debkafile Exclusive: Egypt and Israel step up cooperation to eradicate terrorist smuggling tunnels

Our military sources report that under the new arrangements the Israeli and Egyptian armies will work together. Their security teams meet at Nitzana on the Gaza border Sunday, Dec. 30, to establish a combined staff center for eradicating tunnel traffic from Sinai to the Gaza Strip. This was one of the agreements reached by Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in their talks last week. A joint team will deal with each active tunnel separately. Most of the estimated 80 and 90 tunnels, some heavily fortified, run through the Philadelphi border strip. Each team will be responsible for blowing up a tunnel and rendering it unusable.
Until now, the Egyptians, when they discovered a tunnel, blew up the opening on their side of the border, while the exit on the Gazan side under Hamas rule was left untouched. The agreement reached with Mubarak is taken to leave Israel free to go into Gaza and destroy the tunnel exits as determined by the joint military teams.
If this scheme works, it will be the most important Egyptian-Israeli security partnership ever undertaken.
Our counter-terror sources link it to the hostage situation in the Red Sea opposite the Sinai coastal town of Nuweiba now in its second day. Egypt is preventing two passenger ferries from disembarking until the hundreds of Hamas operatives aboard, who are carrying $150m collected at the Mecca hajj, agree to enter Gaza through Nitzana or Kerem Shalom and submit to Israeli search. More than 1,700 passengers are trapped as hostages on the two ferries. Hamas, seeing Egypt tighten the siege against the Gaza Strip under its rule, threaten to fire and scuttle the ships rather than yield to the Egyptian demand. They are determined to break Cairo’s resolve and disrupt its willingness to cooperate with Israel.
Insider sources also disclosed to debkafile that not only Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert appealed to the Egyptian government to hold up delivery of the Hamas stash to Gaza by shutting the Rafah terminal against the Hamas’ leaders return, but also the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
While Egypt is responsible for Rafah security, the Palestinian Authority is formally in charge of the crossing’s administration. The joint Palestinian-Israeli appeal, which is unprecedented, therefore gave Egypt legal grounds to deny the Hamas group permission to land at Nuweiba and enter Gaza through Sinai with the cash.

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