Graphics show Hamas’ expanded rocket arsenal, which could alter the balance in conflicts with Israel – USA TODAY

Much of the Israeli-Palestinian fighting in May was an air war, with Hamas firing long-range rockets at Israeli cities and Israel retaliating with airstrikes that targeted buildings in Gaza.

Rocket warfare between the two is not unusual. But there’s a difference now: Though Israel retains an overwhelming advantage, Hamas, the Islamist militant group in the Gaza, has more and better rockets, which may affect future conflicts.

From May 11 to the cease-fire on May 21, Hamas launched a significantly higher number of rockets into Israel, much more than in previous conflicts, according to Michael Armstrong, associate professor and missile warfare researcher at Brock University.

“The rocket fire differed from the 2014 and 2012 conflicts in a couple of ways,” Armstrong says. “One was the quantity of rockets.”

Hamas fired many more missiles

Hamas fired an average of 500 missiles a day for the first week of the May conflict, Armstrong says. “In 2014, the busiest day was 192. In 2012, it was 316.”

“They may have better supplies of rockets,” Armstrong says. “They seem to have more of the longer-range rockets, which is another important change.”

More rockets hit their intended targets. About 50% have threatened populated areas in Israel, Armstrong wrote in an analysis for The Conversation. In 2014, the rate was 18 percent. In 2012, it was 22%.

Some of the rockets were fired at Tel Aviv, showing an increased range over previous versions.

“I think it’s more of a tactical or strategic change,” Armstrong says. “In 2014, it was more of a prolonged attrition, dragging things out to harm the Israeli economy because of a lot of disruption.

“This time, it was more like ‘We’re going to go in big right away and see how much disruption we can cause in a short period of time.'”

Hamas used a greater number of missiles in an attempt to overload Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system, which protects cities from rocket attacks.

“I would say it changes things quite a bit,” says Fabian Hinz, a missile proliferation analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“The really significant change in this round is the number of rockets launched, and that they fired a huge number of rockets simultaneously.”

Thousands of rockets have been fired by the Israeli Air Force and Hamas.

But in the latest conflict, Hamas was able to fire more rockets “in tighter groups, what we call salvos,” than it has in the past, Armstrong says. In one salvo, Hamas said it fired 137 rockets in five minutes.

While Hamas was able to fire more rockets suggests it may have improved its organizational capabilities, “the fact that they were able to group them tighter is a more significant change,” Armstrong says.

Iran has supplied Hamas with rockets and technical aid, but the militants are starting to build rockets on their own, using parts scavenged from recovered Israeli missiles and common items such as water pipes, The New York Times reported.

How Israeli, Hamas weapons compare

With its offensive weapons and defensive systems, Israel retains an overwhelming military superiority over neighboring Palestinians. But Hamas has improved its rocket capabilities. How they compare:

Israel’s long-range missile distance

Israel’s weaponry is aided by foreign assistance, as well as producing its own cruise and ballistic missiles. Israel also exports missile systems. Israel is believed to have nuclear weapons, but it has never admitted or denied possessing them, according to the Arms Control Association.

Israel’s missile range

Israel also has long-range ballistic missiles, which are capable of reaching as far north as Norway and Sweden, eastward into Russia and China and south into central Africa.

How the Iron Dome system works

Israel’s advanced, all-weather air-defense system, know as the Iron Dome, is capable of detecting incoming rockets fired from Palestinian territories. But in recent weeks, some Hamas missiles were not intercepted, and they caused injuries.

The Iron Dome was deployed in 2011 with funding support from the U.S. It has the ability to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and artillery from Gaza. 

Hamas’ arsenal of rockets

Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups have launched more than 4,000 rockets from the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the conflict on May 10, according to the Israeli Air Force.

Gaza missiles reaching farther into Israel

SOURCE USA TODAY Network reporting and research; Associated Press; European Leadership Network; United States Institute of Peace

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Graphics show Hamas’ expanded rocket arsenal, which could alter the balance in conflicts with Israel – USA TODAY

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