Egypt began this week flooding smuggling tunnels along their border with the Gaza Strip with water from the Mediterranean Sea — a move being condemned by Hamas and other Palestinian factions as a «disturbing nightmare.»
The Egyptian army’s move is another sign of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s determination to destroy the tunnels that were used to smuggle weapons, people and merchandise from Sinai to the Gaza Strip and the other way around.
This act is also a sign of Sisi’s resolve to pursue his military campaign against Islamist terror groups that are waging war against the Egyptian authorities in Sinai. The Egyptians are convinced that Hamas and other Palestinian groups have been providing aid to the terror groups in Sinai.
Since the beginning of the year, dozens of Egyptian soldiers and police officers have been killed in a spate of terror attacks launched by Islamist groups in Sinai.
Earlier this week, Egypt’s Interior Ministry announced that terrorists shot dead an Egyptian general in Sinai. In another similar shooting a few days earlier, a terror group killed General Khaled Kamel Osman.
The decision to pump water into the smuggling tunnels is seen as a severe blow not only to the terror groups in Sinai, but also to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian factions inside the Gaza Strip.
|Seawater covers parts of the ground where Egypt has been pumping water into smuggling tunnels along the border with Gaza. (Image source: Al Jazeera video screenshot)|
Judging from the reaction of the Palestinian groups, it is clear that they are in a state of hysteria as they see their tunnels collapsing one after the other.
In a statement published in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian groups, including Hamas, denounced the flooding of the tunnels as a «disturbing nightmare» for the Palestinians. The factions appealed to the Egyptian authorities to «stop this despicable crime against the Palestinian people and their environment.»
«The Palestinian people are surprised by the Egyptian move, which will tighten the blockade on the Gaza Strip, destroy vast areas of agricultural land and harm those living near the border (with Egypt),» the statement said.
Initially, Hamas leaders did not take the reports about flooding the tunnels seriously. Some Hamas leaders, in fact, first thought that these were rumors designed to scare them and other Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip.
But when Hamas leaders woke up on September 13 to discover that the Egyptians had begun pumping water into the smuggling tunnels, they could not believe what they were seeing.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri announced that his movement asked the Egyptians to stop flooding the tunnels with seawater. «We hope that the Egyptians will comply with our demand,» Abu Zuhri said. «This measure is completely unacceptable and poses a threat to many families living alongside the border.»
Sources in the Gaza Strip noted this week that the Egyptian move has thus far proven to be effective and successful. They said that since being flooded with water, several tunnels have collapsed.
It is worth noting that despite its outrage, Hamas has stopped short of issuing threats against Egypt in response to the flooding of the tunnels.
Hamas’s response would have been different had it been Israel that was flooding the tunnels with water. But Hamas knows very well that it would not be a good idea to mess with the Egyptian authorities and President Sisi.
During the past two years, the Egyptians have destroyed hundreds of smuggling tunnels along their border with the Gaza Strip. Nevertheless, Hamas did not dare launch one terror attack against Egypt.
Hamas is now pretending that it is concerned about the damage to the environment that is caused by the flooding of the smuggling tunnels. But the truth is that the environment of the Gaza Strip is the last thing that Hamas cares about.
Hamas did not think about damage to the environment or to agricultural fields when its men fired thousands of rockets at Israel in the past few years. In fact, Hamas used these fields, as well as populated areas, as launching pads for attacking Israel.
Hamas is interested only in one thing: preserving its rule in the Gaza Strip. The tunnels that are now being destroyed by the Egyptians were used by Hamas to smuggle all types of weapons into the Gaza Strip. Hamas warlords are also believed to have earned millions of dollars from the smuggling industry during the past few years.
Sisi’s war against the smuggling tunnels will undoubtedly weaken Hamas and other radical groups in the Gaza Strip. The Egyptian president should be commended, rather than criticized, for his courageous actions against Islamist terrorists, both in the Gaza Strip and in Sinai.
Sisi’s actions will benefit not only Egyptians, but also many Palestinians who are opposed to Hamas and radical Islamist groups. Israel also stands to benefit from Sisi’s war against Hamas. The destruction of the tunnels means fewer weapons used by Hamas to attack Israel.
However, Israel still has good reason to be worried about Hamas’s plans and intentions.
While Sisi is busy flooding the tunnels on the border with Egypt, Hamas continues to dig new ones on the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
It is no secret that Hamas has also managed to rebuild many of the terror tunnels that were used to infiltrate gunmen into Israel during last year’s military confrontation between the two sides. Hamas is planning to use these tunnels in the future, to dispatch its men to kill as many Israelis as possible.
The Israelis have thus far been monitoring the situation very closely and have refrained from attacking the tunnels. That is because Israel is keen on maintaining the unofficial truce with Hamas that was reached in the aftermath of last year’s war, known as Operation Protective Edge.
There is not much that Israel can do at this stage other than hope that Sisi will continue with his measures to undermine Hamas. Any attempt by Israel to flood a Hamas tunnel will most likely spark an international outcry and bring condemnations from the United Nations. In addition, such a move on the part of Israel is likely to trigger a violent response from Hamas — one that could lead to another war.
When the Egyptians destroy a Hamas tunnel, that is called «war on terrorism.» But when Israel destroys a tunnel, that is condemned as an «act of aggression.» This moral slithering is why it is important for the international community to stand behind Sisi’s relentless war on radical Islam. Without such backing, the Islamists will continue to pose a major threat not only to Israel, but to many Arabs and Muslims who oppose Hamas, Islamic State and Islamic Jihad.