Despite Egypt’s denial of the existence of smuggling tunnels beneath it, security officials believe that the Philadelphi Corridor serves as the primary route for weapons bound for Hamas.
Both Egypt and Hamas vehemently oppose Israel’s control over the corridor, an 8.7 mile buffer running the length of the Israel-Egypt border established by the 1979 peace treaty between the two nations.
Control of the corridor would effectively sever the Gaza Strip’s only land connection to Egypt, potentially blocking subterranean movement between the two regions.
Control of the corridor translates to dominance over the Rafah crossing, the sole border crossing linking the Gaza Strip to the Arab world and crucial for the international travel of senior Hamas officials.
While Israel possesses intelligence on these tunnels, Egypt persists in denying their existence, claiming to have destroyed them years ago. Recent requests by Israel to have Egyptian military units relocate away from the Gaza border have been rebuffed.
Currently, the Israel Defense Forces oversees the northern and eastern borders and western coast of the Gaza Strip.
Gaining control of the southern border would complete the encirclement of the Gaza Strip, a strategic move with implications for the demilitarization of the region after the conflict.
Hamas heavily relies on the corridor for weapons smuggling. Even with IDF control, the corridor is expected to remain a constant target for terrorist attacks.
Reports from Gaza indicate that IDF forces attempted advances toward the corridor on Dec. 23, 2023, but were repelled by Hamas. The Israeli Air Force also targeted Hamas positions along the corridor.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly declared Israel’s intention to assert control over the Philadelphi Corridor. Israel appears resolute in this decision, emphasizing its commitment to encircle the Gaza Strip completely.
Despite Egypt’s opposition, it is anticipated that the country will eventually have to acquiesce to Israel’s position, particularly given the extensive weapons smuggling carried out by Hamas through the corridor in recent years.
The security protocol between the two nations stipulates that Egypt secure the corridor with a force of 750 soldiers equipped to combat terrorism and smuggling—a task Cairo seems to have failed at in recent years.
Originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.