Fixing Rafah 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Egypt is considering a range of proposals on how to stop weapons smuggling through tunnels along the Philadelphi Corridor into Gaza, including the construction of a moat along the border that separates the Sinai desert from the Gaza Strip, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Israel has destroyed close to 150 tunnels since the beginning of Operation Cast Lead but estimates that there are at least another 150 tunnels along the 14-kilometer corridor. On Sunday, the Air Force bombed close to 30 tunnels that it said were used by Hamas to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip.
Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, is scheduled to travel to Egypt later this week to hear Cairo's offer concerning the tunnels.
Since the operation began, Hamas has made attempts to smuggle weapons into Gaza through the remaining tunnels, officials said. Iran, they added, was trying to get explosives and weaponry - including long-range rockets - to the Sinai, from where supplies are transferred into the Gaza Strip.
While Israel has conditioned its acceptance of a cease-fire on an end to smuggling, the Egyptians have made clear that it will not permit the deployment of a foreign military presence on its sovereign territory. Egypt has however agreed to receive technological assistance from different countries including Germany and the United States, which has already sent combat engineers to Rafah in an advisory capacity.
Last year, the US allocated $23 million to help train Egyptian officials to stop smuggling and Egypt claimed to have spent as much as $30 m. in foreign military aid it receives from the US in purchasing advanced tunnel-detection equipment.
"The Egyptians said they are open to many different ideas of how to stop the smuggling," a senior official said, adding that Cairo was also requesting that Israel permit expansion of the Egyptian force of 750 policemen currently deployed along the border.
The idea of a moat along the corridor as a way to stop the tunnel industry is not new. In April 2007, Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan, then head of the IDF's Planning Division, raised the possibility with the Egyptians during high-level security talks in Cairo and was told at the time that it would be considered.
In 2004, the Israeli Defense Ministry issued a tender for the digging of the moat along the border. The specifications given at the time were that the ditch would be four kilometers long, 25 meters deep and 100 meters wide.
There are mixed opinions in the IDF over what needs to be done to stop the smuggling. Some generals in the Air Force believe that it is possible to severely damage the tunnel industry by the air alone and without needing to send ground forces into the corridor. Other senior officers are of the opinion that only ground forces can effectively locate and destroy the tunnels.