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Peace With Egypt Getting Colder

The IDF continues its offensive in southern Gaza to uncover and destroy Arab-built tunnels used to smuggle arms and contraband from Egypt.
First Publish: 10/17/2003, 3:57 PM

The IDF continues its offensive in southern Gaza to uncover and destroy Arab-built tunnels used to smuggle arms and contraband from Egypt. Just a bit further north, however, the army is taking another approach: it has once again removed the three checkpoints that prevent local Arabs from moving the smuggled weapons and terrorists within Gaza. The checkpoints were in operation for eleven days.

Egypt, for its part, says that the arms smuggling doesn't even exist. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, quoted yesterday in the PA's Jerusalem Times, said, "Israeli accusations are old and silly. They know it is not true."

The Egyptian denials fly in the face of facts. Arutz-7's Haggai Huberman and HaTzofeh's Danny Shalom recently reported that so far this year, large quantities of many different types of weapons have been smuggled from Egypt into Gaza via the tunnels, including dozens of RPG launchers, hundreds of kilograms of explosive material, hundreds of rifles, tens of thousands of bullets, and thousands of magazines. Of late, attempts are being made to smuggle in anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles as well. The IDF has uncovered and destroyed 36 tunnels this year, and estimates that approximately another ten are still operative.

Huberman and Shalom further reported that each Arab family in Rafiach whose home serves as an end-point for a tunnel receives $1,000 a month. In addition, the Palestinian Authority rebuilds whichever homes the IDF destroys, and throws in generous compensation for good measure.

The tunnels are not the only gripe Israel has against Egypt. Israel is also trying to prevent the United States from selling progressive weapons systems to Egypt, Army Radio reported yesterday. At issue are satellite-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) bombs, which can accurately hit their target even in adverse weather conditions, as well as missiles and Apache helicopters.

Foreign Ministry officials tried to downplay the dangers, saying that public warnings of an "arms race" with Egypt could damage Israel-Egypt relations. Political analyst Dr. Aaron Lerner of IMRA noted that the Foreign Ministry is keeping a similarly low profile regarding the Egyptian refusal to close or even acknowledge the arms-smuggling tunnels.

In connection with Egypt's military build-up, Egyptian officials have also announced the expansion of their navy, which began over the past year and has included nearly a dozen new units. They said the navy has obtained a series of U.S.- and German-origin platforms and missiles that have been introduced into service. According to Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Yuval Shteinitz (Likud), "I think we have good reason to be worried [about] Egypt's wild military build-up."