Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1262, (10 - 16 September 2015)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1262, (10 - 16 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Security channels

Efforts to secure North Sinai moved into overdrive this week, writes Ahmed Eleiba

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Al-Ahram Weekly

On Monday the army hailed a new military operation, the Martyrs’ Right, in an official press. The operation targets terrorist elements in the areas of Rafah, Al-Sheikh Zuweid and Al-Arish in North Sinai.

“Forces from the Second Field Army, supported by commandos and rapid intervention forces and with the assistance of Civil Police anti-terrorist units raided terrorist lairs to eliminate the takfiri elements that are entrenched there. [The raid] resulted in the death of 29 terrorist elements, the destruction of their bases and of vehicles and machinery used in their criminal operations.”

The statement continued: “Specialised forces from your Armed Forces cleared the locations, facilities and major thoroughfares of explosive devices planted by criminal elements. In the course of a raid against one of the terrorist lairs an explosive device detonated in one of the Armed Forces vehicles causing the death of an officer and a conscript and wounding four others. The Armed Forces have intensified measures to secure vital targets, utilities and public and private property in the areas of Al-Arish, Al-Sheikh Zuweid, Rafah and the roads leading to them.”

 “The Armed Forces are continuing operations to purge terrorism with unwavering determination in order to realise the security of the nation and safeguard the great people of Egypt from the evils of these terrorists.”

Military experts described the Martyrs’ Right operation as the largest of its kind since the army succeeded in pre-empting a major terror attack in early July.

Residents close to the site of the Martyrs’ Right operation say the army laid the groundwork for it by occupying districts of Rafah and Al-Sheikh Zuweid where terrorist groups are known to have bases. Sheikh Abdullah Jahama, vice president of the Federation of Arab Tribes and chairman of the Society of Veteran Soldiers and Freedom Fighters in the Sinai, told Al-Ahram Weekly by phone from Al-Arish that the areas where the military operations were staged had been completely sealed off “by land and air” at the outset of the Martyrs’ Right operation.

 “The security situation has improved greatly in north Sinai and the army has largely succeeded in bringing the area under its control during the last three months,” he said.

Speaking from Beir Al-Abd, 80km from Al-Arish, Mohamed Hamad told the Weekly that the number of security checkpoints has increased dramatically along all major throughfares and vehicles and drivers are being closely inspected “This enhanced security checks have met with approval among the inhabitants of the city and surrounding areas,” he said.

Alongside the military operation, the Egyptian army engineering corps has begun digging a moat parallel to the 14 km long border with Gaza. The aim is to prevent the construction of new cross border tunnels. The idea of a moat was first mooted years ago. It gained currency following the storming of the Egyptian border by Gazans in April 2008 and received renewed attention following the post 25 January Revolution security breakdown.

There have been reports that the moat will also be used for fish farms. Gazi Abul Farrag, a member of the area’s Tarabin tribe, told the Weekly that the army has already told residents that a fishery project will be introduced in the border canal. There are also rumours, he says, of a dry moat being dug along the Egyptian border with Israel to prevent human trafficking and other smuggling.

Said Eid, the owner of a construction firm that has worked with the Egyptian government on a number of similar projects, told the Weekly that though a moat along the Sinai-Gaza border has been the subject of long-running feasibility studies it is only recently that its economic possibilities, rather than security functions, have begun to be explored.

Given the rocky terrain construction will be costly, says Eid, but necessary given the way cross border tunnels have been used to convey terrorists and weapons in both directions.

“The sides of the canal will probably be lined with cement in some places, and encased in stone from the quarry in Tura in others.

The base will not be lined, allowing for seepage into the ground below which will make it very difficult to construct new tunnels beneath the moat,” says Eid.

The moat is located 2000 metres away from the border with Gaza. To build tunnels beneath it, says Eid, would involve inserting pipes wide enough for a single person to traverse, a difficult and very expensive process.

“It is hard to believe that anyone on the other side would undertake a project of this sort given the difficulties involved and the risks of being discovered,” he says.

According to Eid experience gained in irrigation and advanced drainage projects in the Delta will be useful when constructing the moat which will be 20 to 30 metres deep and 10 metres wide. Seawater will be taken in at one end and pumped from the other to prevent stagnation in the moat, making it perfect for fishery use.  

“The project is strategically important in many ways,” says Eid. “In addition to its security value it is important that Egyptians along the border are engaged in projects of this sort.”

 “The people of Sinai desperately need projects of this sort that offer an alternative to the profits that were made from the illegal tunnel trade,” says Farrag.

A military expert told the Weekly that ground sonar detectors will be placed at a depth of five metres, parallel to the moat, completing a comprehensive border security system that includes barriers, watchtowers and above-ground surveillance devices.

Hamas has denounced the project. Gaza’s assistant water authority director Mazen Al-Banna held a press conference on Monday during which Palestinian news agencies in Gaza quoted him saying: “If the Egyptian government proceeds to put this project into effect it will have overlooked the fact that that pond will harm the Egyptian environment before the Palestinian environment. It will destroy the shared aquifer through the seepage of water.”

“The [Hamas] government supports the prevention of smuggling across the Egyptian-Gaza border and it supports Egypt’s national security. But not at the expense of our lives, the tightening of the blockade against us, and the obstruction of our major source of water.”

Al-Banna called for an immediate halt to the project given the threats it poses to Gaza’s water, food and economic security.

Al-Banna’s remarks made little impression on military experts.

“The project is being carried out inside Egyptian territory. No one outside our borders has a right to speak about it positively or negatively. The project, which relates to Egyptian national security, has been subject to stringent evaluation and implementation reports,” General Talaat Moussa, a former director of Military Intelligence and advisor at the Higher Nasser Military Academy, told the Weekly.

“Hamas is responsible for exporting terrorism to Egypt. It does not cooperate with us in any way. It may claim to do so but the reverse is true. Recently we picked up SOS signals from a terrorist organisation in Sinai asking Hamas for money and more operatives.”

“It is to prevent the infiltration of such elements, to prevent the flow of arms into Sinai and money into Gaza which is then laundered in Gazan banks, that the moat is being built. It will help halt those Hamas projects which promote terrorism. Hamas should halt its rhetoric of provocation once and for all. Hamas needs to recognise that it has abandoned the Palestinian cause and now devotes itself to activities that harm Palestinians.”

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