Egypt's army has been working to fortify the border with Israel in recent weeks, for the first time since the early 1980's, in response to intensified threats against the Egyptian army in the peninsula and border area. The move includes the construction of armed outposts alongside the border between the two countries, near the new border fence built by Israel, and was made in coordination with the IDF.
The structures, that are similar to pillboxes (concrete guard posts), offer Egyptian troops guarding the border full protection against small-arms and anti-tank missiles. Construction on some of the posts has been completed, and they are meant to serve as a substitute to the small encampments near the fence where Egyptian soldiers have been staying until now.
The temporary camps are located at a great distance from central posts in the district, where soldiers are sometimes without radios or weapons. The unsecure situation caused the death and injury of dozens of soldiers during exchanges of fire between al-Qaeda operatives or armed Bedouin smugglers.
Setting up touch-sensitive fence (Photo: Yoav Zitun)
New Egyptian outpost (Photo: Yoav Zitun)
While construction work on the new outposts was taking place, several expert infantry brigades were added to fortify the Egyptian forces in the Sinai Peninsula; they replaced inexperienced border officers, who were entrusted with guarding the border with Israel for decades.
The recently-added forces mobilize in relatively modern armored personnel carriers armed with machine guns, but the heavier fighting vehicles, such as tanks and helicopters, do not go near the border area in accordance with new agreements with Israel. Instead, the carriers were in use in the depths of Sinai territory or nearby Rafah, near the Gaza Strip.
Although the new fence that Israel built on the western border has been effective in stopping African infiltrators, the phenomenon of smuggling has not yet disappeared, and is still keeping forces on both sides of the border busy. IDF forces were not satisfied with the high fence, and have lately began to set up electronic fences alongside the border that are supposed to indicate when someone touches the fence, as is on the border with Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
Egyptian pillbox structure constructed near border (Photo: Yoav Zitun)
In addition, the IDF stopped using the old outposts along the border almost completely. The army spread out security forces in new outposts built on Israeli territory that allow controlled observation and the ability to fire at the territory.
IDF forces in armored vehicles near border (Photo: Yoav Zitun)
As part of attempts to combat the smuggling phenomenon (IDF forces are convinced that the success of smuggling operations may easily turn into terrorist attacks), huge rubber sandbags were put up; they make passage for smugglers' vehicles on the Israeli side difficult, in addition to the tunnels that were excavated and the barbed-wire pyramids that were added to fortify the fence.
Sources in the IDF say that smugglers trying to cross the border have adopted sophisticated techniques in recent months.
In one case, an Israeli smuggler who posed as a construction contractor working on the fence, arrived with a truck loaded with bags of drugs, and fled after he aroused the suspicion of military forces after his vehicle broke down, leaving the drugs behind.