Sinai Peacekeeping Force Commander Warns of Weapons Smuggling to Gaza

Commander of the Multinational Force and Observers says SA-24 surface-to-air missiles have made their way from Libya to Sinai, and may potentially be used against Israeli air operations.

The commander of the Multinational Force and Observers in Sinai said this week that advanced Russian-made missiles were being smuggled from Libya, through Egypt, into the Gaza Strip.

Speaking on Monday at a conference of the Evans Program for Conflict Resolution of Tel Aviv University, Maj. Gen. Warren James Whiting said that weapons smuggling is one of the biggest challenges facing his troops. He said that Russian-made SA-24 shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, which were sold to Libya in 2004, are being smuggled into the Gaza Strip through Egypt.

The SA-24, considered an upgraded version of the SA-18, is both highly accurate and deadly, with the ability to bring down aircrafts flying at an altitude of 11,000 feet.

Such weapons could endanger flight in the Sinai area and could potentially be used by militants in Gaza against the Israel Air Force.

Whiting related that in October 2011 an Iranian-made Fajr-5 missile landed 26 kilometers southwest of the MFO's northern base, in Al-Jura. He said it may have been fired by militants to test the limit of its range.

Israeli defense officials believe that advanced weapons, in particular anti-tank missiles and long-range rockets, have made their way to the Gaza Strip. They have also noted in the past that SA-7 anti-aircraft missiles were brought into the territory during the civil war in Libya, and in its aftermath.

Citing statements by Israeli officials, Reuters reported in August on the smuggling from Eastern Libya of SA-7 missiles and rocket-propelled grenades overland, into Gaza.

A missile was fired at an Israel Defense Forces helicopter hovering at relatively low altitude in the course of the coordinated attack near Israel's border with Egypt, at Ein Netafim, also in August 2011. The pilots evaded the missile attack by changing their course.

A senior IDF officer recently sketched out a few of the supply routes for weapons, including from Iran to Lebanon and Syria, via Iraq; from Libya to Sinai, and from Sudan to Sinai. He described the Egyptian peninsula as "a constant challenge in the next several years."

The head of the Shin Bet security service, Yoram Cohen, addressing the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Wednesday, said that Libya was "a new gate to hell," in part because of the large number of missiles and RPGs being smuggled out of that country and into the Gaza Strip, flooding the territory with advanced weapons.

The MFO is deployed in three separate areas across the Sinai peninsula: 350 soldiers from Fiji patrol the northern region, along the border with Israel, while a similar number of Colombian troops are posted farther south. An additional contingent of U.S. soldiers is deployed in the southern tip of the peninsula, along the Suez Canal.

Whiting, who commands a force of around 2,300 soldiers and unarmed civilian monitors, said attacks on the MFO have escalated over the past year. He said so far this year there have been 187 incidents of live fire and 37 incidents of stone-throwing directed at his troops. In 2011 a total of 344 live-fire incidents were recorded, while in 2010 there were only 38 such incidents.

Gaza militants - Reuters - May 31, 2012