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Israel Taking Major Steps to Battle Hamas’ Attempts to Smuggle Weaponry

Palestinian boats parked in the fishermen's port in Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip
Palestinian boats parked in the fishermen's port in Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip / AP
• December 22, 2015 2:22 pm

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JERUSALEM—While Israeli gunboats patrol offshore to prevent rockets and other war-making materials from reaching the Gaza Strip, the major effort is being undertaken by customs and tax officials and intelligence units battling ingenious efforts by Hamas to use the daily delivery from Israel of commercial products to smuggle in weaponry in innocent guise.

In the past year, 20 tons of iron oxide, in cans with labels such as "paint powder", have been seized by Israeli authorities at the Kerem Shalom crossing, the sole crossing point for trucks into the Gaza Strip from Israel. This, say Israeli authorities, is enough for use in more than 20,000 rockets.

In the past, Hamas had little trouble smuggling in whatever it needed through tunnels from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, which abuts southern Gaza. The current Egyptian government, however, is attempting to cut off direct contacts between the Islamist regime in Gaza and jihadists in Sinai who have been battling the Cairo regime. For close to a year, the Egyptians have been bombing or flooding the extensive tunnel system from Sinai, severely curbing smuggling.

This has left Israel the sole route through which contraband material can be smuggled into Gaza in quantities to feed Hamas’ sophisticated arms-making workshops. For this effort, the Hamas military wing has organized its own brain trust, consisting of technicians and businessmen, who are permitted to bring in goods from Israel itself or from Israeli ports in hundreds of trucks every day through a single crossing at Kerem Shalom.

The Israeli counter-smuggling efforts have been led since the end of last year by the Shin Bet security service and it includes representatives from customs and other civilian agencies. A warehouse has been set up to store confiscated materials, including bullet-proof vests, boots, scuba diving equipment for frogmen, welding equipment, advanced cameras and generators. Much of the material is intended for use in rebuilding Hamas’ extensive tunnel system, which was severely damaged in last year’s war in the Gaza Strip, which lasted nearly two months.

The Shin Bet has thus far arrested 35 suspects on the Israeli side of the border, including West Bank Palestinians and Israelis—both Arabs and Jews. One Israeli Jew was charged with selling Hamas agents equipment that could be used in digging tunnels and manufacturing rockets. Confiscations are made either on the basis of searches at the crossing point or intelligence information.

Inspectors at the crossing noticed that a generator ordered from Gaza had an unusually large gas tank. Dismantling it, they discovered a small dismantled tractor intended for use in digging tunnels. It had no motor but that was found disguised as a small generator. A thinner ordered from a West Bank firm was discovered to be a liquid used in the production of rocket fuel. The firm was shut down but opened shortly afterwards in a different part of the West Bank. Dismantled drones, intended to take surveillance photos inside Israel, were found hidden inside air conditioners. One vigilant inspector was struck by the odd appearance of a block of marble. He was able to pry it open and found welding equipment.

Every truck arriving at the crossing must unload its merchandise and every item is carefully examined before being reloaded onto trucks from Gaza. New X-ray machines have been installed and the number of inspectors increased since the beginning of the year by 40 percent.

Despite all these precautions, Israeli officials presume that some contraband gets through. Nevertheless, Hamas’ war-making ability has been considerably constricted, they say, without a shot being fired.

Published under: Israel