The temperature is rising between Egypt and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. The reason: Egypt is constructing a massive steel barrier, which will reach a depth of between 18 and 30 metres, along its 11 kilometre-long-border with the Gaza Strip; an electronic fence is also going up along the same route, equipped with cameras and electronic eyes.
This barrier is still under construction, but when completed it will replace the light fence which existed before and – as Egypt and Israel hope – it will curtail the smuggling of weapons from Egypt’s Sinai into the Gaza Strip; these weapons are often used to fight Israel.
The weapons are smuggled through a system of at least 500 tunnels, running under the Gaza-Sinai border. But here’s the problem: in addition to weapons, the tunnels serve as a key conduit to bring into the Strip other products, such as food, medicine, petrol, construction materials, electronic goods, livestock, small cars and even drugs and prostitutes. And if the barrier does succeed in killing off the smuggling of weapons, it might well also cripple Gaza’s already shaky economy.
There is strong opposition to the project in Gaza and in the Arab world, but Egypt seems determined to proceed anyway. It is even building, along with the underground barrier, a giant pipe to carry water from the Mediterranean and flood the tunnels, which will inundate broad areas on both sides of the border.
It is likely that the resourceful Sinai smugglers – mainly Bedouin tribes – will find ways to circumvent the new obstacle, but the barrier will make life harder for them and complicate their task.
How this new reality along the Sinai-Gaza border will affect Hamas’ grip on the Gazans is an open question. But if public resentment in Gaza grows because, for instance, food prices rise, then Hamas might well attempt to divert attention from its troubles at home by renewing war with Israel.