Hamas boosting anti-aircraft arsenal with looted Libyan missiles
Anti-aircraft missiles smuggled into Gaza at Iran's initiative, but fall of Muammar Gadhafi regime provided Hamas with higher quality missiles; rocket hits south Israel Wednesday night after period of relative calm.
A rocket fired by Palestinians from Gaza Wednesday night landed between Ashdod and Gedera, in the first such attack after a two-month period of quiet. Sirens sounded in Ashdod and nearby communities and residents were told to enter protected rooms and shelters. There were no injuries.
Since the terrorist attack on the Egyptian border near Eilat that killed eight on August 18, the Gaza border has been relatively calm with only a few rocket launches, most directed at small communities near the Gaza Strip. Last night's rocket, fired around 11:10 p.m., landed in a field. It seems to have been fired from the northern end of the Gaza Strip, from a distance of about 30-35 kilometers . The explosion was heard clearly all over Ashdod, which means it had a relatively large warhead.
It was not clear last night which Palestinian organization fired the rocket, though Israeli intelligence officials believed that in recent months Hamas had little incentive to launch such attacks and cause an escalation. It is possible a small faction fired the rocket in defiance of Hamas, which is trying to leverage its success in freeing prisoners in the Gilad Shalit swap.
Libyan anti-aircraft missiles reach Gaza
The improved quality of anti-aircraft missiles held by Hamas in Gaza is increasingly worrying the Israeli defense establishment. Hamas recently managed to smuggle relatively advanced Russian missiles, which were looted from Libyan military warehouses, into the Gaza Strip. Israel is worried about the presence of the missiles, both because they curb the air force's almost unlimited freedom of movement over Gaza today, and because of their possible use against civil aviation in Eilat.
Shoulder-fired anti-aicraft missiles have been smuggled into Gaza in recent years at Iran's initiative. But the fall of Muammar Gadhafi's regime has enabled Hamas to bring in much higher quality missiles - and in much larger quantities.
Rings of smugglers utilized the riots in Libya to break into military storage facilities and steal large quantities of weapons, some of which have relatively advanced capabilities. The weapons were then sold to terrorist organizations, first and foremost to various Palestinian factions. It seems that extremist Islamist organizations in Somalia also bought large quantities of weapons.
The United States is also worried by the developments. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who visited Libya last week, announced the U.S. would grant the new Libyan regime millions of dollars in aid in an attempt to fight the arms smuggling. American experts expressed their fears in particular over the transfer of shoulder-launched missiles to terrorists, and said the aid was intended to allow the Libyans to locate where such weapons are stored - and destroy them.
There have been previous reports of the smuggling of Russian SA-7 anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza. Now there are reports of more advanced missiles.
A few weeks ago, the cabinet discussed the issue of protecting civilian aviation in Eilat, including the possible purchase of systems to defend planes against anti-aircraft missiles. The issue has been put off for nine years since the failed attempt by an al-Qaida faction to shoot down an Israeli passenger plane in Mombasa, Kenya.
In the August 18 battle between the IDF and terrorists, the terrorists fired a missile at an Israeli attack helicopter. The missile missed. But the Air Force has been operating for a number of years over Gaza on the assumption that various Palestinian factions possess anti-aircraft missiles.
The anarchy in Sinai in recent months has allowed the Palestinians in Gaza to operate almost without interference, and improve their training and weaponry.