Egyptian security officials say that they have intercepted large caches of weapons, including surface-to-air missiles in tunnels connecting Egypt with the Gaza Strip since Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi's ouster in August. The missiles have also been seized en route to the Sinai, the Washington Post reported.
"We believe some Palestinian groups made a deal with the Libyans to get special weapons such as shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles," said Samah Seif el-Yazal, a retired general in Egyptian military intelligence. Several surface-to-air missiles had been intercepted on a desert road from Libya to Alexandria, Egypt and headed north to Gaza, he said.
Washington estimates that the Gaddafi regime had as many as 20,000 surface-to-air missiles and authorities are working with the new Libyan government to locate them. While thousands of the missiles are believed to have been destroyed in this year's NATO bombing raids, many were looted in the chaos of the Libyan war and are being smuggled into jihadist havens such as Gaza and the Sinai.
In Hamas-controlled Gaza, Palestinian terrorists target Israel with a substantial arsenal including surface-to-surface missiles. Until now, their anti-aircraft capability has been limited. The introduction of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles could enhance Hamas' ability to target Israeli helicopters and other aircraft which patrol the skies over Gaza.
Libya's loose weapons could also destabilize the Sinai, where radicals have launched seven attacks on a pipeline that ships natural gas to Israel since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in February. A cross-border attack launched in August by Hamas and al Qaida-linked jihadists in the Sinai killed eight people and wounded 30 near Eilat, prompting an Israeli raid against Sinai terror cells in which six Egyptian soldiers were killed.
An Egyptian security official and brigadier general who served recently in the Sinai said weapons seizures have included explosives and automatic weapons along with Russian-made Strela-2 and Strela-3 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.
But Sinai and Gaza residents interviewed by the Post indicated that Cairo faces an uphill battle to stop the weapons traffic. Bedouins in the Sinai reacted dismissively to calls for weapons registration, saying they needed their arms to protect themselves from the police. One weapons smuggler said the job has become easy since the Egyptian uprising began in February. The price for Stinger-like anti-aircraft missiles has plummeted around Gaza, he said, because so many of the weapons have become available.