This special edition of Hudson Institute’s Middle East and North Africa Defense Intelligence Digest by Senior Fellow Can Kasapoğlu focuses on this week’s Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror attacks in Israel.
This open-source intelligence assessment examines the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) employed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad and examines the possibility of Hezbollah’s involvement as the conflict evolves.
Tactical Assessment and Strategic Analysis of the Attacks
The terror plot unleashed on Israel by Hamas and Islamic Jihad this week revealed sophisticated planning and execution at both the strategic and tactical levels. Available evidence also highlights both networks’ close ties to Iran.
The attacks demonstrated an echeloned and detailed offensive plan: while some Islamic Jihad and Hamas units operated as death squads, others worked to establish and maintain a hostage-taking route from southern Israel into Gaza. The perpetrators will likely use the hostages as human shields and political leverage.
The campaign aimed to disrupt and confuse Israel’s intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) edge, and prevent the Israeli security apparatus from quickly developing an understanding of the attack. At the outset, Hamas dispatched drones to disable the observation towers tasked with surveilling the border area. It followed these opening moves with long-range volleys unleashing thousands of rockets, while paragliding squads flew into Israeli territory.
In the third and main wave of their strike, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad dispatched well-armed and well-trained gunmen to conduct blitz-style raids. Available visual evidence suggests that these teams were equipped with anti-tank weapons carrying tandem-charged warheads meant to engage Israel’s heavy armor. Initial weapons systems identification efforts suggest that Hamas and Islamic Jihad units also used Iran-made copies of tandem-charged RPGs. Support units driving bulldozers and tractors assisted combat units with basic engineering tasks, while pickup trucks provided added mobility.
Available evidence suggests that the attack had three strategic purposes: inflicting heavy casualties, taking hostages for political leverage, and holding Israeli territory to ensnare the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) into costly urban warfare. Hamas terrorists chose a music festival near the border as a focal point of their attack, and would have been unable to stage this assault without intensive preparation.
The raid was staged from multiple points along a 15-kilometer arc, including the Erez Crossing checkpoint in the north and a military base outside Nahal Oz in the south. The Nahal Oz raid saw Islamic Jihad and Hamas teams overpower Israeli armored platforms stationed in the facility. Tactical visuals suggest that the perpetrators had closely studied the base before the assaults.
From the initial breaching axes, Hamas immediately expanded the attack into Sderot, Kibbutz Be’eri, and Kfar Aza, where attacks on civilians were launched. In Kibbutz Be’eri, for example, terrorists functioned as death squads. Equipped with explosives, they blew up safe rooms and murdered residents in large numbers. According to Israeli press reports, the raid also ambushed IDF air assault teams in Be’eri and killed IDF personnel who rushed into the fight.
In addition to its incursions along this 15-kilometer arc, the attack targeted critical military facilities deeper in Israel, including the Zikim and Re’im military bases, the latter of which houses the headquarters of the Gaza Division of the IDF.
Open-source defense intelligence is still insufficient to paint a reliable picture of the Zikim attacks. Press sources reported paragliders and amphibious units assaulting the base, and available visuals suggest that the Israeli Navy intercepted infiltrating teams on Zikim Beach. It remains to be verified whether any amphibious elements made it to the beach or to the base.
But in response to the terror attacks, the IDF targeted Hamas naval positions in Gaza, and the Israeli Navy’s Shayetet 13 detachments captured Hamas’s deputy commander of the southern naval division. These measures suggest that Hamas or Islamic Jihad units did launch some amphibious action in the Zikim attack, which—in combination with a joint air assault—would have required significant planning.
Drone Warfare in the Terror Attacks
One cannot understand this week’s terror attacks without understanding how drone warfare played a role in them. A careful analysis of the available digital evidence suggests that the attackers made extensive use of drones, relying primarily on commercially available rotary-wing platforms and fixed-wing loitering munitions. In the aftermath of the attacks, IRNA, the official news agency of Iran, released training videos of Hamas terrorists using Zauri tactical kamikaze drones, which, the report suggested, saw their combat debut in the attacks on Israel.
Digital evidence corroborates this claim, revealing multiple incidents of Hamas militants launching kamikaze drones and rockets into Israeli territory. Weapons systems identification efforts indicate that one of these drones was the Iran-made Khatif-2. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has disseminated derivatives of this drone family to its regional allies, including its Hamas and Islamic Jihad proxies in the Levant, the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, and the Houthi militia in Yemen.
Additional evidence suggests that in at least in one assault, terrorists used quadcopter drones. These munitions release tandem-charged RPGs, and in the attacks targeted Israel’s Merkava-4 main battle tanks, striking the platform from a perpendicular angle. This particular method of attack—using mini rotary-wing drones to release tandem-charged munitions at a right angle to the target—suggests that the perpetrators have studied drone warfare usage in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Leaked videos of Hamas’s command and control network hinted at Iran’s assistance.
An analysis of the concept of operations (CONOPS) used in the terror attack further suggests Iran’s influence. A concept of operations based on launching mixed strike packages, combining loitering munitions with rocket and missile salvos, is a textbook CONOPS that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has transferred to the Russian military in its assault on Ukraine.
Hezbollah Remains a Wild Card
While we have not detected large-scale movements by Hezbollah in Lebanon, it is evident that the network is carrying out probing operations against Israel. On October 8, Israeli Patriot batteries engaged a Hezbollah drone launched from Lebanon’s southern frontier. On the same day, the terrorist group exchanged sporadic fire with IDF units along Israel’s northern border. Additionally, on October 9, Islamic Jihad gunmen infiltrated Israel from Lebanon and assaulted the IDF, killing three Israeli troops.
If Hezbollah were to escalate the conflict in the north, it might do so merely to pin down valuable IDF men and assets and prevent their use in Gaza. However, Hezbollah could also chose to escalate even further, with an eye to embroiling Israel in a multi-front war. A Hezbollah-Israel war would threaten the security of the entire region, as Hezbollah operates a massive arsenal of rockets, missiles, and drones.