There's one big problem with small arms: They don't come with an expiration date. These reliable killing machines pass from dead soldiers to living insurgents, and from a country's armory to a militia's safe house thousands of miles away. As soon as weapons crates cross international borders, arms-producing countries lose control over where they head next -- a fact on full display during recent conflicts across the Middle East, and now in the Gaza Strip.
On Nov. 17, Hamas released a video that it said would "shock Israel" -- footage of an insurgent firing a surface-to-air missile at what the Palestinian Islamist group claimed was an Israeli warplane. While it is impossible to verify that the video was shot in Gaza during the current conflict, the footage shows a man-portable air-defense system (MANPADS) used for targeting aircraft. However, according to Matt Schroeder, senior analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, the system is incomplete. "If it is an SA-7 [a type of surface-to-air missile], the battery appears to be missing or altered," he said. "A wire seems connected to the system -- an unusual set-up."
Such a weapon could theoretically down a fighter jet, but it is unlikely. "The presence of SA-7 systems will probably not be a game-changer in the current conflict because they are not sophisticated enough," Schroeder said. "But they are a serious concern for civilian aviation when they are in the hands of trained terrorist groups."
It's not just one stray missile system -- there is also evidence that Western-made weapons are getting in the hands of Gaza-based Islamist militants. Six weeks ago, the al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, organized a military parade in the Gaza Strip city of Rafah. Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an Iranian-funded group that has been labeled a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, published several pictures on its official website showing fighters equipped with Belgian FN F2000 assault rifles.
The FN F2000 is made by the Belgian company FN Herstal. Beginning in 2001, the weapon was exported throughout the world to equip a small number of special operations forces. According to Nic Jenzen-Jones, an Australia-based small arms and ammunition specialist, the rifle features a number of "attractive design features" -- notably the forward ejection of spent cartridge cases, ambidextrous design, and a well-integrated grenade launcher. Now, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government mulls a ground invasion of Gaza, Islamist insurgents are preparing to train these weapons on Israeli soldiers.