Egypt’s security campaign against tunnels linking Gaza with the Sinai is occurring under the excuse that these tunnels are illegal and that they spread insecurity in an area crucial to Egypt.
The campaign stirs up old debates on what the tunnels are used for and the future of relations between Gaza and Egypt if the tunnels are to be closed.
The “war of the tunnels” is one of the most important and threatening military programs adopted by the Palestinian resistance to confront the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip.
The tunnels are dug slowly which makes it almost impossible for Israeli forces to thwart their construction.
When Israeli forces discovered 12 tunnels within three months, it demolished houses near the border with Egypt. The Palestinian Authority had also discovered 25 tunnels and destroyed them.
Israeli sources consider this war of tunnels, primarily launched by Hamas, to have confused the Israeli military institution.
After Hamas won the legislative elections at the beginning of 2006, and after it imposed its control on Gaza in mid-2007, Israel imposed a tightened economic siege on the strip.
Since then the tunnels have not only been used for military purposes but also for smuggling livelihood needs. Some estimations state that the number of tunnels exceeded 1,200. However, an Israeli reporter in the Palestinian territories claimed that the number is around 500.
On the level of smuggling weapons, Israel has received an Egyptian promise that it will make efforts to stop Hamas from smuggling arms through the tunnels. Israel, however, does not hide its fears that tunnels will still be dug while the Egyptian intelligence remains unaware.
Following Israeli officials’ efforts to end the problem of the tunnels, the answer was finally: “we have to admit that the army does not have a magical solution!”
‘A rare opportunity’
Israeli military expert, Eyal Ofer, said that since Israel cannot eliminate Hamas and since the Palestinian Authority has demonstrated its inability to govern Hamas then Egypt can bear Hamas’ responsibility. He added that the “ideological agreement” between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas creates a rare opportunity to link Gaza with Egypt and gradually separate the former from Israel.
By enabling Egypt to completely open the Rafah border crossing for individuals to move freely and for merchandise to be transferred to Gaza under Egyptian supervision, there will no longer be a “humanitarian” need for the tunnels.
There is a general friendly environment in Israel that supports the step of “giving Gaza to Egypt” especially since Israel does not have anything to look for in Gaza after it withdrew seven years ago.
Resorting to history is beneficial here. One must note the Israeli plan made in 2004 when the policy of “creeping annexation” in the Gaza Strip towards Egypt was adopted either to completely make the entire or some areas of Gaza as part of Egypt in order to resolve the strip's economic and social problems.
This plan’s coherence with the “war on terror” will allow Israel to succeed in marketing it.
However, if Egypt takes any direct role in Gaza, Israel’s strategic operations against the strip may be limited if it wants to respond to any armed operations Hamas launches.
Last but not least, the closing of tunnels between Gaza and the Sinai has increased Israeli calls to expand the strip to the south towards Sinai, al-Arish and Sheikh Zouiad in order to implement the final separation of Gaza from Israel. For this to happen, the Rafah border crossing must be effectively put to work to meet the needs of the Gazans.
In turn, this requires Egypt to put an end to all illegal acts; primarily tunnels in the aforementioned areas!
Doctor Adnan Abu Amer is the arts and humanities faculty dean at the Ummah University in Palestine. He is also a political sciences professor.