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The threat that will remain: Israel’s plans could result in Hamas getting unfettered access to underground tunnels

Despite the prime minister, the defense minister, and other officials stressing in no uncertain terms that Israel will “eliminate” and “destroy” Hamas, there is still one major card that Israel does not currently intend to take from Hamas: the Philadelphia Axis, which runs along the border with between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

Although under this route, which crosses the Gaza Strip from northwest to southeast, there is major smuggling going on, Israel currently has no plans to conquer the area, mainly because of opposition from Egypt.

  • It would not be an exaggeration to define the non-conquest of the route near Rafah as a double failure. Symbolically, it is an important Hamas asset that has not been taken away from them.
  • Through the tunnel system under the Philadelphi Route, massive amounts of arms have been delivered to Hamas. The extent of Egypt’s knowing what was going on there may be revealed in the future. One thing is certain – the Israeli intelligence did not know the severity of the smuggling situation before the war.

Therefore, there is every reason to think that those who did not read the picture correctly before the war are also mistaken about it now. Contrary to the ruminations of the political and intelligence leadership that “nothing, or at most very little, currently comes in from Philadelphi” – it should be assumed that smuggling continues even these days.

  • Local news channels in Gaza knew to report this week that the Director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate Abbas Kamel, spoke directly with Yahya Sinwar on a secured line, which passed through a tunnel from the Egyptian Rafah to the Gazan side of Rafah. If the tunnel landline is active, there is reason to suspect that other components in the tunnel are also active. After the Simchat Torah massacre, one can no longer keep their eyes shut.

Instead of absolute control over the route, as existed until the Disengagement Plan in 2005, the decision-makers must consider creative solutions. Putting the issue in Egyptian hands has resulted in our fighters having to deal with major military infrastructures and a plethora of arms. It is true that the Egyptians have cleared the area on their side, which is supposed to be the guarantee that tunnel traffic will stop. And yet, we also heard those explanations in the past, and the outcome is known.

  • A diplomatic official told Israel Hayom, “If we are not there, smuggling will resume. The Philadelphi Route requires special attention and we will also get to that, because it is a point that could become a vortex for smuggling activities.”

Israel is preparing to transition to stage 3 of fighting in Gaza – according to the military plans presented to the War Cabinet at the start of this campaign. According to estimates, in January the IDF will put more emphasis on local raids, targeted killings, rather than the large-scale operations taken in the strip thus far.

  • Despite misleading publications, Israel does not intend to give up on the fighting goals but rather to continue according to the plans approved by ministers.

The third part of the plan will come after the IDF works to dismantle Hamas’ main force in the Strip. Then the IDF will need to act in a focused manner against remaining guerilla activities in the area. There will be areas in southern Gaza that will still feature a heavy IDF presence, but the intention is to reduce forces and withdraw from some of the zones where the mopping up is complete.

This stage will last around six months, after which the significant fourth stage of reshaping the civilian sphere in the strip will commence.

Those plans for the “day after” have not yet passed into the practical levels, but there is overt and covert American pressure to involve the Palestinian Authority in that civilian government.

  • As was first reported in Israel Hayom, the plan is to let officials affiliated with the Palestinian Authority take the reigns, but this will not create a formal unified government of the PA in Judea and Samaria, and Gaza as desired by the American administration.

Meanwhile, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer arrived in Washington to examine whether there is a delay in shipments of American weapons to Israel. In recent days the defense establishment has noticed a slowing of the American deliveries of arms requests to Israel, but it is unclear what the reasons for the delay may be. One possibility is that these are technical delays. Another more concerning reason, is that there is political intent to slow down the pace in order to influence Israeli policy.

Officials emphasize that there is no certainty the Americans are delaying arms shipments. They noted that the delays may stem from the American end-of-year vacation, which has slowed things down, and not substantive disagreement with the US.

Source: Israel Hayom