'Intel-sharing stems arms-flow to Gaza'

Defense officials say Egypt has increased its efforts to curb smuggling in recent months.

gaza tunnel 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
gaza tunnel 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Increased intelligence-sharing among Israel, the United States and European countries has succeeded in exposing cargo ships carrying weaponry from Southeast Asia to Hamas in the Gaza Strip since the IDF's Operation Cast Lead earlier this year, senior defense officials said Monday. According to the officials, the increase in intelligence-sharing began following a February conference in Copenhagen between the European Union and the US that focused on coming up with ways to stop the smuggling into Gaza at an early stage, before the weapons reached the Sinai Peninsula. While Egypt claims that most of the smuggled weapons arrive in Gaza by sea, Israeli defense officials said Monday that the weapons and explosives were being smuggled into Gaza via land routes through Africa and up to the Sinai Peninsula, eventually reaching the Egyptian side of the Philadelphi Corridor. Some ships, officials said, unloaded the arms shipments in ports in Eritria and Sudan. The weaponry was then loaded onto trucks, which made their way north into the Sinai. "There has been increased intelligence cooperation since the operation in Gaza," one official said. In March, CBS reported that during Cast Lead, IAF aircraft flew deep into the Sudanese desert and bombed a convoy of trucks carrying arms for Hamas. Some reports speculated that the convoy was carrying long-range, Iranian-made missiles. In addition to the international efforts to stop the smuggling, Israeli defense officials said that in recent months, Egypt had significantly boosted its efforts to stop smuggling along the border with Gaza. According to information obtained by Israel, Egyptian troops have begun operating deep in the Sinai desert, unlike in the past, to stop the weapons shipments before they reach the Egyptian border town of Rafah. Beduin clans that live in the Sinai are involved in transferring the shipments through the desert to the Gaza border. The Egyptian security forces are also working hand-in-hand with US military engineers who assist them in operating tunnel-detection equipment along the border with Gaza. On Monday, Egyptian forces destroyed 10 tunnels used to smuggle weaponry and other contraband into the Gaza Strip. According to news reports, the tunnels were discovered after security officers received a tip from a smuggler in Rafah. According to one report, the man who gave the tip was Muhammad al-Shaer - described by an Egyptian security official in AFP as one of the most wanted smugglers in the area.