‘Smuggling into Gaza at a near-standstill’

Israeli and Egyptian officials say Egyptian army activity has curtailed the transfer of weapons and goods via tunnels into the strip

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

A Palestinian worker inside a smuggling tunnel, beneath the Egyptian-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip, in February 2013 (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
A Palestinian worker inside a smuggling tunnel, beneath the Egyptian-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip, in February 2013 (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

After years of intense smuggling activity, transfer of goods and weapons through the tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza Strip has ceased in the last 10 days, according to Israeli, Egyptian and Palestinian officials who spoke to The Times of Israel.

The tunnels have been used in recent years as a major commercial artery between the Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. During the last two months, 250-300 tunnels between Gazan Rafah and Egyptian Rafah were active.

The tunnels were an important source of income for the Hamas government, which levied a tax on all goods entering Gaza.

Delivery of building materials via the tunnels has been arrested, along with that of many other goods. As recently as Tuesday, the Egyptian army closed one of the largest tunnels, which was used to bring automobiles into Gaza.

Senior Egyptian officials stressed that the operation served Egypt’s “national security interests” and said that it was the first real, large-scale operation by the Egyptian army against the tunnels.

Last week, flooding was reported in some 50 tunnels, but Egyptian officials said that many more were affected. Many of the tunnels, destroyed by Egyptian army engineers using controlled explosions deep underground, were flooded with water, they said.

Israeli officials confirmed reports of intense Egyptian activity that brought smuggling through the tunnels to a near standstill. All mass smuggling stopped on June 30, officials said, the same day as the mass rally and military decree that brought down the Morsi government, after Egyptian engineers flooded the tunnels with water.

According to officials, no weapons, people or goods are passing through the tunnels. The Egyptians feared that Hamas agents would flow into Egypt to help the Muslim Brotherhood in the event of deterioration.

Gazan sources told The Times of Israel that only established tunnels continue to operate, and even then only partially. These tunnels are not controlled by Hamas, and the Egyptian side is unaware of their existence, as well.

Over the last 10 days, the Rafah border crossing has been closed to traffic. On Wednesday it was opened again on orders of the Egyptian army.

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