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(photo credit: AP [file])
Egyptian security forces are failing to stop the smuggling of weapons from the Sinai Desert to Palestinian terror groups inside the Gaza Strip, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin said Monday.
Disking revealed that 30 tons of high-grade explosives were smuggled from Sinai into Gaza in 2006, in comparison to six tons in 2005.
Hamas, Diskin added, was currently in the midst of digging 10 tunnels from the Gaza Strip and under the security fence into Israel. The tunnels were to be used for attacks against IDF outposts along the fence and as part of a kidnapping attack similar to the one in which Cpl. Gilad Shalit was kidnapped in June.
Diskin said that Egypt was aware of the "key role" it played in preventing the terror buildup inside Gaza and that its failure to stop the flow of weapons increased the chances of a widespread Israeli military incursion into the Palestinian territory. He said that while there was still room for drastic improvements, the Egyptians had recently showed signs that they were beginning to crack down on the smuggling. On Saturday, Egyptian security forces discovered a weapons cache buried in the Sinai.
"If Egypt starts to thwart the transfer of weapons then that will slow down the terror buildup in Gaza and stave off a military operation there," he said during a briefing with military reporters at Shin Bet headquarters in Tel Aviv. "They [the Egyptians] have a key in their hands and they know it."
While refusing to explain the reason behind Egypt's refusal to properly combat the weapons smuggling, Diskin said that Cairo was using the claim that it needed more soldiers along the border as an excuse to open and make changes to the Camp David peace agreement.
Egypt currently has a 750-strong force of lightly-armed Border Policemen along the Philadelphia Corridor that separates Gaza from Egypt. Cairo has claimed that it needs additional troops along the border to effectively prevent the smuggling. The increase in troops, officials claim, would require changes to the peace accord which sets the Sinai as a demilitarized zone.
"In the beginning, the reason they didn't thwart the smuggling was because they didn't understand," said Diskin. "Today they understand the importance and if they want to be a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians then they need to start better focusing their efforts."
Diskin said that dozens of tunnels were being dug between the Sinai and Egypt and that the Egyptians were focusing their efforts more on stopping the smuggling along the border but not dealing with the root of the problem which was the smuggling infrastructure inside the Egyptian town of Rafah.
"They aren't focusing their activity effectively," he said. "They need to crack down on the smuggling barons instead of just dealing with the smuggling right along the border."
Diskin also said that he did not agree with a full-scale operation in the Gaza Strip while Palestinian factions were in a constant state of war with one another, saying that such an operation would not stop the continued rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel.
Although he did not advise that the IDF launch a major operation, he agreed that a plan would need to be designed in case such an operation were necessary in the future.
"We need to draw up a plan," Diskin said. "We must take into account the power struggle that is occurring between Hamas and Fatah."
We mustn't get involved, said Diskin, otherwise we will "ruin everything."
The Shin Bet director discussed "the day after" a large-scale attack, saying that Israel must consider what would be done following an incursion.
"Even a smaller-scale operation could develop into a larger one, and therefore one must weigh out all the options thoroughly," he said.
Diskin admitted that the defense echelon had not found an effective solution to ending the launching of Kassams from the Gaza Strip. The number of rockets launched in 2006 has increased dramatically from the previous year, Diskin told reporters, with 1,726 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip compared to 401 in 2005.
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