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Lost and Found: Libya’s Surface-to-Air Missiles

Good news: plundered weapons from Libya’s once-guarded stockpiles are being located. Bad news: they’re in the hands of Bedouin black-market weapons racketeers in Egypt’s unstable Sinai Peninsula. Not exactly the growth in exports the world economy was hoping for. From the WaPo:

Egyptian security officials have intercepted surface-to-air missiles, most of them shoulder-launched, on the road to Sinai and in the smuggling tunnels connecting Egypt to the Gaza Strip since Moammar Gaddafi fell from power in Libya in August, a military official in Cairo said. Arms traders said the weapons available on Sinai’s clandestine market include rockets and antiaircraft guns.

The seizures raise fresh concerns about security along the sensitive area that borders the Gaza Strip and Israel, at a time when unrest is roiling the region. The addition of shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles to arsenals of Palestinian fighters in Gaza could add significantly to the threat against Israel, whose helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft frequently patrol the strip, which is controlled by the militant Islamist group Hamas.

Curtailing the black-market heavy weapons trade is an important test for the new Libyan and Egyptian governments. As always, the stakes in the region are high. The Libyan response may be too little too late: fighting in Sirte – the last pro-Qaddadi stronghold – is only now winding down, and most remaining weapon caches should be secured. Coordination between Egypt’s government and military should be easier, as they are effectively one and the same.

Given the situation in Gaza, where Hamas (no slouch itself in the war department) is trying to prevent smaller and even more radical factions from conducting free lance attacks on Israel, the arrival of truckloads of black market weapons is very bad news.  One only hopes that honest and responsible criminal syndicates outbid the fanatics in the weapons bazaar now springing up in the Sinai.

Iran and its embattled Syrian ally, Turkey and Egypt are currently engaged in a contest for the allegiance of Hamas and the leverage and Middle Eastern legitimacy that comes with it.  This is not the best time for smaller, rival groups to begin amassing arsenals and complicating the picture in Gaza, but thanks to the Great Wilsonian War in Libya, the bazaar is now open.  The Arab Spring gets more exciting every day.

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