Thursday, September 06, 2012

Decent report on Rafah tunnels in Al Ahram

Al Ahram (Egypt) has a wide-ranging article about the tunnels on the Egypt-Gaza border that has some interesting tidbits:

"Bedouins have secret escape routes via the tunnels, which are built to strategically avoid checkpoints," suggested Arish resident Mohamed Sabry.

"There are around 1,200 tunnels in which all types of illegal activities occur. Government officials from all sides are involved: Israeli, Egyptian and Palestinian," asserted Political sociologist Said Sadek.

"The tunnels, of which around 300 are functioning, have enabled Bedouin and government officials on all sides to accrue fortunes. Many own an abundance of luxury items," Ahmed Abu Deraa, a local Bedouin journalist from Sheikh Zuweid, told Ahram Online.

His statement was visibly confirmed by the luxury cars and villas displayed in the north Sinai towns and in the distant Gaza landscape.

Sinai expert Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, who has visited the tunnels, describes how Bedouins often form an alliance, collecting funds to build tunnels that can cost around $100,000 each. Such expenses are soon returned, according to Fahmy, given the high returns on smuggling various materials.

"Bedouin sources suggest human trafficking is worth around $50 per person; olives cost about $100 per carton. Animals, such as a tiger or small elephant for the Gaza zoo, cost as much as $20,000," he stated, while acknowledging that the Bedouins he liaised with refuse to permit hostages or suicide bombers through the tunnels. Nonetheless, sending marijuana to Israel, which sells at double the price, is common practice.

"Tunnel owners told me Hamas gets $1,000 tax on each car that goes through the tunnels. The buyer pays me $5,000 a car, or around $8,000 for a big truck, as tunnel rent money, in addition to the car's price," claimed Fahmy.

Arms are one of the most lucrative commodities traded in the clandestine desert veins, associated with events such as the Palestinian intifada in 2000.

The deadly trade was subsequently revived following the Arab uprisings. Sheikh Zuweid is known as a hub for exporting weapons to Gaza, and Al-Hasna and Nakhl are markets for local weapons, where tribes buy and compete.

Many Sinai locals blame Mubarak-era security forces for introducing tribes to the lucrative arms trade, which has led to dwindling security.

"They were the first to introduce the Bedouins to arms trafficking," stressed young activist Islam Qwedar, who, alongside Mohamed Ibrahim Hamad, the son of a tribal leader in Bir Al-Abd. He underlines their preoccupation with the recent influx of weapons from Libya and the resultant effects on national and regional security.

Experts maintain missiles being traded in Sinai's tunnels and subsequently hoarded are more advanced than SAM, Fateh and Grad missiles, which can be used for large-scale operations. In response, Israel's Begin-Sadat Centre drafted a plan for the partial reoccupation of the border zone and intervention in Sinai, which has been ruled out – for the time being – by the right-wing Netanyahu government.

...Observers suggest the tunnels vary in size and quality, often ranging between 100 metres in length to a few kilometres. Some, termed "five star tunnels," allow travellers to travel by car.

"I can organise a trip for you to Gaza by car in the finest tunnel; you will be there within minutes," said El-Nahal, describing superior tunnels as "well lit and ventilated" with some even permitting mobile phone use.
Read the whole thing.