The Izz-al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, has revealed for the first time that it has Strela-2 (SA-7 'Grail') man-portable surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) in its inventory.
The Strela-2s were revealed during an Al-Qassam Brigades parade held in Gaza City on 14 September. Hamas and Palestinian Authority (PA) security sources told IHS Jane's that the show of strength was intended to impress Palestinians as well as the Egyptian military, which is currently attempting to stop arms being smuggled into the Gaza Strip.
"The weapons that were displayed at the parade are aimed at enhancing the morale of Hamas members and supporters, and to pass an indirect message to the Egyptians not to continue their harassment against the movement," a senior Hamas security source in Gaza told IHS Jane's on 19 September.
The source added that the Egyptians have destroyed 98% of the arms-smuggling tunnels that run under the Sinai-Gaza border and have flown Apache attack helicopters into Gaza's airspace 12 times since the beginning of the Egyptian crackdown following the 3 July coup that removed President Mohammed Morsi from power.
"We detected infiltration by the Egyptian Air Force into Gaza airspace, the deployment of armoured personnel carriers to the borders with Gaza, the arrest of Gaza fishermen off the Gaza coast," said Major General Jamal Jarah, the commander of Hamas's National Security Forces, which guard the border. "The Egyptian armed forces' behaviour is a provocation for our forces," he added.
The Al-Qassam Brigades is estimated to have around 13,000 well-trained and -equipped personnel. Since the death of Ahmed Jabari in November 2012, the armed group has been under the command of Marwan Issa, who has been working to restructure the force and increase its emphasis on advanced weapons.
"The SA-7 is a deterrent missile that could be the right reaction to any Egyptian Air Force threat," a senior PA Military Intelligence official in Ramallah told IHS Jane's . He added that Hamas has around 100 of the first-generation man-portable SAMs, which were looted from Libyan arsenals during that country's 2011 conflict and then smuggled through the Sinai Peninsula to Gaza. "Hamas cannot possess more than this number because its availability is limited and costly," the official added.
Palestinian defence analysts told IHS Jane's that the SA-7 would not be lethal against the Israel Air Force because it flies at high altitudes and has countermeasures systems to negate the threat from older SAMs like the Strela-2.