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Explained | How Hamas attacked Israel's communications towers

Hamas fighters launched coordinated attacks on at least four communications towers close to the Gaza border in the initial phase of their cross-border assault on Israel — the most sophisticated operation yet to disrupt the infrastructure in the area.

The attacks occurred within a few hours Saturday morning, alongside strikes on observation towers, according to a New York Times analysis of propaganda videos and satellite images.

Footage posted online Saturday by the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, showed a quadcopter drone hovering near a communications tower before it dropped an improvised explosive munition on generators at the base of the tower. The video also showed heavy smoke billowing from the area in the apparent aftermath of the attack. The sun is just rising over the horizon in the video, indicating the tower was struck shortly after Hamas began firing rockets at Israel.

A breach in the border fence is visible in the video, about 1,000 feet from the communications tower. The tower is 2 1/2 miles west of the Be’eri kibbutz, near the northern end of Gaza, where Hamas fighters massacred more than 100 Israelis and took others as hostages Saturday.

The other three towers — which are spaced between 1 and 3 miles apart along Israel’s border with Gaza — are seen smoking in satellite imagery captured at 11:31am Saturday, several hours after Hamas’ attack on Israel began. It is unclear whether drones or some other weapon caused the damage.

From satellite imagery, all four of the communications towers look similar. But they could be used for different purposes, said Michael Armstrong, an associate professor of operations research at Brock University in Canada and an expert in military strategy.

Some may be for border surveillance, while others could be involved in the transmitting and receiving of data, such as military communications, he said.

The tower in the Qassam footage may be used for collecting intelligence as well as for facilitating cellular service, according to a former US defense official who reviewed the video and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Israel’s surveillance capabilities. The former official added that the height of the towers, and their proximity to the border, indicates that they are used to monitor Gazans.

Armstrong said Hamas most likely targeted these towers to “blind Israeli commanders and prevent communication among their units.” He added that the munitions used would not need to be complex — they would just need to create shrapnel that could damage infrastructure like antennas, cameras and cables.

The attacks also included multiple strikes on Israeli observation towers used for visual surveillance along the border. The impact of the attacks on the towers’ functionality is not yet known.

In another video shared by Qassam, the same improvised munition delivered by drone near the Be’eri kibbutz was used to blow up a machine gun turret on one of the Israeli Defense Forces’ observation posts along the border.

Hamas has tried low-tech methods of attacking communications towers in the past — in 2018, a tower was targeted with a flaming kite in the Gaza Strip — but Armstrong said the attacks Saturday were its first successful deployment of armed drones that he had seen.

(Published 11 October 2023, 04:48 IST)

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