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Sunday, February 4, 2018
Egypt's War against the Gaza Tunnels

Egypt's War against the Gaza Tunnels
The destruction of smuggling tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip with the
Sinai Peninsula is one of several counter-terrorism initiatives taken by the
Egyptian government in recent years. The effective measures taken by
President el-Sisi would prove beneficial for Israel as well

Dr. Shaul Shay 4/02/2018
http://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/node/32925

said that explosive devices in three warehouses, as well as a tunnel used by
"terrorists," were destroyed.

Over the course of 2017, the Egyptian army has destroyed 63 cross-border
tunnels linking the Gaza Strip to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, the service
added.

The destruction of smuggling tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip with the
Sinai Peninsula is one of several counter-terrorism initiatives taken by the
Egyptian government in recent years. Egypt sees the tunnels as a passageway
for arms and militants it has been fighting in North Sinai, posing a risk to
the country's security.

The network of smuggling tunnels connects Sinai with the Palestinian Gaza
Strip, controlled by the Islamist Hamas movement. Hamas operates secret
tunnels to facilitate the flow of weapons and militants into and out of
Gaza. Hamas, which controls the Strip, effectively licenses the tunnels,
providing electricity, taking a tax on smuggled goods, and banning the
import of drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes.

The excavation of smuggling tunnels in the Rafah area began in 1982,
subsequent to the division of the Rafah city between Egypt and the Gaza
Strip. The average smuggling tunnel is approximately 500 meters in length,
and 20 to 25 meters deep. The tunnels may be equipped with wood-paneling,
electrical infrastructure, communications gear, and rudimentary elevators in
vertical shafts, to transport people or the freight of goods. The openings
of the tunnels are often located within private Egyptian homes or other
buildings, near or next to the border with Egypt.

The Egyptian authorities claim that the tunnels are used by ISIS and other
terrorists who target the army and police in Sinai.

The Egyptian security forces developed a comprehensive strategy against the
tunnel network:

The "Buffer Zone"

Following the Ansar Beit al Maqdis attacks of October 24, 2014, President
el-Sisi has ordered the creation of a "buffer-zone" along the Egyptian
border with Gaza in an attempt to quash the illegal tunnel trading between
Sinai and the Gaza Strip. In January 2015, Egypt began work on doubling the
width of the "buffer zone" along the border with the Gaza Strip. The "buffer
zone" was initially planned to be 500 meters wide, but is now being expanded
by another 500 meters.

The Egyptian army gave over 1,100 families who lived within the "buffer
zone" only 48 hours to evacuate their houses. North Sinai’s Governor Abdel
Fattah Harhour has stated that every family will receive EGP300 (US$40) in
housing allowance for three months, and further compensation will be given
for demolished buildings. However, tribal leaders from the region have
expressed their dissatisfaction with the sums offered.

Flooding the Tunnels

Filling the tunnels with sewage: Since 2013, the Egyptian military is
resorting to a new tactic to shut down the smuggling tunnels: flooding them
with sewage. It has since been revealed that this was not a flood of water,
but rather human excrement – hundreds, thousands of gallons of raw sewage
pumped into the tunnels.

Filling the tunnels with seawater: The Egyptians dug a trench on the Sinai
side of the border and then laid pipes parallel to the "buffer-zone" road,
known as the Philadelphia Route. Water from the nearby sea was pumped in,
creating a canal. The water channel flooded the tunnels, causing them to
collapse. The Palestinians are trying to reinforce and waterproof their
tunnels with cement and steel bars, hoping they would be saved from collapse
if more flooding occurred.

Egypt is creating a large fish farm in the Sinai penin­sula on the border
with the Gaza Strip, providing an economic opportunity while also trying to
halt smuggling through the network of tunnels between Sinai and the
Pal­estinian territory. Tons of sand has been carried away, and huge tubes
placed to pump seawater to destroy the smugglers’ tunnels and form the base
of the fish farm.

Fighting the tunnels by legal means

President el-Sisi has decided to combat Hamas's smuggling tunnels also
through legal means. In April 2015, he signed a new law, according to which
anyone who digs a tunnel along Egypt's borders would face life imprisonment.
The new law came amid reports that some anti-government jihadists from Sinai
had received medical treatment in hospitals inside the Gaza Strip. The
reports confirmed fears of Egyptian government officials that the jihadists
in Sinai are working together with Hamas to undermine security and stability
in Egypt.

Summary

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's uncompromising war on terrorism,
especially along the border with the Gaza Strip, seems to be bearing fruit.
Egypt says the closing down of the tunnels is part of a crackdown against
Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula and their supporters in the
Palestinian territory of Gaza Strip. As a result of this war, which began in
2013, shortly after el-Sisi came to power, with the destruction of hundreds
of smuggling tunnels along the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip,
Hamas and other armed groups are now more isolated than ever.

President el-Sisi has shown real determination in his war to drain the
swamps of terrorists. The tough measures he has taken along the border with
the Gaza Strip have proven to be effective.

The destruction of these tunnels will be a major counter-terrorism move,
reducing the motivation and capability of Hamas to initiate new offensive
from Gaza Strip against Israel. Reliance on the tunnels seems to have
progressively declined, and Hamas has also been unable to acquire more
weapons and ammunition, owing to the ongoing Egyptian campaign to eliminate
the tunnels.

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