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Will Israel maritime gas platforms be Hamas' next target?

Israeli navy [file photo]
An Israeli Navy ship seen near the Gaza coast [file photo]

With the increase in the frequency of Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, there is Palestinian and Israeli increased Israeli and Palestinian talk of the resistance’s “target banks” against Israel. This is for the resistance to go beyond launching rockets at Israeli settlements in the Gaza envelope, which it has done in the past years, and targeting Israeli gas platforms off the shores of the Gaza Strip. This would cause Israel significant economic losses, as it earns $18 billion annually from the gas in the Mediterranean Sea.

The following lines identify the capabilities of the Palestinian resistance to attack Israeli oil installations in the Mediterranean, instead of attacking Israeli cities with rockets, although Hamas fired rockets towards these platforms in the 2014 war, how Israel will respond, what means Hamas will use to target the platforms: missiles, Drones, or sea mines, and whether Hamas aspires to get a share of the gas off the coast of Gaza?

With rounds of Israeli attacks from time to time on Gaza and targeting the resistance’s sites and causing them significant damages, it seems that a shift has begun to take shape within the resistance forces, which requires changing the stereotype of their responses to these repeated Israeli aggressions.

The resistance initially thinks of the potential to reduce the traditional reactions of targeting southern settlements gradually. This is to choose Israeli targets that are more qualitative, on the one hand, and more costly and deterring on the other. All of these standards are met by the Israeli gas platforms off the Gaza Strip.

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Israeli Mossad director, Yossi Cohen revealed, earlier, that Hamas targeted Israeli gas platforms during the last war on Gaza in 2014. Still, these attempts were unsuccessful because the rockets used by Hamas were primitive. Meanwhile, Israel has robust defence systems on the gas platforms due to increased threats of a military strike aimed at stopping the gas supply.

Israel possesses very sophisticated warships to confront the severe threats of potential targeting of its gas platforms. The naval forces are ready for every emergency regarding these platforms because the resistance forces are quickly improving their offensive capabilities, which increases the threats posed to gas platforms.

Israel is convinced that it cannot rely on a single gas platform or a separate gas transportation pipeline and thus has developed several gas platforms and pipelines so that it is not in the situation where the gas is completely cut off from it. Therefore, the naval forces consider the protection of these platforms an essential issue, as it is one of the most vital strategic installations, vulnerable to being targeted in any war.

The Israeli navy, including the commandos unit, carried out a large-scale manoeuvre to protect the platforms, which hypothetically included regaining control over a platform resistance fighters successfully stormed and controlled. It also included intercepting missiles targeting the platform from a distance. The manoeuvre did not only include militants taking control of the platform, but also holding hostages. However, the problem with the manoeuvre is that it does not allow the forces to open fire for fear of igniting the gas because those coming to occupy the platform are not vandals wearing keffiyehs, but people who understand that this is a matter of a strategic asset for Israel.

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The naval forces revealed a series of exercises and tests recently conducted in Israeli economic waters to improve its facing of the potential risks. It also presented the use of the advanced radar, produced by the air force, which is carried on its ships. Israel’s well trained and graduated naval officers practised fighting and combat in territorial waters, hundreds of kilometres from shore, while the navy established a special division to protect waters.

Israel is operating based on the assumption that Hamas can strike gas platforms, which provide it with 60 per cent of its electricity needs, as well as economic revenues estimated at tens of billions of dollars. They are also assuming the possibility of an energy crisis in Israel due to the suspension of these facilities’ operation and the potential for international companies withdrawing their investments in Israeli fields.

All of this may happen even without Hamas possessing land-to-sea missiles, and a successful attack against these platforms will have a significant impact on the Israeli economy. Images of the burning platforms would be “victory pictures” for Hamas if it carried out this attack.

Newly graduated army officers perform during their graduation ceremony at the General Directorate of Education headquarters of Palestinian Ministry of the Interior and National Security, in Gaza City, Gaza on March 30, 2017. [Ali Jadallah - Anadolu Agency]

Newly graduated army officers perform during their graduation ceremony at the General Directorate of Education headquarters of Palestinian Ministry of the Interior and National Security, in Gaza City, Gaza on March 30, 2017. [Ali Jadallah – Anadolu Agency]

Because the area of ​​economic water is twice the size of Israel, it represents a temptation for Hamas and the rest of the armed organisations to target them and carry out armed operations inside them, mainly focusing gas fields. Some Israeli military forums expressed their fear of the Yakhont missile reaching Hamas because it threatens all platforms for extracting gas and oil. The navigation area is a circle 300 km in diameter, which means the trade ships making their way to the main ports in Ashdod, which receives a large part of Israel’s imports, will be hit as well.

Israeli circles believe that Hamas has been armed with new capabilities, including missiles that would enable it to hit gas platforms. This is because it seeks to defend its strategic interests in the sea. This prompted the navy to install the Iron Dome system on the Saar 5 ships, which protect the gas platforms. It is worth noting that Hamas’s ability to hit Israel’s strategic assets is not limited to rockets.

Moreover, the Israeli army assumes that in future confrontations, the seafloor will be threatened by Hamas interested in striking Israel’s immunity, in light of its variety of means and wide capabilities. This includes suicide divers, activating rigged boats, divers activating explosives in deep water, operating small submarines, a mining system, and self-made sabotage.

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Hamas may not be in a hurry to hit these platforms because it knows that damaging them may mean the waging of the fourth war on Gaza. Moreover, despite an Israeli conviction that since the discovery of gas fields in Israeli waters, Israel thinks it may be a means to ignore for Hamas. This is because the gas fields are a flame in the eyes of the movement’s fighters because they aim to create a memorable and influential event in the minds of the Palestinians and Israelis because the distance between the Gaza Strip and platforms is 40 kilometres; a range they can reach.

The Israeli army is also preparing for another kind of threat, i.e. a localised operation during which several small boats carry canisters or divers and try o hit the platforms. The actual harm caused by this operation will be minimal, but its purpose is to influence the collective awareness mainly and will hinder the work of the damaged platform. There is an Israeli military evaluation that suggests that the Palestinian organisations have the capabilities to hit Israel’s port s and industrial infrastructure sites located on the shore.

The Israeli warnings go as far as to say that the so-called “naval intifada” coming from the Gaza Strip has been occupying the army lately, hinting that the Hamas naval commandos are developing. This has prompted the naval forces to make more considerable efforts to guarantee the safety of the southern shore and the gas plats and fields in the Mediterranean. All of this is part of the psychological battle the army is fighting against Hamas in Gaza.

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The primary goal of the Israeli navy is to provide security protection for gas platforms and to confront hostile marine boats. This seafront reaches the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, and its borders reach 100 sea kilometres. The army is tasked with protecting beaches of Ashdod and Ashkelon, as well as the power stations and gas platforms.

The navy is working to thwart Hamas’s military efforts in cooperation with the land forces and intelligence. Hamas is seeking to rig some naval boats with explosive and given the presence of many operating bodies in Gaza, the seafront in the Gaza Strip has become a difficult security challenge. This is because the Palestinians learn to fish at a young age and with time they grow a severe threat, as there are over 1,000 fishing boats in Gaza. Some who have sought the profession to earn a living and others who use fighting for military purposes to target Israeli soldiers.

Unlike the confrontation on the ground, where there is a physical wall, there is no real physical obstacle preventing the Palestinians from crossing, and this increases the depth of the security challenge posed to the Israeli navy.

Hamas fighters do not need to be geniuses to know the locations of Israeli gas platforms, because their locations can be determined via the Internet. This not an Israeli secret; everyone who wakes up in the morning in the Gaza Strip can see these platforms. Moreover, a large part of the Israeli strategic infrastructure in the Gaza Strip is concentrated along the beach, which exposes it to the bombing. This will force Israel in any future confrontation with Gaza to face rockets, torpedoes, mines, and weapons over and under the sea.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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