Hundreds of rockets launched from Gaza end up crashing in that strip

The difference between a rocket and a missile, and the rockets of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad

These days we are reading some statements about missiles and rockets that can only be explained as the result of ignorance.

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The difference between a rocket and a missile is in its guidance

On Tuesday, October 17, journalist Fran Sevilla, from Radio Nacional de España, stated: "Neither Hamas nor Islamic Jihad have missiles. They have rockets, which is something different. And those rockets can cause destruction and death, without a doubt, but not with the destructive capacity of a missile. I have seen in many wars the difference between one thing and another..."

Hamas terrorists parading with Qassam rockets in Gaza. These missiles carry warheads with up to 20 kg of explosive and shrapnel (Photo: Said Khatib).

The next day, the political scientist Ander Jiménez Cava, coordinator of the extreme left party Elkarrekin Podemos-IU in the Basque Parliament, assured: "Never before in their history, neither the Islamic Jihad nor Hamas have used missiles. They have always used rockets, which they do not have nowhere near the destructive capacity to blow up a hospital."

Islamic Jihad terrorists with their largest missile, unknown name (Photo: Adel Hana/AP).

It is regrettable to see a journalist and a politician misinforming in this way. And I say misinforming because the statements they have made are openly false. In military terms, the difference between a rocket and a missile is not based on its explosive charge. In fact, there are large rockets with heavier warheads than, for example, small anti-tank missiles. The difference between a rocket and a missile is based on its guidance. In military terms, rockets are artillery munitions propelled by a combustion engine and that do not have a guidance system. A missile does have a guidance system, which can be remotely controlled, by radar, by infrared, by GPS, by laser and now, also by artificial intelligence.

An Ayyash 250, the largest rocket of the Hamas terrorist group. It has a range of 250 km (Photo: Al Mayadeen).

Gaza rockets are designed to cause indiscriminate damage to civilians

The background to this controversy seems to be an attempt to reduce the danger of the artillery arsenal of the Hamas terrorists. In fact, many people, when they hear that Hamas launches "rockets," seem to think that the attack is not as serious as when Israel launches missiles. Rather, they should think the opposite: Hamas rockets are especially dangerous precisely because of their lack of a guidance system. While the missiles used by Israel are precision weapons (which makes it possible to reduce collateral casualties in an attack), the rockets of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad (the two main terrorist groups that operate in the strip of Gaza) are designed to kill civilians indiscriminately. That is why many of them, in addition to explosives, also carry shrapnel in their warhead: to amplify the damage.

The rocket arsenal of Hamas terrorists (Source: Fabian Hinz/Wilson Center).

Today, most armies use rockets at a tactical level, whether small rockets launched by airplanes or helicopters as close support weapons for ground operations, or rockets launched from multiple launchers, as an artillery weapon. This is because a large rocket would be a dangerous strategic weapon, precisely due to its lack of guidance. Around this paragraph we can see two images published by the Wilson Center that review the rocket arsenals of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Hamas's largest rocket, the Ayyash 250, has a range of 250 km. The range of Islamic Jihad's largest rockets is unknown.

The rocket arsenal of the Islamic Jihad terrorists (Source: Fabian Hinz/Wilson Center).

The most lethal rocket of the Islamic Jihad is the Badr 3: it has a warhead with between 300 and 400 kg of explosive (to give us an idea, a US BGM-109 Tomahawk missile has a warhead of 450kg). The most common Hamas rockets are the Qassam, of which at least four variants are known with various sizes, weights and warheads. The heaviest is the Qassam 3, with a warhead of 20 kg of explosives and shrapnel, a length of 220 cm and a range of 16 km.

A graphic showing rockets fired from Gaza at Israel on October 7. Some 550 rockets landed in Gaza itself, according to estimates by the Israel Defense Forces. In dark red we see the launch sites, and in red the places where those rockets fell (Photo: Fuerzas de Defensa de Israel).

Hundreds of rockets launched from Gaza also fall in the strip

The problem with these rockets is not only their lack of guidance, but also their poor reliability. During the Hamas terrorist attacks against Israel in 2021, of 2,968 rockets launched, 439 fell on Gaza, killing about 20 people, according to estimates by the Forces of Defense of Israel. Hamas and Islamic Jihad do not seem to care about killing civilians in Gaza, and the deaths caused by those failed rockets are never reported by these terrorist groups.

Los radios de alcance de los cohetes lanzados desde la franja de Gaza contra Israel (Foto: Dekel E).

Unos cohetes utilizados para provocar el terror entre la población civil

Aunque esos cohetes tengan ojivas menos pesadas que los grandes misiles de crucero, el arsenal de artillería de Hamás y de la Yihad Islámica no sólo busca matar indiscriminadamente a civiles israelíes, un efecto que consiguen menos a menudo de lo que les gustaría gracias a los sistemas antiaéreos de Israel, el Iron Dome y el Iron Beam, que logran derribar muchos de esos cohetes antes de que hagan impacto en tierra. Su efecto es también psicológico: al igual de Hitler con los cohetes V-2, Hamás y la Yihad Islámica buscan provocar el terror. Tengamos en cuenta lo que significa vivir en Israel con la amenaza de esos misiles, cuyo alcance abarca a la casi totalidad del país, como vemos sobre estas líneas.

Image released by the Israel Defense Forces showing a Hamas rocket launch site next to a daycare center in Gaza (Photo: Fuerzas de Defensa de Israel).

The war crime of installing launch sites in populated areas

To the danger that the launching of these rockets poses for both the civilians of Israel and those of Gaza, we must add that Hamas and Islamic Jihad launch them from populated areas, using the population as a human shield to try to prevent Israel from daring to carry out a counterattack that would destroy those launch pads. Today the Israel Defense Forces have shown some of those launch sites, just a few meters from mosques, kindergartens, schools and UN buildings.

Image released by the Israel Defense Forces showing a Hamas rocket launch site next to a group of schools in Gaza (Photo: Fuerzas de Defensa de Israel).

With this use of the civilian population as a human shield, Hamas and Islamic Jihad commit a war crime against the inhabitants of Gaza, engaging in a practice expressly typified by the Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 in its Article 51.7, which prohibits the use of the civilian population as human shields"to put certain points or areas under cover of military operations, especially to try to protect military objectives from attacks, nor to cover, favor or hinder military operations."


Main photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90. Hamas terrorists parading with Qassam rockets in Gaza.

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