Terrorists in Hamas-controlled Gaza launched an anti-aircraft missile at an Israeli Air Force helicopter last week, the first time they have fired such a weapon at an Israeli aircraft, Israeli defense officials said Tuesday.
The Strela shoulder-fired missile didn’t hit the chopper at which it was aimed, but the development marks a dramatic escalation in the intentions and capabilities of Gaza-based terror organizations. The missile most likely originated in Libya, and was captured by rebels who helped overthrow the Qaddafi regime.
Tens of thousands of anti-aircraft missiles went missing in the aftermath of the Qaddafi regime’s overthrow. Israeli intelligence has long warned that many of them made their way from Libya and into the hands of Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip, a suspicion that has now been confirmed.
Analysts and policy-makers fear that in addition to targeting Israeli military assets, Palestinian terrorists armed with such shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles will attempt to destroy a commercial airliner. The concern has been a major source of Israeli reluctance to cede strategic areas in the West Bank which provide clear lines of vision to Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport.
Terrorists in Gaza have fired thousands of missiles, rockets and mortars at Israel, including 637 since January as compared to 653 for all of 2011. Last week witnessed an escalation in such attacks, with terrorists firing more than 60 rockets and mortars at Israel as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad joined forces to attack Israel.
Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, but hopes that peaceful Palestinian forces would rule the area were dashed when Hamas subsequently took power over the territory.