Well hidden For a few years, I’ve identified the man who calls himself Payne by the black EMT pants he always wears and by his booming voice. When he calls, I hold the receiver six inches from my ear. Although I’d known his business was medical transport, we’d never talked about his other highly specialized work. Until last week.
“I’m a rescue diver. Usually when we’re called, we’re looking for bodies,” he told me. His tone was informative, not boastful. I was impressed; having dived a number of times, I knew how treacherous that work could be.
Because I wasn’t busy, and because he was waiting for his patient to call, we chatted about some of his most interesting assignments. One story concerned an unsolved mystery, a murder without a body. “We’re pretty sure we know who did it,” he said, then named all of the lakes and rivers his team of divers had searched. “I know the guy!” he seemed to yell.
But he wasn’t yelling; it was just his normal boom. I asked whether his dives had happy endings, whether he found something other than dead bodies. “Yes!” he said, emphatically, just as his phone rang. He walked outside as he answered it.
I returned to my computer, to research a volatile topic regarding Israel’s security, tunnels under the border between Gaza and Egypt. Thanks to Dr. Aaron Lerner [IMRA - Independent Media Review and Analysis Website: www.imra.org.il], I’d garnered articles from years of research he conducted on the topic. Especially relevant now that the Muslim Brotherhood controls Egypt, those tunnels provide unregulated transport of men, women, terrorists, and munitions into Gaza and from Gaza to hideouts in the Sinai. Of late, Egypt has claimed that it is punishing those who support that traffic (after 16 of its military were killed in the Sinai).
After reading reports provided by Dr. Lerner, I am more than dubious. One of the first provided details about tunnel construction. Written in 2003, it included an interview with a tunnel builder:
The Rafah Terror Tunnels: An Underground City of Weaponry
IDF Spokesperson 11 February 2003
The IDF frequently uncovers and destroys Palestinian tunnels constructed
underneath the "Philadelphi" route in the Rafah area of the Gaza Strip. The
tunnels are used to smuggle weapons, cigarettes, drugs, and people
(primarily prostitutes) from Egypt into Gaza.
The "Philadelphi" Route
The 1993 Oslo Accords granted significant territorial autonomy to the
Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip. Under the Oslo Accords, the IDF
retains control of a thin strip of land (100 meters in width), known as the
"Philadelphi" route, which divides the southern tip of the Gaza Strip city
of Rafah and the Egyptian Sinai peninsula.
Rafah: A Transit Point for Weapons Smuggling
In the period after the 1993 Oslo Accords, the Palestinians constructed a
complex network of tunnels underneath the Egypt-Israel border in the Rafah
area of the Gaza Strip. The tunnels are used to smuggle weapons, cigarettes,
drugs, and people (primarily prostitutes) from Egypt into Gaza.
Consequently, the city of Rafah has become a focal point for smuggling
illicit contraband throughout the Palestinian Authority.
Inside the Tunnels
The smuggling tunnels are often elaborate, and may contain wood-paneling,
electrical infrastructure, communications equipment, and elevators. Small
tunneling machines, imported with the full knowledge of the Palestinian
Authority, are used to dig these subterranean passages.
Tunnels Often Concealed in Houses
The Rafah tunnels are typically dug inside residential homes, and are
concealed under bathrooms, living rooms, and bedrooms. On October 12, 2001,
two tunnel entrances were discovered inside a child's bedroom. Another such
tunnel was uncovered on September 12, 2002.
Hosting and maintaining smuggling tunnels can often become a family business
that provides a primary source of income.
The smuggling tunnels illustrate the deep involvement of some Palestinian
civilians in aiding and abetting terrorist activity.
How the Smuggling Tunnels are Built
On August 10, 2002, the Islamic web portal, "Islam Online," published an
interview with an individual named "Honey."
Honey identified himself as an active "expert" in the excavation of
clandestine subterranean passages in the Rafah area, and described how he
and his friends dug tunnels in which Palestinian terrorist organizations
The following is a transcript of the "Islam Online" interview:
Determining the Most Suitable Location for a Tunnel
After determining the most suitable location to begin work, engineers survey
the ground, which must be of a firm, and not overly sandy consistency. The
further the point of origin is from the (Israeli) border, the less chance
there is of being caught.
How the Tunnels are Dug
A pit is dug one meter wide and between twelve to fourteen meters deep.
Supports are placed on the sides of the pit. The pit is dug to a depth of at
least twelve meters so that Israeli detection devices cannot detect tunnels
at this depth. The tunnel is dug horizontally so that it has a width of
forty centimeters by forty centimeters. Every three meters wooden planks are
placed alongside the four sides of the tunnels so it doesn't collapse.
Various mechanical devices are used to overcome natural obstacles like rock,
including a machine that removes sand via suction. An electrical cable is
hung in the tunnel to provide lighting.
…The completion of one tunnel takes three months or
more. The last tunnel we built took three months. The workers who build a
tunnel receive a percentage of the profit generated from smuggling weapons.
Between six to twelve meters are dug every day. The last tunnel we dug was
two hundred and thirty meters long. At either end of the tunnel there is a
"work manager;" the two work managers maintain contact by code, usually via
phone. The workers on the Egyptian side direct where the tunnel exit will
be. The exit from the Palestinian side is steep (a straight vertical shaft),
while it is gradually inclined on the Egyptian side.
Construction of a tunnel costs a minimum of $10,000. The minimal cost for
smuggling weapons is $300 and the money is split between the five partners
for building and maintaining the tunnels.
If someone is interested in smuggling weapons, he makes a coded request and
the workers schedule the date for the smuggling operation. The codes and
passwords are transferred via [land-line] phones and cellular phones. The
transfer from one side to the other takes between five to ten minutes and is
carried out using an engine which pulls a rope.
The following prices vary according to location and item.
AK-47 assault rifle from Egypt to Gaza: 2,000 Egyptian liras
AK-47 assault rifle within Gaza: $1,000
AK-47 bullet from Egypt to Gaza: 0.5 Egyptian Liras.
AK-47 bullet within Gaza: $3
Source of Weapons: Egypt, Iraq, Sudan, and the Salom area in Libya.
Another offered this, in 2005: Cairo won't stop arms smuggling into Gaza: Israeli officers warn against plan to give up control at border, by Aaron Klein May 25, 2005 WorldNetDaily.com
www.wnd.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=44441. Years later, in a Jerusalem Post article, 'Egypt not stopping Hamas smuggling', by Yaakov Katz, Jun. 7, 2007, hard facts are mentioned:
750 Egyptian border policemen are stationed along
the border with the sole task of stopping the smuggling.
"If the Egyptians wanted to they could already a long time ago have stopped
the smuggling," a government official involved in the talks with Cairo said.
"It could be that they just want to see Israeli blood spilt."
Later that year, Lerner issued this verbatim report: Remarks With Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit, Secretary Condoleezza Rice, Cairo, Egypt, October 16, 2007
www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2007/10/93602.htm. His introductory comment is and was telling:
[Dr. Aaron Lerner - IMRA: It should be kept in mind that the area in question is a few kilometers in length and there are only a very limited number of access routes to the area. The flood of weapons are being brought to the smuggling area by the truckload - vehicles that have to drive on
roads and can be readily stopped and inspected. The Egyptians also could exercise their right of eminent domain and clear out the structures adjacent to the border to make monitoring considerably easier and more effective… But instead of doing this the Egyptians seek to
exploit the smuggling that they are allowing in order to push Israel to forfeit an important element of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty: the demilitarization of the area near Israel's border. [my emphasis]
Apparently, what our State Department expected was lip service rather than results; almost a year later, it became evident that Egypt understood that. Our government’s ineptness resulted in Israel being impacted by Egypt’s collaboration with the smugglers. Unreliable reports like the following praised Egypt’s efforts:
New U.S. equipment helps Egypt uncover Gaza-Sinai tunnels
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondent Last update - 07:19 22/10/2008
Egyptian security officials this week attributed the dramatic rise in the
discovery of tunnels along the Egypt-Gaza Strip border to U.S.-supplied
equipment. Israeli officials also praised Egypt's heightened efforts against
the tunnels, dug by Gaza-based militants to smuggle out weapons and other
"New, highly efficient equipment has begun to be used which includes sensors
that assist in uncovering the tunnels," one official told Haaretz.
One month later, a truer picture was revealed by the Guardian:
Hamas exploits boom in Gaza smuggling tunnels Toni O'Loughlin in Gaza
The Guardian, Wednesday October 22 2008
Hamas exploits boom in Gaza's 400 - 600 smuggling tunnels(run 24/7 next to Egyptian watchtowers)…
One owner, whose tunnel lies within 200 metres of an Egyptian watchtower,
operates 24-hours a day, importing "everything you can imagine"…
Egypt’s complicity, though undeniable, met with impunity. In 2009, this article underscored the mockery of Egypt’s professions of innocence:
Top Defense Ministry official: Egypt sees Hamas as 'national enemy'
By Haaretz Service and Reuters Last update - 16:45 27/01/2009
Senior Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad said on Tuesday that Egypt views
Hamas as a national enemy and a threat to its regime, and is now more
willing than ever to fight against the ongoing smuggling of arms into the
What is most troubling, especially in light of America’s concerns about our porous border with Mexico, is that we have not forced Egypt to end its deceit. Necessary proof for demanding such enforcement was made available by Israel long ago. And the evidence was compelling:
Israel sends US videos of Egypt helping Hamas
YAAKOV KATZ, HERB KEINON and HILARY LEILA KRIEGER , THE JERUSALEM POST Dec.18, 2007, www.jpost.com
Israel is sending video tapes showing Egyptian policemen assisting
Palestinian terrorists along the Egypt-Gaza border to the United States
Congress as part of an effort to influence the legislative body into
clamping pressure on Cairo to stop weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip.
The video footage - which shows Egyptian security forces assisting Hamas
terrorists cross illegally into Gaza - is being transferred to Congress
through diplomatic channels and is intended for senior congressmen and
senators who can have an effect on the House foreign aid appropriations
process. Israel believes this can be an effective way of pressuring Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak into clamping down on Hamas smuggling activities.
The House and Senate agreed late Sunday on a 2008 foreign aid bill that
would hold back $100 million in military aid for Egypt, out of a $1.3
billion allocation, unless US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice certifies
that concerns about smuggling weapons into Gaza and human rights abuses have
been addressed. It is the first time that Egyptian military aid, supplied
since the Camp David Accords, would potentially be restricted.
“There’s proof!” I exclaimed, as I walked out of my office.
There was Payne, waiting.
“There was a time,” he began immediately, as if he’d remembered something so significant he couldn’t keep from telling me at once. “We were dredging a spot in the Bannister River and we found a gun. It’d been thrown there after a crime some years earlier. When the gun was matched to the bullets, police made an arrest.”
Payne smiled broadly. So did I. Both of us knew that was the way criminals were supposed to be treated.
Payne’s phone buzzed. “I gotta go!” he exclaimed.
I didn’t get a chance to tell him about the new tunnels Egypt had found in Gaza. But I’ll share its history with you. From this:
From: "email@example.com" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Wednesday, December 31, 1969 7:00 PM
Subject: Egypt resumes demolition of Gaza tunnels
Egypt resumes demolition of Gaza tunnels
Published yesterday (updated) 23/08/2012 22:51
GAZA CITY (Ma’an) -- Egyptian troops resumed the demolition of tunnels under
their border with the Gaza Strip on Thursday morning, witnesses and security
From: B Kop
Sent: Friday, August 24, 2012 2:20 AM
Subject: Re: Egypt resumes demolition of Gaza tunnels
After reading the archived reports you posted,
I'm reluctant to put much faith in this.
Thanks for letting me know.
…and, finally, this from Dr. Lerner:
B. Koplen 8/26/12