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Egyptian tunnels to heaven

By Ariel Natan Pasko
web posted October 20, 2003

For some time now, I've been watching with astonishment the occasional cat and mouse game of "find the arms smuggling tunnel" in Gaza. I'm not astonished that the Israelis keep finding them. I'm not astonished either, that the Palestinians keep digging them. And, I'm certainly not astonished that the Palestinian Authority doesn't try to stop them. They probably have gotten their best weaponry via the tunnels. What astonishes me is that with all the media coverage about arms smuggling, drug smuggling, and prostitute smuggling from Egypt; the Israeli government and media have yet to place the blame squarely where it belongs. On Egypt!

In this image made available from the Israeli Defense Forces' Spokesman office, Israeli soldiers inspect the entrance of what the army says it is a tunnel used by Palestinians to smuggle weapons, in Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on October 11
In this image made available from the Israeli Defense Forces' Spokesman office, Israeli soldiers inspect the entrance of what the army says it is a tunnel used by Palestinians to smuggle weapons, in Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on October 11

So, recently Israel went on another search and destroy mission in Rafiach/Rafah, code named "Operation Root Canal". After a few of days of house-to-house searches, they destroyed three large tunnels, then pulled out their troops and went home. The Israeli Army believes that there are at least another 10 tunnels operating in the area. These tunnels are 12-14 meters deep (more than 35 feet) and in some cases hundreds of meters (yards) long.

Senior Israel Defense Force officials said they would continue to operate against the tunnels, until the PA makes a strategic decision and does so itself. Government spokesman Dore Gold said Israel was forced to go after the terrorist groups and their infrastructure because the Palestinian leadership had not done so. "In uncovering the vast network of arms smuggling tunnels in the area of Rafah, Israel is compelled again to do the work that the Palestinian Authority is supposed to do," Gold said.

Israeli military officials, said Israel had intelligence warnings that Palestinians were planning to use the tunnels to smuggle in anti-aircraft missiles, weapons that could have a strategic impact on the three-year conflict. They said Palestinians were trying to get shoulder-held Stinger missiles that could shoot down attack helicopters Israel often uses in Gaza, and could also threaten Israel Air Force planes or civilian aircraft flying close to the coastal strip. They also said, the Palestinians were trying to smuggle in Katyusha rockets, which would have the range to hit Israeli cities near Gaza. The officials said Egypt was not taking steps to stop the smuggling. So far this year, the military said it has destroyed 33 smuggling tunnels in the area.

IDF officers reported that the significant resistance they encountered on the Palestinian side surprised them; the Arabs used automatic weapons, grenades, anti-tank rockets, and bombs. Sure the fighting was stiff. First, weapons smuggling is the lifeline of the Palestinian "armed struggle". Without an influx of more and better weapons, how can they aspire to "conquer" Israel, or at least drive out the "occupation" - i.e. carry out more terrorism. Now read that first sentence again, "...the Arabs used automatic weapons, grenades, anti-tank rockets, and bombs." Second, they are using - and will continue to use - stronger, better, more sophisticated weaponry, until the smuggling is stopped.

Should that astonish anybody?

About grenades for example, in an interview of April 27, 1982 with Israeli Army Radio, then Prime Minister Menachem Begin, spoke of such serious violations - of the Peace Agreement - by the Egyptians, that he had threatened to postpone the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai. The violations included, "the smuggling of weapons and explosives originating in Lebanon from El-Arish, and we caught more than 500 hand grenades. You can imagine how many people could have been killed or wounded by such a quantity of grenades," Begin said. "We also demanded of the Egyptians that they end this smuggling, and indeed, President Mubarak, in his letter to me of April 16, made a commitment to prevent the smuggling and combat it," Begin promised. So, Egypt is on record "to prevent the smuggling" of weaponry from its territory into Gaza.

But Israel has never made a serious effort to "enforce" the Peace Agreement commitment by Egypt, to stop the smuggling. Or for that matter any other commitment by Egypt.

Violations of the treaty abound, for example, Egyptian troop movements into demilitarized areas. Egypt has put a division into Sinai, which is really a skeleton of four divisions that could be inflated quickly if they decided to attack. Or, bridgeheads constructed on the east bank of the canal, for quick entry into Sinai. All of Egypt's military planning and exercises have presumed a war to their east. Who else if not with Israel? Israeli military intelligence has noted an increasingly aggressive military posture in the last 4-5 years and has voiced, "quiet concern". Why be quiet about it?

Weapons smuggled into Gaza - as already noted - through tunnels that begin near Egyptian military positions in Sinai, end up in the hands of Palestinian terrorists. It has reached epidemic proportions. When Israeli Defenses Forces blew up tunnels in a past effort not long ago, they saw the smoke rise at the other end, next to the Egyptian positions.

The withdrawal of the Egyptian Ambassador from Israel just after the outbreak of the current Oslo War is also a clear violation of the treaty. As is the ongoing calls for professional and economic boycotts of contacts with Israelis.

Finally, there is continuing Anti-Semitism and incitement against Israel in Egyptian textbooks and in the Egyptian media. For example, a recent hit song played on the radio, entitled, "I Hate Israel", political cartoons in newspapers reminiscent of the Nazi era, and a recent TV series based on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. There seems to be no effort on the part of the Egyptian government to educate its people toward peace, or ban incitement to hatred against Jews and Israel.

Yet, according to the Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt of March 26, 1979:

Article III 2. Each Party undertakes to ensure that acts or threats of belligerency, hostility, or violence do not originate from and are not committed from within its territory, or by any forces subject to its control or by any other forces stationed on its territory, against the population, citizens or property of the other Party. Each Party also undertakes to refrain from organizing, instigating, inciting, assisting or participating in acts or threats of belligerency, hostility, subversion or violence against the other Party, anywhere, and undertakes to ensure that perpetrators of such acts are brought to justice.

Egypt generally hides behind the mask of "free speech" or "academic freedom" when Anti-Semitic and inciteful behavior is addressed. But just as Israel has laws against racial incitement against Arabs, Egypt is treaty bound to legislate and enforce laws against hostile activities and incitement against Jews and Israel. One can measure how "successful" the Peace Treaty with Egypt has been over the last 25 years, by the lack of this enforcement on the part of the Egyptian government.

But more importantly, the Egyptian government is directly responsible for the military violations of the treaty, and their turning of a "blind eye" on arms smuggling from the Sinai - now their soverign territory - into Gaza. Is that "woeful ignorance", "passive acceptance", or "deliberate assistance", on Egypt's part, in this arms smuggling adventure?

In a recent expose, entitled "The case against Jordan" Alan Dershowitz reminds us that "Jordan has a law on its books explicitly prohibiting any Jew from becoming a citizen, or any Jordanian from selling land to a Jew. It has refused to amend this law despite repeated demands." That, "Jordan has perfected the art of torture and uses it routinely against dissidents, suspected terrorists and perceived opponents of the monarchy." And that, "Jordan killed more Palestinians in one month, September 1970, known as Black September than Israel has killed during the three years of suicide bombings that began in the fall of 2000. The brutality of the Jordanian Army toward Palestinian dissidents and terrorists was far more egregious than anything Israel has ever done." And Dershowitz reminds us of much more.

Yet by contrast - and I'm no fan of Jordan - at the same time that Israel is fighting arms smuggling from Egypt, without any help from their side; the Jordanian Information Minister, Nabil Sharif, announced that the Jordanian Army killed two armed men and injured two others as they attempted to infiltrate into Israel. He said that Jordanian security forces searched the area and discovered machine guns and ammunition, Israel Radio reported. There is much lacking in the Peace Treaty with Jordan, for example, the level of incitement against Israel by Jordanian professional associations, but at least they are taking "real combat" seriously. What about Egypt?

Israel needs to publicly and loudly protest Egypt's treaty violations in the UN, to the Americans and Europeans, and in the courtroom of international public opinion. Ditto with Jordan. But with Egypt, unlike Jordan, Israel also has to take specific actions to stop the arms smuggling into Gaza, "quiet concern" isn't good enough.

Since the Egyptian and Jordanian "Peace Treaties" are held up as models for future agreements with the Palestinians, Syrians, and others in the Arab world; Israel needs to be honest about how "successful" they've been, and how to prevent future failures as well. Israeli leaders have perfected the questionable art of "serial ignoring". Ignoring the treaty violations of the Egyptians; ignoring the treaty violations of the Jordanians; and yes - that's what got us into this recent mess - ignoring the agreement violations of Arafat and the Palestinian Authority.

It's about time Israel either insist on complete adherence to agreements, or not bother signing or upholding them, itself. There is a military solution, if "peace treaties" don't work. Let's not be astonished anymore. Rather than "Operation Root Canal", Israel should just pull the tooth!

Ariel Natan Pasko is an independent analyst & consultant. He has a Master's Degree in International Relations & Policy Analysis. His articles appear regularly on numerous news/views and think-tank websites, in newspapers, and can be read at: www.geocities.com/ariel_natan_pasko (c) 2003/5764 Pasko

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