The Sinai Peninsula has become a "Garden of Eden" for terrorists smuggling arms into the Gaza Strip, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin warned on Tuesday during his half-yearly review to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
In a related move, the Counter-terror department in the Prime Minister's Office reissued a stern advisory against Israelis travelling to Sinai, and urged all those there to return home.
Thousands of Israelis are currently said to be at beach resorts in Sinai for their summer vacation, ahead of the new school year next week.
Diskin also said terror organizations were studying Israel's performance during the month-long military operation in Lebanon to learn how to play on Israel's weaker points, and as such, they had stepped up efforts to acquire long-range missiles such as those used by Hizbullah to attack Israel's northern communities.
Weapons smuggling through the Rafah crossing had gone up exponentially since the pullout, said Diskin. More than $50 million in cash has been smuggled into Gaza to fund social welfare programs organized by Hamas, said Diskin. He also estimated that approximately 15,000 guns, four million bullets, 2,300 pistols, 38 rockets, dozens of anti-tank missiles, 15 tons of TNT, 400 RPGs and 10-15 Katyushas like those used in Lebanon had been smuggled into Gaza.
After three to five years of this kind of weapons transfer, he warned, Israel will face a situation similar to what it encountered in southern Lebanon.
"At this point, anybody who wants to smuggle something through the Philadelphi route can apparently do so," Diskin said. "You can smuggle anything through Philadelphi except maybe a tank or plane." He added that the Shin Bet knew of at least 20 active tunnels between the Gaza Strip, Israel and Egypt.
"The Egyptians are not dealing with the root of the problem. They know what they can do but are not doing it," said Diskin. "Sinai is becoming a veritable weapons arsenal."
MK Natan Sharansky (Likud) responded to Diskin's report, saying, "For 10 years, we've been hearing these types of reports, but there has never been such an immediate need for action. Every kind of weapon is getting into the Gaza Strip, and Hamas is establishing a terrorist army. It is no longer possible to say they didn't warn us."
Diskin cautioned the committee over the increasingly tight-knit relationship among Hizbullah, Iran and Hamas. He noted, however, that there were increased tensions between Hamas's Gaza-based leadership, which was interested in maintaining calm in the area, and their branches abroad, which encouraged Hamas to resume violent action against Israel.
"There are differences of ideology between all these groups and their leadership, but they are united in their ideology against Israel," said Diskin.
On the whole, said Diskin, terror organizations felt bolstered following Israel's performance in Lebanon, because they interpreted the delay in sending out ground troops as a fear of face-to-face combat.
"On the other hand, they also feared that because Israel was 'disappointed' by the cease-fire, we would attack them [Palestinians] to raise our image," said Diskin.
During a discussion about the increased violence in the Gaza Strip, Diskin complained about a lack of intelligence, especially in the Samaria region, where Israel dismantled four settlements last summer. Following the evacuation of the settlements and the withdrawal of the IDF from that region, it had become difficult to gather accurate information about terrorist activity there, said Diskin.
"Samaria has become the land of Islamic Jihad following the disengagement," he said.
Diskin told the committee that during the course of the war, the Shin Bet had offered its investigative services to the IDF in order to help interrogate the captives taken during the war. He said the Shin Bet has more professional, proven methods of interrogation, which is why they offered to help the army. The IDF, however, declined the offer, he said.