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      Mofaz Tells Cabinet: Strella Missiles Smuggled Into Gaza

      Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told a cabinet meeting early Sunday that it was likely that the Palestinians have successfully smuggled Strella anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza.
      First Publish: 3/28/2005, 3:19 PM / Last Update: 3/27/2005, 3:38 PM

      Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz told a cabinet meeting early Sunday that it was likely that the Palestinians have successfully smuggled Strella missiles into Gaza.

      Strella missiles have the ability to shoot down aircraft from a distance of two miles, using a sensing device that detects the heat given off by a jet plane. A Strella missile fired by Muslim terrorists narrowly missed shooting down an Israeli civilian flight over Kenya in 2002.

      Defining the recent weapons smuggling as “crossing a red line”, Mofaz said, “We have passed messages on to the [Palestinian] Authority so they can get their hands on the Strellas.”

      He said the PA still has not complied with Israel’s demands regarding the missiles, however. As a result, he said he has “ordered preparations for handing over the city of Kalkilya [to PA control], but not to transfer” the city just yet. Kalkilya, located in the Sharon area, is just a few miles from Israel’s most populous region.

      Mofaz told the cabinet that the missiles had probably entered the Gaza region via underground tunnels dug under the border between Israel and Egypt. Mofaz said the smuggling occurred despite intensified efforts by the Palestinian Authority to expose and destroy the tunnels. He noted that the PA recently exposed 17-20 such tunnels.

      But Mofaz revealed that PA military intelligence officials were involved in recent attempts to smuggle anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza.

      Overall, Mofaz expressed dissatisfaction with the PA’s efforts to fight terrorism, noting, “There is still a gap between the Palestinian Authority’s intention to fight terror and the situation on the ground.” He added that the PA still has not implemented enough reforms in its security services.

      The Defense Minister also cited “gaps” in the Israeli and Egyptian positions regarding agreement to allow increased Egyptian forces to patrol the Philadelphi route, the military patrol road paralleling the area of the Egypt-Gaza border through which the PA terrorists smuggle most of their illegal weapons.

      “In the past few days, there have been discussions with the Egyptians regarding the Philadelphi route. There are still gaps. When they are closed it will lead to the signing of an agreement on the military level, without reopening the peace agreement,” Mofaz said. The two sides were discussing implementing a “pilot” version of the agreement, the Defense Minister said, that would involve “coordinating [the use of] armaments and a mechanism for operational coordination that will be direct on the two sides of the border and not via Tel Aviv and Cairo, as it is carried out today.”

      One of Israel’s most highly regarded military commentators, Zeev Shiff, said in an article published a few months ago in Haaretz that use of a missile against a civilian plane flying over Israel would have the effect of ending international civilian aviation into and out of the country, even if the missile would miss its target. No foreign airline would take the risk of flying over Israel if there were a perceived threat of a missile strike, Shiff wrote.

      He explained that just firing such a missile in the direction of Ben-Gurion International Airport would have catastrophic economic consequences for Israel. Israel had no alternative, Shiff went on to conclude, but to ensure that such weapons do not fall into the hands of terrorists operating in the hills of Judea and Samaria, located just a few miles from the airport.