The Rafah Terror Tunnels: An Underground City of Weaponry
ID Spokesperson 11 February 2003
The IDF frequently uncovers and destroys Palestinian tunnels constructed
underneath the "Philadelphi" route in the Rafah area of the Gaza Strip. The
tunnels are used to smuggle weapons, cigarettes, drugs, and people
(primarily prostitutes) from Egypt into Gaza.
The "Philadelphi" Route
The 1993 Oslo Accords granted significant territorial autonomy to the
Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip. Under the Oslo Accords, the IDF
retains control of a thin strip of land (100 meters in width), known as the
"Philadelphi" route, which divides the southern tip of the Gaza Strip city
of Rafah and the Egyptian Sinai peninsula.
Rafah: A Transit Point for Weapons Smuggling
In the period after the 1993 Oslo Accords, the Palestinians constructed a
complex network of tunnels underneath the Egypt-Israel border in the Rafah
area of the Gaza Strip. The tunnels are used to smuggle weapons, cigarettes,
drugs, and people (primarily prostitutes) from Egypt into Gaza.
Consequently, the city of Rafah has become a focal point for smuggling
illicit contraband throughout the Palestinian Authority.
Inside the Tunnels
The smuggling tunnels are often elaborate, and may contain wood-paneling,
electrical infrastructure, communications equipment, and elevators. Small
tunneling machines, imported with the full knowledge of the Palestinian
Authority, are used to dig these subterranean passages.
Tunnels Often Concealed in Houses
The Rafah tunnels are typically dug inside residential homes, and are
concealed under bathrooms, living rooms, and bedrooms. On October 12, 2001,
two tunnel entrances were discovered inside a child's bedroom. Another such
tunnel was uncovered on September 12, 2002.
Hosting and maintaining smuggling tunnels can often become a family business
that provides a primary source of income.
The smuggling tunnels illustrate the deep involvement of some Palestinian
civilians in aiding and abetting terrorist activity.
How the Smuggling Tunnels are Built
On August 10, 2002, the Islamic web portal, "Islam Online," published an
interview with an individual named "Honey."
Honey identified himself as an active "expert" in the excavation of
clandestine subterranean passages in the Rafah area, and described how he
and his friends dug tunnels in which Palestinian terrorist organizations
The following is a transcript of the "Islam Online" interview:
Determining the Most Suitable Location for a Tunnel
After determining the most suitable location to begin work, engineers survey
the ground, which must be of a firm, and not overly sandy consistency. The
further the point of origin is from the (Israeli) border, the less chance
there is of being caught.
How the Tunnels are Dug
A pit is dug one meter wide and between twelve to fourteen meters deep.
Supports are placed on the sides of the pit. The pit is dug to a depth of at
least twelve meters so that Israeli detection devices cannot detect tunnels
at this depth. The tunnel is dug horizontally so that it has a width of
forty centimeters by forty centimeters. Every three meters wooden planks are
placed alongside the four sides of the tunnels so it doesn't collapse.
Various mechanical devices are used to overcome natural obstacles like rock,
including a machine that removes sand via suction. An electrical cable is
hung in the tunnel to provide lighting.
"Honey's" diagram of Palestinian smuggling tunnels
Building Work and Security Precautions
The work is conducted clandestinely. The sand is not removed all at one
time, but is placed in flour bags and transported to a remote location. A
lookout is posted at the entrance to the tunnel to ensure that the work
continues unimpeded. The completion of one tunnel takes three months or
more. The last tunnel we built took three months. The workers who build a
tunnel receive a percentage of the profit generated from smuggling weapons.
Between six to twelve meters are dug every day. The last tunnel we dug was
two hundred and thirty meters long. At either end of the tunnel there is a
"work manager;" the two work managers maintain contact by code, usually via
phone. The workers on the Egyptian side direct where the tunnel exit will
be. The exit from the Palestinian side is steep (a straight vertical shaft),
while it is gradually inclined on the Egyptian side.
Construction of a tunnel costs a minimum of $10,000. The minimal cost for
smuggling weapons is $300 and the money is split between the five partners
for building and maintaining the tunnels.
If someone is interested in smuggling weapons, he makes a coded request and
the workers schedule the date for the smuggling operation. The codes and
passwords are transferred via [land-line] phones and cellular phones. The
transfer from one side to the other takes between five to ten minutes and is
carried out using an engine which pulls a rope.
The following prices vary according to location and item.
AK-47 assault rifle from Egypt to Gaza: 2,000 Egyptian liras
AK-47 assault rifle within Gaza: $1,000
AK-47 bullet from Egypt to Gaza: 0.5 Egyptian Liras.
AK-47 bullet within Gaza: $3
Source of Weapons: Egypt, Iraq, Sudan, and the Salom area in Libya.