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(photo credit: AP)
Hamas will not agree to stop smuggling weaponry into the Gaza Strip under a new cease-fire with Israel, and the deployment of US military engineers along the Gaza-Egypt border will likely be incapable of stopping them, defense officials say.
According to assessments in the defense establishment, Hamas is split between its military and political wings regarding the cease-fire proposal that Egypt and France have offered Israel and the Palestinians. While the political echelon is perceived to be capable of forcing the military wing to accept the proposal, Israel does not believe the Hamas military commanders will accept the IDF's condition that it stop smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip.
One of the options being considered is deployment of an American military engineering force along the Philadelphi Corridor to assist the Egyptians in stopping the smuggling.
At the moment, there are several American military engineers who serve as advisers to the Egyptians, but the IDF is hoping to upgrade the force and to have a larger and more permanent American presence on the ground along the Gaza-Egypt border.
"Hamas will not give up on its rearmament," an official in the Defense Ministry said Wednesday. "It is difficult to imagine that the Egyptians, even with an American force, will be able to stop Hamas from continuing the smuggling."
The Egyptians have also asked Israel to allow them to increase their Border Police force along the Gaza border, a move that would enable Egypt to crack down on the tunnel-smuggling industry more effectively.
The sense in Cairo is that Israel is open to the idea and understands that if Egypt is to stand a chance at halting the smuggling, it will need a larger force than the 750 border policemen agreed upon following Israel's disengagement from Gaza in 2005.
According to Israeli estimates, there were around 300 active smuggling tunnels along the Philadelphi Corridor before Operation Cast Lead. Some 100 have been destroyed by the IAF. Despite the attacks, the IDF believes Hamas is still trying to smuggle new weaponry into Gaza via the tunnels throughout Rafah.
"If the Egyptians ask to increase the force, we will consider the request," another defense official said. "We don't believe that an increase is needed, though, but rather more motivation to counter the smuggling."
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