newsIsrael at War

Will Hamas get unfettered access to tunnels on Egyptian border?

Israeli intelligence did not know the severity of the smuggling situation before the war.

A member of the Al-Quds Brigades of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, inside an attack tunnel in Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip, May 18, 2022. Credit: Attia Muhammed/Flash90.
A member of the Al-Quds Brigades of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, inside an attack tunnel in Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip, May 18, 2022. Credit: Attia Muhammed/Flash90.

Despite the prime minister, the defense minister and other officials stressing in no uncertain terms that Israel will “eliminate” and “destroy” Hamas, there is still one major card that Israel does not currently intend to take from Hamas—the Philadelphi Corridor or Route, which is a narrow strip of land, 8.7 miles long, situated along the entirety of the border of the Gaza Strip with Egypt.

Although underneath this route major smuggling operations continue, Israel currently has no plans to conquer the area, mainly because of opposition from Egypt.

It would not be an exaggeration to define the non-conquest of the route near Rafah as a double failure. Symbolically, it is an important Hamas asset that has not been eliminated; and through the tunnel system under the Philadelphi Route, massive amounts of arms have been delivered to Hamas. 

The extent of Cairo’s knowledge of what was going on there may be revealed in the future. One thing is certain—Israeli intelligence did not know the severity of the smuggling situation before the war.

Therefore, there is every reason to think that those who did not read the picture correctly before the war, are also mistaken about it now. Contrary to the ruminations of the political and intelligence leadership that “nothing, or at most very little, currently comes in from Philadelphi,”—it should be assumed that smuggling continues even these days.

Local news channels in Gaza reported this week that the Director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate Abbas Kamel spoke directly with Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar on a secure line, which passed through a tunnel from the Egyptian town of Rafah to the Gazan side of Rafah.

If the tunnel landline is active, there is reason to suspect that other components in the tunnel are also active. After the Oct. 7 massacre, one can no longer keep one’s eyes shut. 

Instead of absolute control over the route, as existed until the Israeli pullout in 2005, the decision-makers must consider creative solutions. Putting the issue in Egyptian hands has resulted in our fighters having to deal with major military infrastructures and a plethora of arms. 

It is true that the Egyptians have cleared the area on their side, which is supposed to be the guarantee that tunnel traffic would stop. And yet, we also heard those explanations in the past, and the outcome is known.

A diplomatic official told Israel Hayom, “If we are not there, smuggling will resume. The Philadelphi Route requires special attention because it is a point that could become a vortex for smuggling activities.”

Israel is preparing to transition to stage 3 of fighting in Gaza, according to the military plans presented to the War Cabinet at the start of this campaign. According to estimates, in January the IDF will put more emphasis on local raids and targeted killings, rather than the large-scale operations undertaken in the Strip so far. 

The third part of the plan will be implemented after the IDF dismantles the main Hamas force in the Strip. Then the IDF will need to act in a focused manner against remaining guerilla activities in the area. There will be areas in southern Gaza that will still feature a heavy IDF presence, but the intention is to reduce forces and withdraw from some of the zones where the mopping up has been completed. 

This stage will last around six months, after which the significant fourth stage of reshaping the civilian sphere in the Strip will commence. Those plans for the “day after” have not yet passed into the practical levels, but there is overt and covert American pressure to involve the Palestinian Authority in that civilian government.

As was first reported in Israel Hayom, the plan is to let officials affiliated with the P.A. take the reins, but this will not create a formal unified government of the P.A. in Judea and Samaria and Gaza as desired by the American administration.

Meanwhile, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer traveled to Washington to examine whether there is a delay in shipments of U.S. weapons to Israel. In recent days the defense establishment has noticed a slowing of the American deliveries of arms requests to Israel, but it is unclear what the reasons for the delay may be. 

One possibility is that these are technical delays. Another more disturbing reason could be that there is political intent to slow down the pace in order to influence Israeli policy.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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