American soldiers have teamed up with Egyptian troops in the Sinai in recent weeks for an operation designed to uncover Palestinian weapons' smuggling tunnels underneath the Philadelphi Route, along the Egypt-Gaza
The operation has already yielded important fruits: Thanks to new, secret American-developed technology, the US Army's Corps of Engineers uncovered 42 tunnels running between Egypt and Gaza in less than a month, an unprecedented number in such a time span.
The joint American-Egyptian initiative was agreed upon half a year ago, during Defense Minister Ehud Barak's visit to Egypt. American experts arrived in the region a few weeks ago, making an effort to keep a low profile by using civilian dress.
The machinery that they brought with them, which probably relies on sonar in some way to identify underground tunnels, seems to be one of a kind. To date, it appears that Israel
does not possess similar technology.
The recent rash of tunnel discoveries has appears to have Hamas worried. The Palestinian organization has taken to "nationalizing" certain "private" tunnels that were previously run by Rafah families. At this point in time, Hamas controls all underground activity in Gaza.
Additionally, the tunnel exposure project has led to heightened tension between Hamas and Egypt. An explosion in a Rafah tunnel, earlier this week, led to the deaths of five Palestinians from the same family who were inside it. Three Palestinians who were able to escape into Egypt through the tunnel were subsequently arrested.
The event led to mutual mud-slinging between Egypt and Hamas. The latter blamed the Egyptians for deliberately detonating the tunnel, a claim Egypt denies.
Despite the recent successes of the joint project, Hamas has managed to smuggle hundreds of explosives, RPGs and rifles into the Gaza strip.