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 (MFO) in Sinai hinted on Thursday that advanced surface-to-air missiles had been found in the region as a result of weapons smuggling from Libya and could potentially be smuggled into Gaza.

Gaza militants - Reuters - May 31, 2012

Palestinian militants of al-Nasser Brigades hold a news conference in Gaza City - Photo by Reuters

At an MFO conference which took place on Monday at Tel Aviv University, Maj. Gen. Warren James Whiting, who oversees the force, said that one of the biggest challenges facing his troops is weapons smuggling, adding that Russian-made SA-24 surface-to-air missiles, which were sold to Libya in 2004, are being smuggled into the Gaza Strip through Egypt.

The SA-24 is considered an upgraded version of the SA-18, is both highly accurate and deadly, and can hit aircrafts flying at an altitude of 11,000 ft. Such anti-aircraft missiles may threaten aircraft activities in the Sinai area, and potentially be used by militants in Gaza against Israeli Air Force operations.

Whiting described one exceptional event that points to weapons smuggling in the region: In October 2011, an Iranian Fajr-5 missile landed 26 kilometers southwest of the MFO’s northern base in Al-Jura. Whiting said that it is possible that militants organized a “dry run” in order to test whether the missile would reach 70 kilometers.

Whiting further described an increase in attacks on MFO bases over the past year, saying that in 2012, there have already been 187 cases of gunfire and 37 cases of stone throwing directed at his troops.

The MFO is spread out in three different areas across the Sinai peninsula: 350 soldiers from Fiji are spread in the northern region along the border of Israel and Egypt. Colombian and American soldiers are station in the southern region along the Suez Canal.

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By Gili Cohen

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