JERUSALEM — Early in Israel’s invasion of Gaza, an anti-tank missile fired by Palestinian militants struck an armored personnel carrier, killing — by incineration, concussion or shrapnel — at least nine Israeli soldiers.

This October 31 attack, on Gaza’s sandy northern outskirts, represented the largest group of Israeli casualties in the ground war. It also showed the evolution and expansion of Hamas’ firepower.

Where once Israeli forces faced stones and Molotov cocktails thrown by Palestinians, they now face weapons such as laser-guided missiles and anti-tank munitions. Hamas has “armed itself to the teeth,” a military analyst said.

The Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, are now inside Gaza City, fighting Hamas above and below ground – among civilians, around hospitals, schools and mosques – in areas which the IDF says are riddled with tunnels.

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In such close quarters, Hamas fighters deployed part of their improved arsenal: an impressive number of rocket-propelled grenade launchers and anti-tank missiles, according to military experts. Many weapons have been smuggled into the Gaza Strip via tunnels, land crossings and by sea over the past decade, following the fallout from the wars in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Sudan, and also manufactured by Iran and even North Korea.

Variants of these weapons have also been assembled with increasing sophistication in Gaza in underground factories.

Analysts say Israel closely monitors the types of weapons held by Hamas: modern sniper rifles, paragliders, RPGs, “magnetic bombs”, suicide attack drones, mini-submarines, landmines, anti-tank missiles and long-range rockets, which can now strike as far north as Haifa, near the Lebanese border, and as far south as Eilat on the Red Sea, but still without much precision.

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Hamas and its fighters – an estimated force of 30,000 or more – are so well armed and trained that its brigades, designated as terrorist organizations by the United States, resemble “state armies”, he said. Michael Milshtein, former leader of the Palestinian movement. IDF Department and Senior Analyst at the Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University.

Observing how the first two weeks of the ground invasion unfolded, Milshtein said, “There’s actually nothing new or surprising about the weapons themselves. The main surprise is the quantity.

Milshtein said Israel faced “a much more powerful Hamas.”

Even as the United States has called for more “humanitarian pauses” – and demanded a complete ceasefire from regional powers – Israel shows no signs of stopping its offensive, as its tanks have surrounded several hospitals in northern Gaza. On Friday, medical facilities housing displaced people came under fire.

Israeli Army Radio said tanks surrounded several hospitals and demanded they be evacuated, which doctors said would be impossible to do safely.

Avi Melamed, a former Israeli intelligence official and founder of the Inside the Middle East Institute, said Israel would face “very difficult” conditions. “This is a massively armed enemy,” he said, “not a bunch of little kids walking around with guns.”

Hamas’ deployment of large numbers of anti-tank units is particularly worrying for Israeli forces – so much so that the IDF appears to be focusing its intelligence on finding targets that air and ground forces can eliminate.

Every few days, the IDF media office publishes information about its troops targeting and killing Hamas anti-tank commanders. Hamas does not confirm the deaths of its members, making Israeli claims often impossible to independently verify.

Yet it is already clear that this war in Gaza – compared to the fighting in 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2021 – is the deadliest.

Israeli bombings and ground attacks have killed more than 11,000 people, many of them women and children, according to Gaza’s health ministry. On October 7, during Hamas’ attack on farming communities, military bases and a rave concert along the Gaza border, at least 1,200 Israelis were killed and another 240 taken hostage.

So far during the ground invasion, 41 IDF soldiers have been killed in Gaza, the Israeli military said.

During a May 2021 war, primarily between Hamas and Israel, Hamas anti-tank missile teams were able to launch strikes that killed military personnel and civilians – proving more effective than drone attacks, said Behnam Ben Taleblu, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies: a think tank in Washington.

“Hamas drones and rockets were intercepted,” he said. “Their unmanned midget submarines have been stopped. Cross-border tunnel operators have been detected. But “their anti-tank forces broke through and delivered blows,” he said.

Anti-tank systems deployed by Hamas include the Bulsae-2, a North Korean copy of the Soviet-era Fagot; the RPG-7, also of Russian origin; as well as a North Korean version called the F-7, military analysts said.

Other systems seen in Hamas videos in the past include the Russian-style Kornet and Konkurs, as well as the Iranian Raad, which is a version of the Soviet Malyutka.

“Together, this cocktail of foreign weapons can complicate even the most high-tech militaries in an urban combat scenario,” Taleblu said.

He added: “Expect Hamas to place more emphasis, not less, on anti-tank weapons and anti-tank warfare as the IDF advances inside Gaza. »

Over the past decade, numerous anti-tank weapons have been smuggled into Gaza, via tunnels linking Egypt’s Sinai desert to the Gaza Strip and via trucks crossing the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, the officials said. analysts.

Yehoshua Kalisky, a weapons expert and senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said weapons can be dismantled and individual parts hidden in food and aid shipments.

Among the anti-tank weapons possessed by Hamas, some are produced inside the Gaza Strip, such as the Tandem 85 warhead, said Amael Kotlarski, senior analyst and weapons expert at defense intelligence firm Janes. These types of projectiles use two charges to pierce modern armored vehicles. These are Iran’s signature weapons supplied to allied militants, such as Hamas, and have been used to devastating effect against US troops in Iraq.

Hamas’ propaganda arm has released numerous edited images of militants firing rockets and missiles at Israeli vehicles. Although videos may show fiery explosions, it is sometimes unclear whether the gunfire destroyed or damaged vehicles.

Israel has developed a defense system against these weapons called the Trophy active protection system, said Ryan Brobst of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. It uses radar to track incoming munitions, then intercepts them with its own defensive projectiles. This was largely successful. But — as with the missile barrages against Israel’s Iron Dome air defense — the Trophy system can be defeated by overwhelming it with large numbers of projectiles or projectiles fired at close range, Brobst said.

Notably, Brobst said, the U.S. Army received Trophy systems for its Abrams tanks in 2019 and deployed them to Europe.

Kalisky, the Israeli analyst, said that in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Israel in the Sinai needed three divisions to defeat the Egyptian army in six days. Today, the IDF has been using the same force for almost a month, with very different results in Gaza.

“It’s a different war. It’s a very difficult war,” he said. “They are equipped.”

Sudilovsky reported from Jerusalem, Nakashima and Horton of Washington. Hazem Balousha in Cairo contributed to this report.

Israel-Gaza War

Israeli tanks, amid explosions and falling shells, surrounded Gaza City’s overcrowded hospitals on Friday. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was “not seeking to occupy Gaza,” marking a change in tone after his previous comments that sparked concern within the Biden administration. Understand what is behind the Israel-Gaza war.

Hostages: Officials say Hamas militants kidnapped around 239 hostages in a highly organized attack. Four hostages have been freed – two Americans and two Israelis – as families remain hopeful. A freed Israeli hostage has told of the “spider’s web” of the Gaza tunnels in which she was held.

Humanitarian aid: The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said it had received more than 370 trucks carrying food, medicine and water into the Gaza Strip via Egypt’s Rafah crossing. However, PRCS said, there is no authorization yet to import fuel to power the enclave’s hospitals, water pumps, taxis and more.

Israelo-Palestinian conflict : The Gaza Strip, controlled by Hamas, has a complicated history and its leaders have long been at odds with the Palestinian Authority, the U.S.-backed government. Western Bank. Here is a timeline of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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