Hamas developing more destructive arms ‘cannot be ruled out’, says expert after chemical warfare claim

Hamas’s weapons of choice are typically small arms such as rifles sourced on the African black market and smuggled into Gaza via Egypt, along with home-made rockets, according to an analyst.

But the possibility of Hamas making more destructive weapons “cannot be ruled out”, Dr Martin Smith, senior lecturer in defence and international affairs at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, told i.

Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, claimed in an interview with Sky News on Sunday night that instructions on how to make chemical weapons were found on the dead bodies of Hamas fighters in southern Israel.

Dr Smith said it was “unlikely” that the militant group is seeking to develop chemical weapons and examples of non-state actors successfully doing so are “very rare”.

However, he said that Israel and Egypt have been unable to prevent Hamas transporting weapons and rocket parts into Gaza via its network of tunnels.

“Israel and Egypt have consistently failed to halt the smuggling of weapons and rocket parts into Gaza via Hamas’s extensive subterranean tunnel network, which extends under the Gaza-Egyptian border,” he said.

Members of army rescue and Zaka crews search for bodies in Be’eri, Israel on Sunday after the Hamas attack on the Kibbutz (Photo: Amir Levy/Getty)

“Israel has correctly identified the final destruction of this network as a key military priority, although whether it can actually achieve it now is an open question.”

Hamas could bring in material to make chemical weapons through its tunnels, said Dr Smith, although there is no evidence to suggest that they have done so.

He added that for Israel to successfully destroy Hamas’s tunnel network would “involve sustained action by and with Egypt”.

“But I see no sign of this happening.”

Mr Herzog on Sunday claimed that Israeli forces found instructions for making chemical weapons on the body of a militant in Kibbutz Be’eri, which appeared to be from a 2003 al-Qaeda manual and included the use of cyanide.

“It’s al Qaeda material. Official al Qaeda material. We are dealing with Isis, al-Qaeda and Hamas,” Mr Herzog told Sky News. “This is how shocking the situation is where we’re looking at the instructions that are given on how to operate and how to create a kind of non-professional chemical weapon with cyanide.”

According to Israeli media, it contained instructions on how to create a “cyanide dispersion device”. Israeli officials have said the documents were found on a USB drive.

Neither Sky News nor i could independently verify the claims.

“I think it unlikely that Hamas either has or seeks to develop a chemical weapons capability,” says Dr Smith. “History suggests this would be technically difficult for a non-state actor – however violent – to achieve.”

He said that examples of chemical weapons attacks by non-state actors were “very rare”, referencing the 1995 Tokyo Subway attack, when Sarin nerve agent was released by members of an extreme religious cult called Aum Shinrikyo, as few and far between.

“Al-Qaeda reportedly experimented with various gases in the 90s and early 2000s, but was unable to develop effective means of ‘weaponising’ them,” he said. “Hamas’s weapons of choice are small arms and home-made rockets.”

Israeli president Isaac Herzog has claimed that instructions on how to make chemical weapons were found on the dead body of a Hamas fighter in southern Israel (Photo: Sky News)

A chemical weapons expert shown the documents by Sky News, which included diagrams, and said they showed ingredients that could build a credible chemical weapon.

“Al-Qaeda spent a lot of time and effort developing a chemical weapon based on cyanide,” Hamish de Bretton Gordon, former head of the British army’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons regiment, told Sky.

“Cyanide is a blood agent and AQ developed a chemical weapon using these types of chemicals.”

However, it is unclear whether there are any direct links between Hamas and al-Qaeda.

The Israeli government has previously tried to establish a direct link between Hamas and terrorist groups like Isis and al-Qaeda, which some say is to get world leaders to agree that Israel has a responsibility to destroy Hamas in the same way the US gained widespread support to destroy a- Qaeda following the 9/11 attacks.

How Israel’s firepower stacks up against that of Hamas (Image: inews)

Since Hamas launched its deadly attack on Israel earlier this month, which killed more than 1,400 people, Israel’s retaliatory airstrikes have killed more than 4,700 people in Gaza, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Israel is preparing a massive ground invasion on the Gaza Strip, which could claim thousands more lives inside the besieged enclave.

When the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) does launch its ground assault, it can expect to be met with new weaponry from Hamas, such as quadcopter combat drones that drop grenades, as well as “kamikaze” or “suicide” drones provided by their Iranian backers.

Israel’s military capability far outweighs that of Hamas, with the IDF having 601 military aircraft at its disposal.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has verified footage of white phosphorus being used by Israel in an attack on Gaza, which, while not classified as a chemical weapon, can severely burn people and violates international humanitarian law when used on densely populated areas.