The Jerusalem Post
October 30, 2008 - 8:00pm

An Egyptian security official said on Thursday night that police have discovered eight missiles in an underground bunker in the northern Sinai.

The official told AP that surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles were found, but provided no more details.

It is not uncommon for police to find explosives, light arms and mines in Sinai, but they rarely report discovering missiles. Most of the weapons are believed to be intended to be smuggled into the Gaza Strip. Israel has repeatedly accused Egypt of not doing enough to stop the smuggling of arms into Gaza.

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Aharon Ze'evi Farkash, former OC Military Intelligence, said the weapons reported Thursday could have been destined for Hamas in Gaza, or the global jihad movement.

"Northern Sinai as a hiding place could be used by either one," Farkash said.

If the missiles were destined for Gaza, it would not be the first time Hamas had attempted to import what Farkash described as "balance-altering weaponry."

Surface-to-surface rockets such as Grads have been smuggled into Gaza for years, Farkash said, but ground-to-air projectiles in Gaza would be a new development.

"The targets in this case would be [Israel] Air Force planes and helicopters. There is a constant effort by Hamas to obtain these types of rockets. At the moment, Hamas's rocket arsenal does not cause major damage because their warheads are small, weighing up to five kilograms. If the rockets in question have a bigger range, they could be more destructive," he said.

At the same time, Farkash said the latest find could be another example of Cairo attempting to show Israel that it is making a major effort to stem the smuggling of weapons, in the same way that Egyptian security forces occasionally move to uncover smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Sinai. "I would be wary of the news at this time. It may turn out to be nothing new," he said.

Dr. Ely Karmon, a senior terrorism expert from the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, said Hamas had been exploiting the current Gaza cease-fire to stockpile projectiles that can reach as far away as Tel Aviv.

"The rockets found tonight seem more likely to be destined for Gaza, although al-Qaida has used surface-to-air missiles in attacks like the attempt to bring down the Arkia passenger jet in Kenya in 2002," he said.

"At the same time, Hamas is thought to have rockets that can reach Ashdod, Beersheba and Tel Aviv. The question is, how many of these rockets do they have? The fact is there is more than a mere trickle of weapons entering the Strip. Hamas has even invited journalists to film the tunnels," Karmon said.

"Hamas is attempting to emulate Hizbullah by setting up an underground infrastructure and acquiring long-range rockets. This is one of the mistakes of agreeing to the cease-fire, which has only strengthened Hamas," he warned. "Eventually, both sides will pay [in a confrontation]."

Yoram Schweitzer, an expert on terrorism and low-intensity conflict at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, said it was important to know what type of rockets were uncovered and what state they were in.

"At this stage, it's too early to say where they were headed... [but] Hamas has been preparing for an IDF operation they believe is coming. [Israel] Air Force helicopters currently can fly over Gaza with no restrictions. Ground-to-air rockets would provide them [Hamas] with an element of surprise and give them an advantage," he said.

Egyptian security sources confirmed earlier in the week that three Palestinians were killed early Saturday when a tunnel under the Sinai-Gaza border. Several Palestinians have died in similar incidents in recent months in the tunnels, which are used to smuggle arms, fuel and other supplies into Gaza.

In the middle of this month, Egyptian security forces blew up 10 tunnels used by smugglers to get arms and supplies into Gaza.


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