The major element that is supposed to change in connection with the struggle against the tunnels has to do with Egypt’s behavior. That is being influenced not only by the warming of relations with Israel (which reached a peak in the release from prison of Israeli citizen Azzam Azzam and the signing of a trade agreement this week), but also by what was revealed by the terrorist attacks in Sinai last September. The investigation of the attacks showed Egypt what it should have already known – that their intelligence deployment in Sinai is very poor and is incapable of providing even basic information about events. Under its nose, different networks of extremist Egyptian Muslim groups, most of them offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood, operated freely. These organizations, which have been closely watched by the intelligence services in Egypt proper, were able to set up rear support systems in Sinai. What began as small learning groups established by sheikhs in El Arish and in Bedouin concentrations south of Taba, grew into a ramified da’awa (Islamic civil infrastructure), which was utilized by the perpetrators of the attacks.
However, the Egyptians are proceeding at a snail’s pace. This week Cairo announced that it will deploy 750 policemen along the border (in order to combat arms smuggling) only next April – and Egypt does not intend to take responsibility for the Israeli-Palestinian side of the Philadelphi route.
In the meantime, Hamas activists continue to move about unhampered in Sinai. The smuggling takes place via two main routes: a northern route, from Lebanon to the shores of Turkey or Greece and then by sea to El Arish; and a southern route, from Sudan to southern Sinai and then via the border with Israel in the western Negev or via Philadelphi.
So far, though, hardly any weapons that the IDF terms “tie breakers” have been smuggled through the tunnels – antitank missiles or long-range Katyusha rockets, which could increase the Palestinian threat to Israel. According to the defense establishment, this shows that Egypt has a certain level of control over the smuggling: it has no objections to Israeli blood being shed in the Gaza Strip, as long as the equilibrium is maintained. This is why the IDF is far more suspicious about Egypt’s good intentions than Sharon’s bureau is….
This article appeared in Haaretz, 17 December 2004