The nature of the fighting between Israel and Hamas changed with the entry of Israeli tanks into the southern Gaza Strip on Sunday, December 3rd. This part of the Palestinian enclave not only presents additional challenges for the Israeli army. Hamas also appears to have adapted its military approach.

The Palestinian Islamist movement "has been resorting to increasingly sophisticated tactics since the end of the 'pause' in the fighting," said the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a U.S.-based military analysis center that publishes daily updates on the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East.

Penetrating Explosive Charges and Drones

According to this reference organization, Hamas uses many more Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFP). Weapons are almost absent from the battlefield in the northern Gaza Strip. The ISW does not specify what type of VET it is.

These weapons refer to "explosive projectiles, of which there are three types today," says Alexandre Vautravers. The former "detonate and project shrapnel from steel shells in all directions and typically have a lethal effect at a radius of 10-40 meters and are the norm," the expert said.

But the EFPs that the Institute for the Study of War refers to more likely fall into one of the other two categories that are anti-tank weapons. What they have in common is that they have hollow charges capable of "piercing very thick armour or fortifications", says Alexandre Vautravers.

The older ones are no match for Israel's Trophy defense system, which was developed in the late 2000s to protect tanks from these munitions "by intercepting projectiles before they reach their targets," said Omri Brinner, an analyst and specialist in Middle East geopolitics at the International Team for the Study of Security (ITSS) Verona. an international collective of experts on international security issues.

Read alsoThe Israeli army faces multiple challenges in the southern Gaza Strip

The most recent, on the other hand, are "artillery projectiles projected at hypersonic speeds capable of piercing the armor, without being able to be intercepted by Trophy or similar systems," says Alexandre Vautravers. But there is no indication that Hamas has used this type of advanced ammunition against Israel. Hamas' PFEs are manufactured in Gaza itself, according to the Institute for the Study of War.

In addition to anti-tank weapons, Islamist fighters have also "launched explosive drones at Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip [since December 1]," the Institute for the Study of War added. "This is not the first time that Hamas has used this type of explosives, but until now it has been mostly training videos or testimonies that did not specify whether these drones were effective or not," notes Veronika Poniscjakova, an expert on the military aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the University of Portsmouth in Britain.

Less guerrilla warfare, more intense fighting?

It would therefore be a Hamas doped up with more modern weapons and ammunition that would try to oppose the advance of Israeli forces in the southern Gaza Strip since the end of the ceasefire. A transformation that would reflect a more profound change in strategy. "In the north, Hamas was essentially seeking to slow down the Israeli operation in order to give itself time to retreat and organize defenses. A strategy that didn't require using all of his offensive capabilities. The use of more sophisticated weaponry could indicate that pro-Palestinian militias will become more determined to stand up to the Israeli army," the ISW said.

Experts interviewed by France 24 believe that it is probably a little early to conclude that Hamas' tactics are sophisticated. "For the time being, the examples cited are isolated incidents that do not yet allow us to generalize," Brenner said. There is no evidence, for example, of "the effectiveness of the recent kamikaze drone strikes cited by the Institute for the Study of War," Poniscjakova said.

But they all share a conviction: these fighters will or have already adapted their modus operandi to the new situation. "In the north, Hamas had adopted urban guerrilla warfare techniques, avoiding large, direct clashes in favor of harassment tactics. In the south, Hamas is likely to return to its traditional battalion and brigade organization to offer a fiercer resistance," said Ahron Bregman, a political scientist and expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at King's College London.

First of all, out of necessity. "Hamas fighters who were in the north of the Gaza Strip could retreat to the south. From now on, there is no way out for them," notes Veronika Poniscjakova.

Secondly, because Hamas can count on the advantage of the terrain in the south of the enclave. At least more so than in the north. "This is where the main strongholds of the organization are and where it has stored its best weapons," Brinner said. "The Israelis are also less familiar with the southern Gaza Strip, and as there are more civilians congregated there, the army may be tempted to reduce its firepower. These are all advantages that Hamas can try to exploit," Bregman added.

Time, an ally of Hamas

There is also the symbolic weight of certain cities such as Khan Younis. "Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif [Hamas' two main leaders in the Gaza Strip] are from Khan Younis and Hamas enjoys very strong popular support there, so the organization should put up a particularly fierce resistance," Bregman said.

In other words, "the fighting is going to get more and more intense and the Israeli advance is likely to be slower," Brinner said. The use of kamikaze drones could, in this respect, intensify. Like Israeli airstrikes, these explosive devices would be used to hit the Israeli army "before direct clashes," Poniscjakova said.

For her, Hamas' main ally is time. "The longer they succeed in prolonging the fighting, the greater the risk of Palestinian civilian casualties, which will work against Israel on the international stage," she said.

Hamas doesn't even need to win big victories, Ahron Bregman warns. Since Israel has set itself the goal of total destruction of the Palestinian movement, "it is enough for Hamas to be able to say 'We are still here' at the end of the fighting to be able to declare itself the victor."

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