This is Marawan Maklad’s third guest post for TFB. His first guest post is about the Istanbul Military Museum: Small Arms of the Ottoman Empire.
The Palestinian Hamas movement and its military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades in Gaza surprised many observers worldwide by the announcement by the Brigades that they had manufactured an anti-materiel rifle.
The rifle is named after “Adnan el Ghoul”, who was killed in action with the IDF in 2004. Adnan el Ghoul is one of the former commanders of the Qassam brigade who designed the “Yassin RPG”, a Palestinian produced a version of the classic Soviet rocket-propelled grenade launcher. The RPG’s name is commemorating the memory of one of the founders of the Research and Industry unit in the Al-Qassam Brigades.
The Qassam Brigade is not only boasting of the domestic manufacture of rifles but is stating that they surpass many other designs in the extent of the deadly range (2 km) and the bullet chambered (14.5x114mm). The group also stated that these rifles are “evidence of the distinction of its military industries”.
Many celebrated this “achievement”, but weapons experts questioned the success of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigade in making these rifles. It turns out that the rifles presented by the brigade are almost an identical copy of Steyer’s HS-50 from Austria. This rifle has seen adoption throughout the world since its debut more than a decade ago.
While the HS-50 is a patented Austrian innovation, the manufacturer has clearly stated that it gave several countries in the world a license to manufacture it. Publicly the first time the rifle arrived in the Middle East was after a deal between the Austrian company and Iran to import 800 rifles in 2005 to serve in Iranian counter-terrorism and anti-narcotics units, the rifle then entered service in the Syrian army, and then appeared for the first time during a military parade of the Palestinian Qassam Brigade in 2013.
The manufacturer asserts that it is not responsible for the arrival of weapons in the Qassam Brigade. Thus, the most likely possibility is that the Steyr HS-50 rifles, which have appeared with the brigade, have been manufactured by Iran and exported to Palestine.
The “Ghoul” rifle which was presented by the Qassam Brigade as a mark of Palestinian industry, differs from the HS-50 in length, range and type of bullets used. The Qassam Brigade asserts that this is proof of its manufacture of the weapons. Austrian rifles come with 137 cm in total length and 12.7x99mm rounds (.50 BMG), while the Qassam’s rifle comes with 200 cm in total length and is instead chambered in the 14.5x114mm round.
Israeli experts believe that the “Ghoul” is, in fact, an Iranian-made rifle that entered into Gaza through Hezbollah, which uses the sea to smuggle it into the Gaza Strip, according to the Israeli site “DEBKA”.
This is a video released by the Qassam Brigade demonstrating the Ghoul Precision Rifle.
There is a huge resemblance between the Ghoul and Steyr HS-50 in terms of shape, but the specifications are different as mentioned previously. Some observers proposed that Hamas sent several people from the military to Turkey and from there they entered into Iran. Once in Iran, they were trained to manufacture these precision rifles.
State-owned Defense Industries Organization in Iran obviously has the capability to manufacture these rifles. But it is unlikely that the rifle might have been manufactured in Iran and then smuggled into Gaza. This is because smuggling arms into the Gaza Strip is very difficult according to sources there. But on the other hand, the manufacture of this weapon in Gaza requires the existence of so-called “iron steel”, which does not exist in Gaza and is not formed there. It is also a difficult material to acquire and smuggle.
Whether the Qassam Brigade has been internally manufacturing or has brought the rifle from Iran through Hezbollah, there are a number of possibilities. The matter cannot be verified without an in-depth examination of the rifle by subject matter experts. Judging by video recordings is almost impossible, but there is a picture showing one of the Qassam combatants standing beside the Ghoul rifle to show the comparison between his height and the rifle.
(A Qassam combatant-easily recognized from their green flags and banners- standing beside the 2 meters Ghoul Rifle to show the length difference between the 137mm Steyr HS-50 and the 200mm Ghoul 14.5mm)
For myself as an observer and firearms designer, the chassis can be manufactured in Gaza. The steel barrel appears to most likely taken from a 14.5x114mm KPV heavy machine gun which Qassam Brigade seized after the takeover of the Gaza strip. If this crucial part exists then the whole rifle can be manufactured which includes the stock, the trigger and mechanical parts, even the bolt can be re-manufactured to fit the re-chambered 14.5x114mm rounds.
Hamas has previous experience in trying to imitate weapons manufactured externally, but it has not been successful. Perhaps the most famous example is the manufacture of a small arm in an effort to clone the Israeli-made”Uzi”. But the weapons have been set aside and the attempt to manufacture and develop them has stopped because of the many problems that appeared in the gun. However, that was more than 20 years ago when Hamas members were still inexperienced in small arms manufacturing.