Egyptian security forces in Sinai, on heightened alert since October, have discovered a tunnel underneath a kitchen reportedly used by smugglers in Rafah, along the border with Gaza.
The find came after security forces found a half ton of weapons caches in the area, the seventh such find in as many weeks.
In late October, Israeli forces held off launching a major operation to seek and destroy tunnels used for arms and drugs smuggling along the Philadelphi Corridor, an 11 km stretch that is only 100 meters wide.
But according to former Ambassador to Israel Mohammed Bassiouny, Egypt is also concerned about arms making their way back into Sinai, which has seen bombing attacks at tourist hotspots in the past two years killing more than 100 people.
The tunnels can be used both ways, he said, We don’t want weapons, drugs or people being smuggled into Egypt. [Therefore] we are opposed to the tunnels and we destroy them.
Bassiouny earlier told The Daily Star Egypt that Israel “might be forced to re-engage in the area if it believed Hamas was still effectively using the tunnels to smuggle weapons into Gaza.
Dr Mohammed Kadry Saeed, military expert at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, earlier said that reports of Egyptian police being moved into the area were part of efforts by the government to secure the region and prevent further acts of violence in the Sinai Peninsula.
“The current Egyptian redeployment is an effort to secure the tunnels . and prove to Israel that the smuggling going on in the border tunnels is not occurring with its tacit approval, Saeed told The Daily Star Egypt last week.
In November, Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s minister for strategic threats said Israel’s security depends in part on “taking back control of the Gaza-Egypt border to stop weapons smuggling.
Lieberman, considered a hardliner among Israeli politicians, said Egypt had not been doing enough to prevent arms smuggling to Palestinian factions, reportedly through a series of tunnels.
Last week, the Israeli government issued a warning to its citizens vacationing in Sinai that they could be targeted by a Palestinian armed group, but an Egyptian security adviser disputed the authenticity of security tip which promoted the Jewish State’s alert.
Israeli media had said in early December that four Palestinians had illegally crossed the Gaza-Egyptian border in Northern Sinai.
Former Deputy of Egyptian State Security General Foad Allam disputed the authenticity of the tip and told The Daily Star Egypt that it probably originated from Israel.
“No Egyptian security official would declare this beforehand, simply because it would alert any terrorists that we are on the lookout for them which would make things more difficult, Allam said.
Allam believes that this is part of a concerted Israeli effort to create the impression that Egypt is unstable. “Israel has been doing this for two years now, using the media and releasing statements to this effect, Allam said, “they want to make Egypt look unsafe and create a negative impression of the security of the country, especially to the US.
Allam added that another reason for this whole Israeli-led media campaign was to pit Egyptian security services against Palestinians. He told The Daily Star Egypt “[Israelis] are trying to induce a high level of alertness in Egyptian security services against the Palestinians for their own ends.
The Israeli government, meanwhile, says that the advisories are simply a reminder – and not considered a new warning – for travelers heading into Sinai.
This is a very old warning, says Amira Rona, a spokeswoman with the Israeli Foreign Ministry, who notes that the Israeli government has issued similar travel advisories regarding travel to Sinai for the past few years.
We know that Sinai isn t a very safe place for Israelis, she says.
Rona adds that the reminder was issued after Israeli papers ran the story that Palestinian fugitives were on the loose in Sinai.
She also denied the assertion that the warning was issued as a means of stirring up trouble with Egypt. Every government is responsible for its citizens [and] in Sinai, there is a problem. Even the Egyptians are tackling this problem and are struggling to catch people from Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups who are trying to harm international terrorism.
She adds that though many Israeli s flock to Sinai as a vacation retreat, they should do so with caution.
They take a risk. We all remember what happened in Taba.