The explosive devices uncovered Sunday on the Ashdod and Ashkelon beaches apparently got there in the framework of a test undertaken by several Palestinian groups in the aims of developing maritime warfare capabilities. Despite what a senior terror figure told Ynet, it’s unreasonable to believe that the attempted attack was a well-organized act of revenge for the assassination of senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. It is also hard to believe that the Palestinians indeed attempted to targeted an oil rig.
The attempted attack got underway on Friday. Navy vessels spotted two explosions at sea, about two kilometers away from Israel’s shores. Two days later, two explosive devices were washed ashore. The northern one reached Ashdod, while the southern one reached Ashkelon.
As far as we know, the explosive devices uncovered on shore had no engine. Hence, it is unreasonable to assume that the masterminds of the attempted attack intended to hit a specific target, as these “explosive barrels” lacked any navigation or homing means.
As result of the devices' heavy weight, it would be unreasonable for a swimmer to drag them or push them ahead of him for a long distance. However, there is a possibility that Palestinian organizations were able to acquire small underwater vessels that enable them to move explosive devices weighing 80 kilograms. However, such vessels are hard to acquire, and in any case there is no information about their availability to terror groups in Gaza.
The most reasonable possibility is that the attack masterminds did not intend to hit a specific target for the time being, but rather, wanted to check whether the water current can be used at certain times in order to direct bombs to Israel's shores or towards Israeli Navy vessels patrolling the area.
Friday’s explosions may have been meant to draw Israeli ships to the area, and the bombs that eventually washed ashore may have been meant to hit these vessels.
All of the above possibilities are being looked into, yet for the time being the maritime sabotage capabilities in the Gaza Strip are likely at a very early stage. In the '70s, '80s, and '90s, the Fatah and other Palestinian groups had maritime forces operating from Lebanon that included commandos, ships, booby-trapped boats, and mines. Today, Hezbollah has a maritime fighting force that uses similar means. Gaza groups may now be attempting to also develop similar capabilities, possibly with Hezbollah’s assistance.