Reuters quotes Israeli officials as saying that an influx of SA-7 anti-aircraft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades was recently discovered in Gaza • Weapons have flowed through overland supply route set up between eastern Libya and Gaza via Egypt.
Anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets from Libya have made their way into the hands of Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip to shore up the area’s weapons arsenal, Reuters reported Monday.
Quoting Israeli officials, the report said the weapons were transferred to Gaza from areas in Libya that came under rebel control during that country’s six-month anti-government uprising. An Israeli official told Reuters that Israel believes the cache, which includes SA-7 anti-aircraft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades, was smuggled through an overland supply route set up between eastern, rebel-controlled Libya and the Gaza Strip via Egypt.
“We’ve been seeing more SA-7s and RPGs coming across,” one official told Reuters, but added, “It’s not a major qualitative enhancement for them.”
Palestinians have previously smuggled the SA-7, a shoulder-fired, heat-seeking missile, from Gaza, and RPGs, designed to penetrate armor, are abundant in the region, Israeli officials have said.
Another official quoted by Reuters said thousands of new weapons have entered Gaza in recent months, but did not provide figures on how many originated from Libya.
This is not the first time Israeli officials have warned of weapons transfers from Libya into Gaza.
Earlier Israeli intelligence reports have said that weapons from Libya are deposited in Egypt’s Sinai, and that a large amount of the arms are stolen by jihadist groups and smuggled into Gaza through tunnels.
Last week, another senior Israeli official told the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph that while most of the weapons flowing into Gaza come from Iran via Sudan, a spike in arms coming from Libya was “an additional concern.”
A power vacuum in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has led to a vigorous arms trafficking industry bound for Palestinians in Gaza. The weapons have largely come from Sudan or by ship through the Mediterranean.
Egyptian border guards recently discovered “a large quantity” of weapons at the border with Libya, but provided no further details, according to an Egyptian state television report Monday cited by Reuters.
“Some of the weaponry coming from Iran enters Gaza by sea but all of the weapons from Libya are passing into Gaza by land, through the tunnels from Egypt,” an official told the Daily Telegraph. “Obviously we will need tight cooperation with Egypt to crack down on the smuggling. Naturally, Egypt needs no more pressure from us to shore up its own borders with Libya.”
Increased lawlessness in the Sinai has sparked tensions between Israel and Egypt, which reached a crisis point on Aug. 18, with the accidental killing of five Egyptian soldiers on the Sinai border during an Israel Defense Forces hunt for the terrorists behind a deadly terror attack near Eilat. The coordinated, multi-pronged attack, in which terrorists infiltrated southern Israel from the Sinai Peninsula and then fled back into Egyptian territory, left eight Israelis dead and dozens wounded, and led to an aggressive Israeli response on terror leaders in the Gaza Strip.
Egypt has found it increasingly difficult to maintain its control over the lawless Sinai following the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak in February.
Shlomo Cesana contributed to this report.