Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Times: Egypt-Rafiah barriers against smugglers - a Joke

(The Times).Egyptian security officials said that a series of steel tubes and sections of sheet metal are being installed along with unspecified “devices that will monitor smuggling”. There are rumours that the US Army Corps of Engineers is involved, along with much of the $23 million (£14 million) aid recently sent by the Obama Administration.

Egypt has been under increased pressure to stop the network of tunnels that supply Gaza with everything from food and clothing to arms and cash that sustain the Hamas authority there. Israel closed off Gaza, a crowded enclave of 1.5 million people, to all but very basic supplies when Hamas took control in June 2007.

Israeli officials said that Egypt’s efforts were too little, too late, and that militants in the Gaza Strip had already restocked their supplies to the pre-Gaza war levels.

“There are many solutions to stop the tunnels, including simple solutions that we have recommended. This massive effort is a good step, but we are not yet sure how successful it will be,” said an Israeli MP on the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee. He added that a strict military perimeter encircling the area where smugglers are known to operate could stop goods reaching the tunnels.

While checkpoints dot the desert roads that wind their way into Gaza, most smugglers find them easy to navigate. On a recent trip, one smuggler showed The Times a simple system of back roads that have been built in full sight of the Egyptians soldiers.

Turning his car off the main road and on to a dirt track within ten metres of a checkpoint, he drove behind a series of small houses, and turned back on to the main road just after the checkpoint. “They can see us. Of course they can see us. But it’s not in their interest to stop us. The checkpoint is for Israeli eyes alone,” said Osama, a smuggler who also asked not to use his real name. The Egyptians take money, and look the other way. Like Abu Yussef, Osama is nonplussed by the Egyptian efforts. “I am sure that Egypt is making even more money through this barrier. And we know that they are not serious. How would it look if they really stopped us, and Gaza was left to starve?” he asked.

“Business is not as good as it once was because now there are more tunnels. We can’t make as much money on each item now, but we send a lot more,” he said. The Egyptians went through phases when they confiscated goods or flushed out tunnels with gas, but the effort was sporadic and incomplete. “We will always work around them,” he said.

Abu Yussef has already had to repair several tunnels that were hit by Israeli air strikes. Most of the tunnels could be rebuilt within a month, he said. “If we need to build deeper, we will build deeper. This is our business. This is the land we know.”