Israeli officials are concerned about an increasing number of anti-aircraft missiles that found their way from Libyan warehouses into the hands of Hamas in Gaza.
An unknown amount of weapons disappeared during the last months from several storage facilities in Libya. What concerns the Israelis are the about 5,000 SAM-7 anti-aircraft missiles that were taken from warehouses, mostly in Zintan. Libya originally had around 20,000 of these shoulder-launched missiles in stock, bought from the former Soviet Union. More than 14,000 have been used or were destroyed during the NATO bombing campaign, but at least 5,000 missiles are missing.
The SAM-7 (NATO code name Strela 2) is a lightweight, man-portable surface-to-air missile (SAM) with a range between 3,700 and 4,200 meters that can be fired by a single person and is able to hit a target at up to 2,300 meters. The whole system – missile, launch tube and battery – weighs only 15 kilograms and is ready to be fired in 13 seconds. After launch the thermal seeker head guides the missile to the hottest part of an aircraft – usually the engine – where the 1.17 kilogram warhead is detonated on impact.
Rings of smugglers used the civil war in Libya to break into warehouses and steal what they could carry. That way a large amounts of arms found their way to various insurgent and terrorist groups, such as various Islamist groups in Somalia and terrorists in the Gaza Strip. Egyptian Bedouins on the Sinai peninsula also upgraded their weaponry with Libyan stock and re-sold surplus equipment to the Palestinians.
Although the Israelis were aware of the presence of SAM’s in Gaza, the Israeli air force could so far pretty much do what it wanted because apart from small arms fire, no Palestinian insurgent group could do anything to shoot down a plane. On 18 August however, Palestinian terrorists fired a SAM at an Israeli attack helicopter and although it missed, that incidence showed an increased threat level to Israeli warplanes.
Israeli authorities are also concerned about the danger to civil aviation these weapons pose and a few weeks ago the cabinet discussed measures to protect civil aviation from the growing missile threat.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is working closely with the new Libyan leadership to secure weapons stockpiles amid growing concerns about arms smuggling and the flow of illegal weapons to terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda.