The Kassam rocket threat started in 2001 and grew when the Palestinian Authority was under Fatah control. Even after the death of Arafat in November 2004, Kassam rocket fire from Gaza continued under the regime of Mahmoud Abbas. True, Abbas called on Palestinians to stop firing rockets into Israel in 2006, but on the ground, he and the Fatah leadership were either unwilling or unable to halt the Hamas attacks as they increased.
After Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, the number of confirmed rocket strikes against Israel increased by more than 500 percent. The 2005 Gaza disengagement provided Hamas with a sense of empowerment and self-confidence that led to a clear-cut escalation in the employment of the rocket capabilities that they had previously acquired. The disengagement from Gaza led to the loss of Israeli control over the Philadelphi route between the Gaza Strip and Egyptian Sinai, allowing for a significant increase in the range and quantity of rockets in the Palestinian arsenal.
Israeli security forces recently discovered in the western Negev the remains of a new 175 mm. rocket of Iranian origin that has a range of 26 kilometers. Israeli security sources are also concerned that Iran will try to smuggle its Fajr rockets to Gaza in the future. A 45-kilometer-range Fajr 3, for example, could be smuggled in sections and assembled in Gaza. As long as the Philadelphi route is open for Hamas smuggling, the risk to Israel will grow as Iran exports rockets of increasing range to the Gaza Strip. The port of Ashdod is the next likely target, but should Fajr rockets reach Gaza, there is no reason why Hamas cannot pose a threat to Tel Aviv.
Presently, the Hamas leadership understands that repeated Katyusha attacks against Ashkelon will result in an Israeli ground incursion that can cost them nearly one hundred of their personnel. But without addressing the Philadelphi route or the northern Gaza launch sites, it is doubtful that these kinds of deterrence calculations alone will bring the Hamas rockets to a halt and alleviate the misery of the Israeli residents of Sderot.