Palestinians Plot “North Korean Tunnels” to Erase Israel-Egyptian Peace Frontier

Israel’s Rafah Operation, now in its sixth day, differs substantially from the 2002 Jenin battle in its strategic and existential scope. This time it is not just about the Palestinians and Israel, or even short-term security. The IDF is fighting in Rafah against the Palestinian appetite for expansion, the drive to extend its claim on the Gaza Strip to include the Israel-Egyptian border zone abutting on Sinai.
This internationally recognized frontier was embodied in the peace treaty the two countries achieved after Egypt renounced war. Demolishing everything this accord stands for is the underlying objective of the Palestinian smuggling tunnel system and their constant harassment of Israeli border patrols securing the Philadelphi border route. Documents Israeli troops found at the outset of Operation Rainbow expose Palestinian determination to push Israel out of its positions on this international border and sabotage a key clause in the first peace accord Israel signed with an Arab nation.
This ambition is confirmed in one of particular documents revealed here by debkafile‘s exclusive military sources. It displays the avid study by Palestinian planners of the huge tunnels the North Koreans built in the 1970s under the fortified line dividing the two Koreas. This interest makes the current Israeli drive into Rafah all the more urgent and the problems still ahead daunting:
A. Palestinian prisoners questioned on tunnel locations were found to be small fry who knew very hardly anything about the tunnel planners and operators and had little to add to what the IDF already knew. The big wheels, the engineers, the contractors, the smuggler chiefs, had all disappeared before Israeli troops arrived in Rafah. Israeli intelligence officers attached to Operation Rainbow think some may have used their own tunnels to whisk themselves and their equipment out of harm’s way into Egyptian Sinai. Others may be in hiding close by.
B. Meanwhile, hopes have been dashed of quickly uncovering the six or seven major tunnels believed to be functioning between Egypt and Rafah and so bringing the incursion to an early end. So far, only one has been unearthed in the Brazil district of Rafah.
C. Israeli forces have found documents revealing how far the Palestinians have gone in upgrading the offensive weapons “imported” with the help of Iran and the Hizballah. Waiting in Sinai for an available tunnel are shipments of Katyusha rockets, anti-tank weapons and Sagger missiles, as well as rocket-propelled grenades and shoulder-launched Strela anti-aircraft missiles. These and other documents have provided clear testimony that Palestinian military planner are thinking of the Rafah tunnels in strategic terms as a vehicle for altering the balance of military strength. At present, the IDF has the upper hand in all parts of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The notion of big tunnels has planted the conviction in Palestinian minds that they are capable of tipping the scales in their favor.
According to one detailed document, which Israeli commanders suspect may have been left behind to instill fear and demoralize the troops, Palestinian policy-makers ask: why expend man hours and funds on small tunnels? Instead, think big and go for the invasion tunnels the North Koreans built in the seventies and eighties for the purpose of nullifying the defensive value of the heavily fortified frontier running through the demilitarized zone dividing the Koreas.
Our military experts recall that, while the South Koreans and Americans were building the most heavily fortified frontier on earth, the North Koreans were burrowing deep beneath these defenses – between 70 and 160 meters – to build at least four subterranean passageways large enough to carry an invading regiment with field artillery. Some experts calculated that, if 30,000 troops could traverse each tunnel in one hour, all four hidden conduits could channel a horde of 120,000 North Korean combatants over to the other side. A whole army would then spring out of the earth on the South Korean side as far south as the outskirts of Seoul. Pyongyang would catch US and South Korean forces unawares after staging minor surface clashes to divert them from the brunt of the North Korean war effort.
Since the Rafah tunnel project bears the signatures of Yasser Arafat and his kinsman Mussa Arafat, head of Palestinian military intelligence, who commands the southern Gaza Strip, the “North Korean tunnels” recommendations discovered in Rafah are being taken very seriously by Israel’s general command and military intelligence chiefs for several reasons:
1. It is the sort of conception which Yasser Arafat, one of the few Arab strategic thinkers, is capable of carrying through.
2. It would not be the first time that North Korean tunnels were transplanted in one form or another to the Middle East. Saddam Hussein borrowed North Korean engineers and technicians to bury huge palace and fortress tunnels underground. Some Iraqi tunnel diagrams may have reached Arafat’s hands. He may also have obtained knowhow from Egypt, where large numbers of North Koreans are employed in the production of surface missiles; some of them may have worked at some time on laying tunnels.
3. There are indications that one or two of the half dozen tunnels Israeli forces have not so far uncovered are larger than the 90 warrens found and destroyed this year alone. If this proves to be the case, then Israel is in for some alarming strategic changes in the Palestinians’ favor:
4. The improved tunnels will have a far greater capacity than the ones used today for smuggling weapons, drugs and a trickle of people; they can be used to transport large-scale Palestinian forces going in two directions between the Gaza Strip and northern Sinai. Terrorists can even hide there for long periods safe from Israeli air attack and concealed from surveillance. Indeed the Palestinians will be enabled to transport and maintain the greatest part of their fighting force and armaments in northern Sinai by means of the tunnels. A Palestinian buildup will be able to shelter in northern Sinai – outside the Gaza Strip and beyond the reach of the IDF which will not risk invading Egyptian territory for an attack.
5. Had the North Koreans not been caught in time, they would have been in a position to efface the border dividing the two Koreas and nullify the massive defenses build by the Americans and South Koreans. Similarly, the Palestinians’ freedom to move back and forth between Sinai and Rafah through huge tunnels would effectively erase the Israeli-Egyptian international border, one of only two frontiers agreed between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The second is between Israel and Jordan. By this move, Arafat would advance of his objective of breaking up the Israel-Egyptian peace accord still in effect after more than two decades.
The question is why is Egypt, which has gained so much from peaceful relations with Israel, passive in the face of Palestinian bounds-breaking? Why have Egyptian security police not raised a finger to halt the building of tunnels from northern Sinai and their use by criminal-terrorist gangs as key smuggling routes around the Middle East of weapons, cash, fighters and people? The answer very simply is that northern Sinai is out of Cairo’s control. Local commanders and members of Egypt’s security forces have been sucked into the Palestinian smuggling networks. So why have they not recalled, put before courts martial and replaced?
Firstly, because local Egyptian commanders have bribed very high placed officers and officials at headquarters and, second, because President Hosni Mubarak and his senior advisers have decided that it is in Egypt’s national interest to bring about the renegotiation of the clause in the peace agreement with Israel that bars the entry of Egyptian military forces in the border regions of northern Sinai. Cairo is counting on the upsurge of arms smuggling and the expansion of Palestinian tunnel system to persuade Israel to accept the deployment of large Egyptian forces for stopping this traffic and blocking the tunnels. Once there, Egyptian military units will stay. Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has indicated he is open to renegotiating the relevant clause of the Egyptian-Israel peace treaty.
At week’s end therefore, Israeli forces were brought to the realization that they were fighting against much more than the Palestinian threat of an RPG and Strela missile escalation; the battle going forward is stage one of the war over Israel’s southern international frontier.

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