce rockets and the facilities to assemble them.
In the extensive tunnel network under the evacuation route, the IDF discovered assembly lines for the production of rockets and mortar shells, as well as materials to produce explosives. Dozens of kilometers of underground tunnels were uncovered in the operation.
The evacuation route road concealing the weapons site is used by Palestinian civilians during times of conflict to flee areas along the border with Israel that are at high risk of Israeli retaliation. Locating the rocket factory under this road appears to be an attempt by Hamas to protect its military infrastructure by hiding it beneath civilian infrastructure.
In addition to the underground rocket factory, IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Ran Kochav said troops also uncovered three additional Hamas tunnel complexes in Gaza that were used for weapons manufacturing. These sites contained production lines for mid-range GRAD rockets with a range of 20 km (12 miles) and long-range M-75 rockets with a 120 km (75 mile) range, capable of reaching Tel Aviv and other major Israeli cities. Raw materials and small weapons were also found stored in civilian homes above the tunnels.
|Southern Israeli cities
|Tel Aviv and central Israel
The manufacturing sites were located in the Maghazi area in central Gaza. The Maghazi camp established by Palestinian refugees in 1949 has long been known as a stronghold of Islamic Jihad, an ally of Hamas within Gaza. Residents were evacuated so the sites could be destroyed in controlled detonations.
Evidence Reveals Iranian Assistance to Hamas Weapons Development
The IDF says that along with the weapons production sites, they uncovered evidence that Hamas has been developing advanced guided cruise missile capabilities with technological guidance from Iran. Documents in Farsi (the Iranian language) explaining how to produce and operate guided cruise missiles capable of precision targeting were reportedly found at the sites.
Cruise missiles are propelled over long distances by an onboard jet engine and use advanced guidance systems to hit targets precisely. Possession of guided cruise missile technology would mark a significant upgrade in the threat posed by Hamas.
Israel’s Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern stated the findings reveal that behind Hamas’ aggressive military buildup is “Iranian knowledge, technology and equipment”. The presence of instructions in Farsi indicates Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) specialists traveled to Gaza to train Hamas engineers in weapons production techniques.
Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said the evidence shows “Iran sent advisers to Gaza to build weapons for Hamas.” Hanegbi warned that allowing Iran to arm Israel’s enemies along its borders poses an intolerable threat.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby called the revelations “extremely concerning” and said the U.S. will discuss a response with allies. Kirby said Iran arming Hamas to attack Israel threatens stability in the region.
Escalating Buildup Along Gaza Border Preceded Latest Raids
Tensions between Israel and Gaza militant groups have been steadily building over recent months after a period of relative calm. A series of incidents have sparked fears on both sides that another major conflict is imminent.
In early December, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fired a barrage of rockets at Israeli communities near the Gaza border following threats from the group to retaliate for Israeli arrest raids in the West Bank. Israel responded with airstrikes on PIJ sites. Egyptian mediators were able to broker a ceasefire after one day of fighting.
Weeks later on December 23rd, IDF troops at the Gaza border uncovered another attack tunnel that stretched into Israeli territory. Hamas digs such tunnels in order to infiltrate fighters and launch raids, abductions, or hostage situations during conflicts. Four Gazans suspected of planting an explosive near the border fence were shot in an IDF operation shortly after.
Against this backdrop of rising danger along the Gaza frontier, Israeli defense officials approved a series of late December raids by the IDF and Shin Bet security agency targeting Hamas and PIJ military infrastructure within Gaza itself. These raids aimed to degrade terrorist capabilities to conduct cross-border attacks. Weapons caches and manufacturing sites were discovered hidden in homes, under roads, and deep underground.
Prospects for Future Escalation
With evidence that Hamas has been developing new long-range guided missile capabilities, Israeli officials may be under increased domestic pressure to launch a major crackdown or even another war against Gaza militants to remove the threat. However, the high potential civilian death toll of such actions restrains Israeli decision making.
At the same time, the uncovering of Hamas’ extensive tunnel network and weapons stockpiles may compel them to take preemptive action before the infrastructure they invested heavily in is destroyed. Hamas remains deterred from provoking an all-out war, but miscalculations on either side could still spark an uncontrolled escalation.
Much depends on the response from Hamas and PIJ in the coming days and weeks following the raids – whether they seek to retaliate or refrain from responding. Israeli defense officials have said they are preparing for various scenarios. IDF forces remain on high alert along the Gaza border and Iron Dome anti-rocket batteries have been deployed to protect Israeli communities in the area. Diplomatic efforts are also underway seeking to prevent further violence.
With great hostility still characterizing the relationship between the Israeli government and Hamas, it remains doubtful whether the recent developments will prompt a lasting de-escalation of tensions. The fundamental grievances underlying this long-running conflict remain unaddressed. Thus, the situation unfortunately may be heading towards another eventually conflagration, albeit an unpredictable one.
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