Thursday, October 13, 2011

Smuggled Libyan weapons flood into Egypt

Large caches of weapons from Libya are making their way across the Egyptian border and flooding black markets in Egypt’s already unstable Sinai Peninsula, according to current and former Egyptian military officials and arms traders in the Sinai.

Egyptian security officials have intercepted surface-to-air missiles, most of them shoulder-launched, on the road to Sinai and in the smuggling tunnels connecting Egypt to the Gaza Strip since Moammar Gaddafi fell from power in Libya in August, a military official in Cairo said. Arms traders said the weapons available on Sinai’s clandestine market include rockets and antiaircraft guns.

The seizures raise fresh concerns about security along the sensitive area that borders the Gaza Strip and Israel, at a time when unrest is roiling the region. The addition of shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles to arsenals of Palestinian fighters in Gaza could add significantly to the threat against Israel, whose helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft frequently patrol the strip, which is controlled by the militant Islamist group Hamas.

“We don’t want to see Egypt as a pathway to smuggle weapons,” said Sameh Seif el-Yazal, a retired Egyptian general in military intelligence who said several surface-to-air missiles have been intercepted on the desert road from Libya to the Egyptian city of Alexandria and north on to Gaza. “We believe some Palestinian groups made a deal with Libyans to get special weapons such as shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles.”

Concerns about security in the Sinai have been growing in Egypt and among Israeli and American officials, who have called on Egypt to do more to protect the sensitive area, which borders the Gaza Strip and Israel. In the months since Egypt’s January-February revolution, the pipeline that feeds natural gas to Israel has been attacked seven times by militants. A cross-border attack by assailants in August killed eight Israeli civilians and prompted an Israeli counterstrike that killed six Egyptian troops, including three who later died of their wounds

Palestinian militants in Gaza command a potent arsenal that includes surface-to-surface missiles capable of striking deep inside Israel. But they are not known to have employed more than rudimentary antiaircraft weapons. more