Following the fall of Tripoli to the National Transitional Council, Israeli officials have been repeatedly warning European leaders that weapons seized from Gaddafi’s forces are being smuggled into Gaza. Two weeks ago, Israel’s attempts to stop militants crossing the Egyptian border led to the deaths of six Egyptian border guards and the storming of the Israeli embassy in Cairo. Alarm bells first began to ring when the weapons depots at the Khamis Brigade’s Salahuddin military barracks, in the southern suburbs of Tripoli, were stripped bare.
Initially, during the Libyan conflict, when the rebels captured weapons stocks – the assumption was that they would be employed against Gaddafi’s loyalists. Now, the increasing concern is that they are finding their way onto the international arms black market. Latest reports indicate that batches of SA-24 and its predecessors, the SA-16/9, and seven man-portable surface-to-air missile have gone missing in Libya – along with a vast array of other weaponry. Around 12,000 land mines and 500 SAMs are reportedly unaccounted for. Bearing in mind, Libya is believed to have stocks of some 20,000 missiles; these losses may only be the tip of the iceberg. According to Israeli intelligence, Libyan guns are being shipped across Sinai and into Gaza – through the tunnels under the border at Rafah.
The NTC has struggled to guard the huge arms caches formerly held by Gaddafi’s forces and many munitions have been taken by fighters, souvenir hunters and black marketers. The quantities involves are much larger than those that were looted in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those weapons that have not been looted remain a danger to the public with children being regularly killed or maimed after playing with live munitions taken from unsecured depots. Following the coalition intervention, in Afghanistan, some 5,600 shoulder-fired SAMs were captured. Many, though, ended up on the black market. Saddam Hussein had around 5,000 shoulder-fired missiles and fewer than a third were ever recovered. Washington ran a bounty system for weapons, particularly SAMs that were handed in.
The Egypt-Gaza border presents the Egyptian and Palestinian security forces with a continual headache. While 150,000 people live in Rafah, there are another 40,000 on the Egyptian side. Officially, Egypt has become increasingly exasperated at the diplomatic nuisance caused by the tunnels. With American funding, Cairo attempted to build an underground wall in an effort the thwart those tunneling. For many years, Israel was able to control the border between Gaza and Egypt via the Philadelphia Route – established under the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace accord. Israel retained this 10km long, hundred-metre wide corridor under the 1995 Oslo Accords – to prevent the movement of weapons into Gaza.
But, in 2005, control of the corridor was granted to the Palestinian National Authority as part of Israel’s unilateral disengagement plan for Gaza. Two years later, Hamas took control in Gaza and escalated weapon shipments with which to attack the Israelis. After Egypt closed the border, the Palestinians simply tunnelled under it; hundreds of tunnels cover a 9km stretch and vary in depth and size. The NTC is waiting for the United Nations mine action service to take a lead in getting to grips with the mine and unexploded bomb problem in Libya. In the meantime, Israel remains vexed over the actions of Egypt and Libya; while, in Cairo, the Egyptians have been clamouring for Israeli blood.
(www.publicserviceeurope.com / 21.09.2011)