Egypt’s destruction of Gaza’s tunnels

Gaza jihadists

By Nureddin Sabir
Editor, Redress Information & Analysis

There is no doubt that the situation in the Gaza Strip is desperate. On one side there is Israel’s land, sea and air siege, and on the other there is one tightly-controlled crossing into Egypt, open irregularly and for a very limited time a week, if at all.

One lifeline in this situation has been the illegal tunnels into Egypt, through which all types of goods, from small items to livestock, have been smuggled, relieving the pressure on the Palestinians of Gaza – and enriching countless smugglers.

However, this lifeline is now all but closed. As this urgent call from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign says,

The Egyptian army has destroyed over 350 tunnels between Gaza and Egypt since the coup in early July, and have dramatically restricted movement across the border. Given Israel controls Gaza by air, sea and land, Palestinians relied on the border with Egypt and the dangerous tunnels to provide a lifeline.

As a result, there has been a sharp drop in the amount of goods entering Gaza – including fuel, building materials and basic food products.

Prices are rocketing making essentials unaffordable for a population impoverished by the restrictions. Stocks of essential medicines have run out. The Water authority in Gaza has warned an environmental disaster is looming, due to the lack of fuel needed to operate its services.

Meanwhile, Israeli incursions, in violation of their agreements, continue.

The situation is desperate and urgent…

How did it come to this and who is responsible?

It is true that the army-backed interim government in Egypt is at odds with the country’s Muslim Brotherhood cult, the parent organization of the Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas, which rules Gaza. But the destruction of the tunnels between Egypt’s Sinai Desert and Gaza is not an extension of this domestic Egyptian crisis.

…Hamas, willingly or otherwise, has been letting jihadists in Gaza, such as the Islamic Jihad group, use the tunnels to smuggle arms and ammunition to the Sinai jihadists.

Rather, the problem is far more complex. As is known, for a while now Egypt has been facing a terror campaign by jihadists based in Sinai which has become more intense since the ouster of the Islamist President Muhammad Morsi in July.

What has prompted the destruction of the tunnels by the Egyptian armed forces is the fact that Hamas, willingly or otherwise, has been letting jihadists in Gaza, such as the Islamic Jihad group, use the tunnels to smuggle arms and ammunition to the Sinai jihadists. That’s the nub of the problem, and it is a problem that has escalated since the downfall of Morsi.

To be sure, there is no love lost between Hamas and the Gaza jihadists. However, the relationship is obscured by two complications.

First, there are elements within Hamas who are sympathetic to the jihadists. These elements – and the jihadists – are not in the least interested in Israel, Palestine or Palestinian rights. Their main concern is to set up an Islamic state, along the lines of what they imagine Islamic entities were like in the seventh century, on any territory, be it Gaza or Sinai. Israel for them is a long-term project, something to tackle in years, decades or even centuries, after the pan-Islamic caliphate which they seek is established.

The second complication is that Hamas is actually afraid of the jihadists. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence provided by Gazans to show that one of the favourite tactics of Islamists such as Islamic Jihad when Hamas won’t let them do what they want to do is to go north and fire a few garden-shed rockets into Israel so that Israel retaliates by clobbering Hamas. It is a tactic that has worked well for both the jihadists and Israel.

But ultimately it is the ordinary people of the Gaza Strip who suffer, first from Israeli aggression and now through the closure of the tunnels to Egypt.

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