Israel has learned that the Palestinians are taking advantages of the weapons smuggling tunnels linking Egypt with the Gaza Strip to sneak millions of Euros into the territories to ease the financial crisis. The money, mostly in 500 Euro bills to minimize its volume, is an oxygen pipe for the PA, which is suffocating under the pressures of international sanctions.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asked Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to fight the smuggling, official sources in Jerusalem told Ynet late Tuesday.
Shin Bet Head Yuval Diskin told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tuesday that "since September, some USD 20 million have been smuggled into the Gaza Strip and made their way into Hamas' hands."
Apart from the money, the Palestinians also smuggled 11 tons of TNT explosives into Gaza since Israel withdrew from the Philadelphi route last summer. Diskin said that the Shin Bet perceives smuggling as a serious problem, since the materials brought into the Strip are used for improving Qassam warheads, and for producing explosive belts and explosive devices.
According to intelligence information, the money is being smuggled in suitcases by Hamas envoys. Among other things, the money was used to establish Hamas’ new armed force, which has been involved in numerous shootouts with the PA security forces under Fatah’s authority. The funds are also going to clerk’s salaries in the new Hamas government.
Moneys smuggled by sea
Israel's intelligence community estimates smuggled funds are enough to keep the Hamas government alive. According to intelligence assessments, funds personal handlers smuggle moneys from Egypt to Gaza through tunnels linking both part of Rafah, which is divided by the Egypt-Gaza border.
Jamal Abu Samhadana, the Popular Resistance Committes leader, whom Hamas wanted to appoint as top security chief, oversees smuggling operations in the Rafah area.
Hamas is also intensifying effort to smuggle funds from Egypt by sea. Interrogations of sailors arrested two weeks ago when the navy intercepted a ship carrying explosives attempting to make its way to Gaza, pointed to this direction.
Israeli officials admit Israel is incapable to halting the smuggling of funds through tunnels or through the Rafah crossing, where its monitoring capabilities are limited to video surveillance.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned President Hosni Mubarak that the flow of smuggled funds to Hamas will help strengthen the Islamic group and weaken its rivals.
Olmert urged Mubarak to clamp on smugglers and bust smuggling tunnels along the Rafah border.