Reports have emerged this week of advanced Russian-made missiles being smuggled from Libya, through Egypt, to Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and the transfer in the last few months of Scud D missiles to Hezbollah from Syria – causing great concern on Israel’s senor political and military echelons.
Speaking on Monday at a conference of the Evans Program for Conflict Resolution of Tel Aviv University, Maj. Gen. Warren James Whiting, the commander of the Multinational Force and Observers in Sinai, said that Russian-built SA-24 shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, which were sold to Libya in 2004, are being smuggled into the Gaza Strip through Egypt.
The SA-24 is both highly accurate and deadly, with the ability to bring down fighter-aircrafts flying at an altitude of 11,000 feet. Such weapons could endanger flight in the Sinai area and could potentially be used by militants in Gaza against the Israel Air Force, severely limiting Israel’s strategic maneuverability.
The strategic challenge faced by Israel in the north is just as troubling. According to sources in Lebanon cited in a Yedioth Ahronoth report this morning, in the last few months Scud D surface-to-surface missiles – which have a range of about 700 kilometers, capable of hitting any spot in Israel – are now in the hands of Hezbollah.
It is still unclear, however, whether the missiles have already entered Lebanon or if Hezbollah is still holding onto them on Syrian soil. Nevertheless the very fact that Hezbollah controls these weapons illustrates the grave threat of strategic weapons systems being transferred from Syrian hands to the Shi’ite militant group.
The danger of a regional flare-up, as a result of the collapse of the Syrian regime, is being discussed intensively in Israel. As military intervention in Syria is being considered in some countries, Israel is concerned by the possibility that, with its back against the wall, the Syrian regime may transfer chemical warheads to Hezbollah, or use the missiles itself.