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Friday, May 07, 2010

Egypt's steel wall folly

From the BBC (and I saw these claims in the PalArab press earlier this week):
"Every problem has a solution. The Egyptian steel barrier was a problem but we found a solution," says Mohammed, a grimy-faced Gazan tunnel digger who didn't want to give his real name.

Mohammed, covered in dust and dirt, is in the process of digging a 750m (2,460ft) smuggling tunnel from Gaza into Egypt. He says he's been digging it for 18 months.

As he hauls up a plastic container of sand with an electric winch from the metre-wide tunnel shaft, he says the new underground Egyptian barrier aimed at stopping smuggling is a "joke."

"We just cut through it using high-powered oxygen fuelled blow torches," he says.

According to Egypt it is made of bomb-proof, super-strength steel and is costing millions of dollars to build.

Mohammed smiles when he hears this.

"We pay around a $1,000 (£665) for a man with an oxygen-fuelled cutter to come and break through it. It takes up to three weeks to cut through but we get there in the end," he says.

Mohammed says the steel barrier is 5-10cm (2-4in) thick.

The BBC spoke to one man in Gaza employed to cut through the barrier. He said he could cut a metre-square hole through it in less than a day.

This news will be embarrassing for Egypt's government.

Encouraged by the United States which gives millions of dollars in military aid to Egypt every year, it says it is trying to crack down on smuggling into Gaza.

The BBC asked the Egyptian government to comment on the fact that Gazans were already cutting through the barrier. The government has not yet responded.
This is very believable.

Safes in the US are rated as to how secure they are. Underwriters Laboratories certifies safes with different degrees of security.

For example, a TL-30 safe has been tested that it would take 30 minutes to break in with tools such as diamond grinding wheels, high-speed drills with pressure applying devices, or common hand tools such as hammers, chisels, saws, and carbide-tip drills. A TRTL-30 rating adds a torch to the tools.

That's it - 30 minutes to break into the best commercial safes.

The reason that safes are secure is because during those 30 minutes, alarms could go off, cameras could find the burglars, a security guard could notice them, or any number of other defenses could be activated. But to get through the steel is only a matter of patience, time and tools. A steel barrier doesn't keep the bad guys out - it only slows them down.

If Egypt really spent millions on this barrier, they should have added sensors to determine when and where the wall is being breached. Otherwise they only bought a little time and in a few months things will be back to normal in Rafah.