The Egyptian military has demolished hundreds of smuggling tunnels from Hamas-controlled Gaza to the Sinai Peninsula and is preparing for an all-out onslaught against Hamas, Al Qaeda and other terrorists in the Sinai, Egyptian media reported Sunday.
The Egyptian offensive is a political and military shock to Hamas, with reverberations in Ramallah and Washington, on the eve of yet another attempt by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to re-ignite the “peace process.”
“The reduction in smuggling will make it difficult for Hamas to maintain the level of its revenues, and therefore it will be hard pressed to contain the protests against its rule,” according to the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS). “It will also be difficult to infiltrate weapons into Gaza, mainly enhanced rockets and surface-to-surface missiles.”
The Egyptian Aswat Masriya media outlet reported that 805 tunnels along the smuggling route, centered in the border city of Rafiah, were destroyed. It said that most of the tunnels have been used to smuggle fuel into Gaza.
The Egyptian army will also close the Rafiah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip “indefinitely,” an official source told Egyptian newspaper al-Masry al-Youm. It closed the Rafiah crossing and placed a severe siege on Hamas on Friday but without a peep from the international community, which still condemns Israel for the maritime embargo that is aimed at preventing the import of terrorists and weapons from the sea.
Terrorists in Rafiah targeted a military checkpoint Saturday, but no casualties were reported, and Egypt opened the Rafiah border crossing for four hours Saturday to allow humanitarian cases to cross the border.
The tunnels have been a key route for terrorists to travel freely back and forth to the Sinai Peninsula and establish terrorist outposts aimed at staking out bases for attack on Egyptian tourist areas, such as El Arish, as well as urban areas.
The army killed at least five terrorists on Friday, but Egyptian media reported a larger-scale offensive is in the works after an attempted assassination of Second Field Army commander Maj. Gen. Ahmed Wasfy on Wednesday. Egypt is using heavy arms and warplanes, maneuvers that are prohibited under the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty of 1979 without Israel’s approval.
With the unstable and radical anti-Israel Muslim Brotherhood out of power, thanks to the military “impeachment” or coup – take your pick – Israel is not blocking any offense,
“Security sources confirmed that Israel does not mind that the Egyptian forces use heavy artillery and warplanes during the operation which is expected to start very soon” military sources confirmed to the official television on Saturday.
Official added, “The army had decided to cleanse the Sinai of armed gangs and terrorists “The operation will continue until it reaches its objectives, which are not only military but also aim to develop the Sinai.”
The Egyptian Air Force on Saturday sent in two Apache helicopters to gun down jihadists after it received intelligence information that they were hiding in olive groves and preparing to attack military checkpoints.
On Friday, an Egyptian helicopter was seen in the skies over Gaza for the first time since the Six-Day War in 1967.
The Hamas terrorist organization is an offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood and therefore is a natural enemy of the military that ousted Mohammed Morsi two weeks ago. Hamas has denied Egyptian military claims that its soldiers jailed 32 Hamas terrorists and arrested dozens others in the Sinai Peninsula last week.
Hamas figuratively shot itself in the head last August when it mounted a severe attack on the Egyptian army, killing 16 soldiers near Rafiah in a multi-pronged attack that was intended to continue into Israel but was foiled at the last minute by the IDF.
Ever since, Hamas has been an undeclared enemy of Egypt, and even the Morsi regime was suspicious of it.
The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority also is benefiting from Hamas’ miseries but is suppressing its joy because Hamas has widespread support among Arabs in Judea and Samaria who are fed up with chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Any moves by the Secretary of State Kerry to win some kind of a forum between Israeli and Palestinian Authority are a useless exercise without the inclusion of Gaza.
Another fallout of the offensive against Hamas might be negative for Israel in the near-term.
“The motivation of Hamas and jihadi elements from Sinai to launch attacks against Israel is increasing,” INSS thinks.
Hamas is suffering from a fallout with the Syrian regime and Iran. Under the presumption that Israel and Egypt are sharing intelligence information on an unprecedented level, the greatest gift to the world as a result of the ouster of Morsi could be Egypt’s guns aimed at Hamas and other terrorists in the Sinai.
About the Author: Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu is a graduate in journalism and economics from The George Washington University. He has worked as a cub reporter in rural Virginia and as senior copy editor for major Canadian metropolitan dailies. Tzvi wrote for Arutz Sheva for several years before joining the Jewish Press.