All Is Not Quiet on Tunnel-smuggling Front

Egyptian forces last week uncovered two weapons-smuggling tunnels in Egyptian Rafah, used to move weapons from Sinai into Gaza, and blew them up.

Egyptian forces last week uncovered two weapons-smuggling tunnels in Egyptian Rafah, used to move weapons from Sinai into Gaza, and blew them up. Israeli defense sources concede that there has been some improvement in the Egyptian efforts to halt the smuggling of weapons, against the background of Cairo's promises to Jerusalem to fight the smuggling ahead of the Israeli disengagement from Gaza. But the change on the Egyptian side is still limited and has not brought an end to the smuggling.

In the last two weeks, despite Egyptian moves and very intensive Israel Defense Forces activity on the Palestinian side of the border, at least two deliveries of smuggled weapons reached Hamas in Rafah, raising concern that Egypt might not be truly interested in ending the smuggling and is weapons-running as a valve for raising and lowering tension. In other words, as long as the smuggling is within control and does not include any weapons that could change the balance of power between Israel and the Palestinians such as shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles or long-range Katyusha rockets, the Egyptians have no objection to the continued smuggling.

Apparently, the smuggling networks have contacts in Egyptian intelligence, which uses them to collect information about what happens on the Israeli side of the border between Sinai and the western Negev.

Large shipments of RPGs did reach Gaza in recent month, some with advanced capabilities for more precision, posing a threat to IDF armored vehicles in the Strip. In addition, the IDF suspects that the Palestinians' mortars have been improved. Mortars fired at Gush Katif in recent weeks were 100mm in diameter and had a more effective explosive payload. The main worry is that the improved mortars could penetrate the concrete layers that the IDF poured on the roofs of its forts and public buildings in Gaza settlements, to protect them.

A large shipment of munitions that the army calls "tiebreakers" - Katyushas and anti-aircraft weapons - is apparently is still waiting in Sinai for Hamas to get it through. Hezbollah is apparently involved in the smuggling effort in cooperation with Damascus-based Hamas operatives. Smaller smuggling efforts in recent weeks have involved many rifles, light ammunition and RPGs. The army is also looking into the possibility that the Palestinians have managed to bring in telescopes for snipers.

Moreover, the Palestinian security services are involved in the smuggling with a key person being Nabil Tamos, commander of a secret group of Mohammed Dahlan loyalists calling themselves the "Death Units." These are staffers in the Preventive Security forces who specialize in intimidating Dahlan rivals; they are believed to have been behind the beatings - and even killings - of Dahlan rivals in Fatah. The smuggled weapons are meant for the struggles ahead over control in Gaza.