Palestinians looking to enlarge tunnel system

DEBKAfiles:

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This ambition is confirmed in one of particular documents revealed here by DEBKAfile’s exclusive military sources. It displays the avid study by Palestinian planners of the huge tunnels the North Koreans built in the 1970s under the fortified line dividing the two Koreas. This interest makes the current Israeli drive into Rafah all the more urgent and the problems still ahead daunting...

Israeli forces have found documents revealing how far the Palestinians have gone in upgrading the offensive weapons “imported” with the help of Iran and the Hizballah. Waiting in Sinai for an available tunnel are shipments of Katyusha rockets, anti-tank weapons and Sagger missiles, as well as rocket-propelled grenades and shoulder-launched Strela anti-aircraft missiles. These and other documents have provided clear testimony that Palestinian military planner are thinking of the Rafah tunnels in strategic terms as a vehicle for altering the balance of military strength. At present, the IDF has the upper hand in all parts of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The notion of big tunnels has planted the conviction in Palestinian minds that they are capable of tipping the scales in their favor.

According to one detailed document, which Israeli commanders suspect may have been left behind to instill fear and demoralize the troops, Palestinian policy-makers ask: why expend man hours and funds on small tunnels? Instead, think big and go for the invasion tunnels the North Koreans built in the seventies and eighties for the purpose of nullifying the defensive value of the heavily fortified frontier running through the demilitarized zone dividing the Koreas.

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The question is why is Egypt, which has gained so much from peaceful relations with Israel, passive in the face of Palestinian bounds-breaking? Why have Egyptian security police not raised a finger to halt the building of tunnels from northern Sinai and their use by criminal-terrorist gangs as key smuggling routes around the Middle East of weapons, cash, fighters and people? The answer very simply is that northern Sinai is out of Cairo’s control. Local commanders and members of Egypt’s security forces have been sucked into the Palestinian smuggling networks. So why have they not recalled, put before courts martial and replaced?

Firstly, because local Egyptian commanders have bribed very high placed officers and officials at headquarters and, second, because President Hosni Mubarak and his senior advisers have decided that it is in Egypt’s national interest to bring about the renegotiation of the clause in the peace agreement with Israel that bars the entry of Egyptian military forces in the border regions of northern Sinai. Cairo is counting on the upsurge of arms smuggling and the expansion of Palestinian tunnel system to persuade Israel to accept the deployment of large Egyptian forces for stopping this traffic and blocking the tunnels. Once there, Egyptian military units will stay. Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has indicated he is open to renegotiating the relevant clause of the Egyptian-Israel peace treaty.

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