Palestinian terror organizations in the Gaza Strip may have anti-aircraft missiles in their possession, possibly Russian Strela (SA-7) missiles, the security establishment warned Sunday.
For some years the Palestinians have tried to smuggle anti-aircraft missiles from Egypt through tunnels. However, until now no reliable intelligence confirmed the existence of the missiles.
A senior military official told Haaretz Sunday that the security establishment working premise is now that such missiles do exist in Gaza and the air force is responding accordingly.
Combat helicopters are flying with minimum exposure to danger, as was the practice in southern Lebanon. Helicopters carrying senior officers have stopped landing inside Gaza, but rather on landing pads outside the Strip.
The downing of an Israeli plane or helicopter is an important objective for the Palestinians, symbolically. The fighting of the past weeks has only increased that importance.
The air force increased the presence of helicopters during Operation Days of Penitence and was responsible for hitting half of the military cells targeted.
Both sides are aware that if the disengagement plan is implemented, and IDF land forces pull out, airborne forces will play a much larger role than before. 'The Palestinians are clearly interested in challenging our total superiority in the air,' the senior official said.
Palestinian organizations have a role model in the guerrilla groups fighting the U.S. presence in Iraq. In the past 18 months dozens of U.S. helicopters with hundreds of crew members have been downed, some by anti-aircraft missiles, some by heavy mortar.
Hezbollah, however, never accomplished this goal during Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon.
In an interview to a Saudi newspaper last month, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas official in Gaza said his organization was seeking help from Arab states to acquire weapons capable of downing Israeli aircraft, as an answer to the recent wave of assassinations.