Despite Israeli appeals, Egypt has failed to halt the weapons tunnel infrastructure in the eastern Sinai Peninsula.
Israeli officials said Egyptian security forces have bolstered troops along the border with Israel to prevent weapons smuggling. But they said the Egyptians have not acted against the estimated 200 weapons tunnels that link the divided town of Rafah.
“They aren’t focusing their activity effectively,” Israel Security Agency director Yuval Diskin said.
Officials said Egypt failed to arrest leading weapons and other smugglers in the eastern Sinai. They said the Interior Ministry has occasionally blocked shipments of weapons moving from El Arish toward Rafah while enabling most of the flow to continue to the Gaza Strip.
“They need to crack down on the smuggling barons instead of just dealing with the smuggling right along the border,” Diskin said.
At a briefing on February 5, Diskin said explosives smuggling from Egypt increase five-fold in 2006. He said 30 tons of high-grade explosives and 1,726 rockets were smuggled from Sinai into Gaza in 2006. In 2005, 401 rockets were sent into the Gaza Strip.
In 2006, 14,000 assault rifles reached the Gaza Strip in comparison to 9,300 during the previous year. Last year, 150 rocket-propelled grenades, 65 launchers and 10 upgraded anti-tank missiles.
“If Egypt starts to thwart the transfer of weapons then that will slow down the terror buildup in Gaza and stave off a military operation there,” Diskin said. “They [the Egyptians] have a key in their hands and they know it.”
In 2005, Israel approved the deployment of 750 Egyptian border officers, who arrived along the border with the Gaza Strip in October. Egypt has sought to increase its security presence by at least another 5,000, which require a revision of the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
“In the beginning, the reason they didn’t thwart the smuggling was because they didn’t understand,” Diskin said. “Today they understand the importance and if they want to be a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians then they need to start better focusing their efforts.”
Diskin said Hamas controls most of the weapons smuggling industry is in the Gaza Strip. He said Hamas was constructing 10 tunnels from the Gaza Strip into Israel for future attacks, including the abduction of Israeli soldiers.
“Terror organizations are digging tunnels from Gaza towards Israel with the intention of carrying out attacks against Israel Defense Forces units in the communities adjacent to the border,” Diskin said. “At the moment there are at least 10 tunnels being dug, in varying stages of progress.”
Officials said the tunnels were part of a military infrastructure required for another war with Israel. They said the Hamas military wing, Izzedin Al Kassam, has joined the Murabitoun militia to form a conventional military based on anti-tank and anti-aircraft capabilities. They said Hamas sought to increase the payload of its rockets from the current seven kilograms to more than 30 kilograms.