HAMAS Blames ‘Lightning’ For Rocket Attacks On Israel; SA-7 Again Fails To Hit Apache Choppers

Headlines Corrected

In a rare incident of retaliation to Israel’s unabating bombing runs on Gaza, Hamas militants used the 9K32 Strela-2 (NATO reporting name: SA-7 Grail) to target an Israeli Apache helicopter flying when it was carrying out airstrikes on December 31.

The Gaza Strip-based Hamas operatives launched two SA-7 anti-aircraft missiles toward raiding helicopters west of Gaza City during retaliatory airstrikes just after midnight, The Times of Israel reported. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have so far killed more than 22,000 people in Gaza since the war was declared in October.

The IDF confirmed to the media that a few missiles were indeed fired on it but did not disclose the exact number. The missiles, according to the military, missed their target and did not inflict any damage or injuries to the AH-64 Apache. Israel regularly conducts airstrikes over the narrow Gaza Strip and other adjoining areas using its fighter jets as well as these attack helicopters.

The December 31 Apache helicopter raids, according to the IDF, were in response to two rockets fired by Gaza one day ago.  As per a video that was, one of the two rockets was seen exploding in the water near Tel Aviv, off the shore of Jaffa. In contrast, the other is believed to have landed off the coast of Palmachim, south of Rishon Lezion.

On its part, the Hamas said that the missiles were set out by bad weather rather than being deployed deliberately. In similar situations in the past, Israeli military sources have stated that the missiles could be prematurely detonated by weather, particularly lightning strikes, because of the poor electrical workmanship on Hamas’s rockets. 

The Israeli administration said that it was not interested in excuses. “All of Hamas’s stories about thunder and lighting, which we hear winter after winter, are not relevant anymore,” said Bennett. “Whoever aims rockets at the State of Israel must take responsibility.”

The Israeli government has categorically noted that it would not cease the hostilities unless Hamas is fully decimated, hinting that no ceasefire would be reached shortly.

These bombing runs often see AH-64 Apache helicopters take to the skies which is a sophisticated multipurpose assault helicopter used for a range of tasks, such as defense, attack, and reconnaissance. The Apache is well known for its cutting-edge armament, agility, and survivability.

For target acquisition and night vision systems, the AH-64 has an array of sensors mounted on its nose. It is a powerful tool for anti-armor and support duties, with a 30mm M230 Chain Gun stowed beneath the fuselage and the ability to carry a variety of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and Hydra 70 rocket pods on its stub-wing pylons. Israel recently asked for additional Apache choppers from the US but got a firm no.

Having said that, the retaliation by Gaza militants using the SA-7 MANPADS is significant because the group rarely ever does so, according to military watchers and analysts discussing it on social media. The SA-7, like many other weapons used by Hamas, is archaic and belongs to the Cold War era.

SA-7 Grail MANPADs Against Israel

The SA-7 MANPADS (Man-Portable Air-Defense System), known as the 9K32 Strela-2, is designed for engaging low-flying aircraft. It is an infrared-homing missile system that is shoulder-fired and was developed in the Soviet Union during the 1960s. One person can operate the SA-7 thanks to its portability and simplicity, which contribute significantly to its effectiveness.

It locates airplanes by focusing on their infrared emissions, which are usually produced by the engines. A solid-fuel rocket motor powers the missile, which is housed in a launch tube that also functions as the launcher as it moves toward its objective.

With an effective shooting range of roughly 4200 meters and a limited ability to engage at altitudes, with an effective ceiling of roughly 1500 meters, it is appropriate for aiming at low-flying aircraft and helicopters, which is why it may have been employed to hit the raiding AH-64 Apache.

Even though it is an outdated system, the SA-7 has been extensively used in many conflicts throughout the world since it is readily available and simple to use. Its efficacy against more sophisticated and well-equipped aircraft is, however, restricted by its limited range, altitude capability, and vulnerability to flares and electronic jamming.

9K32 Strela-2 - Wikipedia
9K32 Strela-2 or SA-7 Grail – Wikipedia

Throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union, its allies, and revolutionary groups relied heavily on the SA-7 MANPAD, which was manufactured in large quantities. Although more recent systems have subsequently superseded the Strela and its variations, they are still in use in several nations and have been extensively used in regional conflicts since 1972.

Incidentally and rather ironically, the first combat use of the missile was recorded by the Egyptian forces when they scored a kill against Israel back in the War of Attrition. According to reports, twelve miles west of the Suez Canal struck an Israeli A-4H Skyhawk, belonging to 102 Squadron. The pilot was ultimately apprehended.

Additionally, the Egyptian army fired 99 missiles between this initial salvo and June 1970, scoring 36 hits. However, several aircraft that were struck by the missile were able to return to base without incident, indicating that it had both weak lethality and poor kinematic reach against combat jets.

Later in the Yom Kippur War against Israel, the missile was deployed again. At the time, 4,356 Strelas were fired, with just a few hits. Along with flare launchers, A-4s were equipped with longer exhaust pipes—a remedy from the last war—to prevent catastrophic engine damage. 

SA-7 Missile
SA-7 MANPADS- Wikimedia Commons

Nonetheless, in the initial days, they severely damaged the Israeli Air Force along with Shilka and SA-2/3/6s. The Arab forces then fired so many SAMs that they nearly ran out of weapons. Although they weren’t very effective against swift aircraft, SA-7s were the greatest infantry weapon Arab infantry had at the time.

In Lebanon, two SA-7s were fired on June 24, 1974, by Palestinian guerrillas operating in southern Lebanon against Israeli Air Force (IAF) aircraft that were invading the country. Again, no hits were recorded.

A few years down the line, several SA-7s were obtained by the Lebanese militia Al-Mourabitoun from Syria or the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), and they were used against Israeli Air Force (IAF) fighter-bomber jets in the 1982 Lebanon War.

When war broke out between Israel and Gaza in 2012, Hamas claimed that a Strela missile was launched at an IAF target and published a video that purportedly showed the attack. There were also reports of one being fired at an IAF helicopter in Gaza in March 2013. 

To halt an air raid, one was shot at an IAF F-16 in 2022. Following the downing of a locally made drone over the southern Gaza Strip, the armed wing of Hamas published a video earlier this year in April 2023 showing the simultaneous launching of three missiles towards an IAF aircraft.

During the ongoing hostilities, Hamas has also asserted that it had utilized these rockets to bring down an IAF helicopter. These claims could not be verified, but there is evidence to believe that the Strela-2 or the SA-7 was being used by Hamas several years after it became obsolete.