The Shin Bet and the Israeli Navy foiled a suspected maritime attempt to smuggle materials intended for weapons manufacturing into the Gaza Strip, the Shin Bet announced Wednesday.
Three men were arrested after a motorized vessel making its way from the Sinai peninsula to the Gaza Strip was intercepted on the morning of January 19. Liquid fiberglass was found on the boat, though no other materials or weapons were reported to have been located.
The men, who were arrested and brought into Israel for interrogation, said the fiberglass was destined for Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, who were going to use it to fabricate rockets and mortar shells.
They also supplied information regarding the maritime smuggling route between Sinai and the Gaza Strip, and Hamas’ use of fishermen and smugglers for its purposes.
The interrogations also shed light on Hamas economic tactics. According to a statement from the Shin Bet, the men claimed the terror group also smuggled civilian products, which it then sold at a profit to Gaza residents, using the earnings to fund its activities.
The three suspects were charged with a number of security offenses Thursday in the Beersheba District Court.
“Recently, Hamas has been investing major efforts in maintaining naval smuggling routes from Sinai to the Gaza Strip, partly in light of Egyptian efforts to prevent tunnel smuggling,” the statement said.
The Shin Bet released a video with footage of the interception.
An Israeli naval official tasked with safeguarding the country’s maritime boundary with Gaza told Israel Radio in October that Gaza’s shore was “one big tunnel,” in reference to Hamas’s numerous smuggling and attack tunnels dug under the Egyptian and Israeli borders. Dozens of such tunnels were destroyed by Israel during Operation Protective Edge during the summer.
The officer said that after the Egyptians destroyed many of the smuggling tunnels dug between Sinai and Gaza in 2013-2014, attempts had intensified to smuggle weaponry via the sea.
While most Gaza fishermen were not involved in terrorist activity, he stressed that terror operatives were continually using those fishermen’s freedoms to smuggle weapons and plan attacks.
Under the terms of an August 26 truce agreement, which ended a deadly 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants, Gaza fishermen are permitted to trawl the waters up to six nautical miles off the shore.
AFP and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.