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January 04, 2007

Tunnel vision in Gaza Strip

An expose' of arms smuggling via tunnels from Egypt into the Gaza Strip by Palestinian Arabs remains to be done. Associated Press reporter Sarah El Deeb has laid the foundation. In a dispatch datelined Rafah, Gaza Strip ("Gaza weapons smuggling flourishes," Dec. 17, 2006), El Deeb says that "when Israel withdrew [from the Strip in September, 2005], about 90 tunnels were operating. Now, there are at least 150, but the number is probably closer to 250, said one tunnel digger." This though Israel military incursions have resulted in discovery and destruction of dozens of tunnels.

AP describes as "largely unhindered" a tunnel-enabled arms race between the Palestinian Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) and Fatah (Movement for the Liberation of Palestine) factions. This even though "after Israel's pullout, Egyptian and Palestinian security forces were to have deployed to stop the smuggling."

According to Israeli sources, the article continues, "anti-tank missiles, tons of explosives and thousands of rifles have reached Gaza in the past year. Palestinian miltants said they have imported longer-range Katyusha rockets --- they fired one earlier this year --- plus the means to upgrade their homemade rockets to reach deeper into Israel."

Though the AP report terms smuggling through the tunnels "one of the biggest obstacles to any lasting Israeli-Palestinian truce," it lacks specificity. Hard facts on the quantity and quality of the weapons being brought in, their distribution among terrorist factions, and detailed analysis of the military and diplomatic implications of the build-up are still needed.

Fragmentary reports have circulated for at least half a year. In October, The Los Angeles Times cited Israeli officials as saying Hamas hoped to acquire weapons like those used by Hezbollah (Party of God) against Israeli troops in Lebanon last summer., the English-language Web site of Israel's largest daily, Yediot Aharonot, reported that Hamas had armed and trained a force of 7,500, based in part on "several dozen tunnels which were sophisticated, professionally quarried, and fully equpped with tracks and wheeled carts." As early as last June, The Jerusalem Post said "the amount of weapons and explosives smuggled into the Gaza Strip since disengagement was bigger than the total amount smuggled ... since the [1967] Six-Day War," and included 11 tons of explosives.

The American media outlet that really tunnels into this story ought to contend for the Pulitzer Prize in foreign news coverage.

Posted by ER at January 4, 2007 02:36 PM


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