For the fourth consecutive week, Egyptian security forces said they had seized a quantity of explosives from a man planning to smuggle them into the Gaza Strip in a tunnel dug under the border.
The explosives were found in a car in the Egyptian part of the town of Rafah straddling the Egypt-Gaza border, a security source said, without specifying the size of the find.
In the past month, Egyptian security forces have arrested at least seven alleged weapons smugglers.
The increase in the number of security raids along the Egypt-Gaza border comes amidst speculation that Israel was preparing to launch an extensive military and aerial strike against suspected tunnels in the region.
In late October, there were disputed announcements by officials that security on the Egyptian side of the border had been significantly beefed up with the deployment of some 5,000 police personnel.
Meanwhile, Hassan Abu Taleb, head of the international unit at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told The Daily Star Egypt that “Egypt has the right to send the 5,000-strong police force to protect its side of the border, and this is in accordance with the [Camp David] peace treaty.
When asked whether this could lead to tension on the border, he responded, “It is true that there is tension on the border, but it is not tension between Egypt vis-à-vis Israel or vice-versa. Egypt recognizes the tunnel problems because it affects Egypt as well as Israel.
Abu Taleb also said that Israel is making a grave mistake in considering military operations in Gaza because operations have proven to end in failure, as seen by the recent war in Lebanon.
“It is only through diplomatic means that this matter can be resolved, he said.
At a session of the Israeli Political-Security cabinet last month, officials pledged to increase cooperation with Egypt in order to reduce the smuggling of war materiel, according to a statement issued by Israel s Foreign Ministry and given to The Daily Star Egypt.
The cabinet also pledged to step up their efforts against Hamas in order to foil their efforts to strengthen themselves, prevent terrorist acts from the Gaza Strip, and halt the firing of missiles and mortars into Israeli territory, the statement said.
However, Israeli officials moved yesterday to quell concerns in Egypt.
Nothing is going to be too dramatic – we re going to do military operations in Gaza to make it more difficult to smuggle weapons, Amira Oron, a spokeswoman with the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said earlier.
She added that the Israeli government wasn t going to alter any existing agreements with Egypt, but she said Israel would like to see better results in terms of Egypt s role in stopping the smuggling of illicit weapons into the Gaza strip.
Oron said Israeli intelligence probes have discovered that heavier and increasingly dangerous weaponry has been entering Gaza, including anti-aircraft armaments which could change the equilibrium in the region.
The situation is getting worse, she told The Daily Star Egypt.
Dr. Abdel-Aleem Mohammed, head of Israeli studies at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies told The Daily Star Egypt that there is no clarity or transparency from the Egyptian side concerning the border issue.
“Sometimes words replace actions and this is a sign of the regression of Egypt s role in the region, whether towards Israel or the Arab world, he added.
The various media reports and denials from both the Israeli and Egyptian governments seem to contradict one another and may simply be acts of posturing and saber-rattling, experts say.
This situation does not have any of the signs that indicate it will reflect any danger.
Israel can speak all it wants, but they realize that if they do something there might be an Egyptian military response. That s why it s doubtful that anything will happen without Egyptian consultation and approval, Saeed said.
On Thursday, Egypt condemned an Israeli artillery strike on Beit Hanoun, which killed 19 civilians, all members of an extended family.
Seven children were among those killed.
There have been demonstrations throughout the Arab world condemning the strike and a US Security Council veto critical of Israel.