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Cablegate: Update: Egypt Increases Counter-Smuggling Efforts

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DE RUEHEG #2175 2871419
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O 131419Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0625
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

UNCLAS CAIRO 002175

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PARM PREL PTER MASS MARR KPAL IS EG
SUBJECT: UPDATE: EGYPT INCREASES COUNTER-SMUGGLING EFFORTS
ON GAZA BORDER

1. Sensitive but unclassified. Please handle accordingly.

2. (SBU) Summary: Egyptian security forces continue to improve counter-smuggling efforts along the Gaza border following the June Egyptian-brokered "tahdiya" ("calming") between Israel and Palestinian groups. During an August visit, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak publicly praised Egypt's increased efforts to destroy tunnels. As of mid-September, GOE officials claimed to have identified and sealed hundreds of tunnels over the last two years, with new discoveries occurring daily. Recently arrived U.S.- supplied counter-smuggling equipment - once installed and fully operational - could help improve GOE's ability to fully exploit the tunnels and break up smuggling rings. Long-term success, however, depends on removing the economic incentives driving smuggling on both sides of the border. Post will continue to engage with GOE officials on all levels to build upon recent progress. End Summary. ----------------------------------- Tunnel Openings Detected and Closed -----------------------------------

3. (SBU) In October 2005, the Egyptian military assumed responsibility for border security. Since that time, security officials claim to have identified and sealed hundreds of tunnel openings, with new discoveries occurring daily. GOE officials regularly share updates with Embassy officials on counter-tunneling efforts, including hosting border tours to highlight new tunnel discoveries. Following the January HAMAS breach of the Gaza border, the GOE completed a three-meter high stone wall along the length of the 14-kilometer border and has devoted more personnel to searching for tunnel openings. During his August visit, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak publicly praised Egypt's efforts to shut down tunnels. Public criticism by HAMAS of Egypt's handling of the Gaza border has increased in recent months, which may indicate that counter-smuggling efforts have struck a nerve within Gaza.

4. (SBU) Beginning in mid-October, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will install the first phase of a $23 million FMF-funded counter-smuggling system along 3.6 kilometers of the central portion of the Egypt-Gaza border. The seismic-acoustic counter-tunneling system, which can detect sounds of tunnel digging and movement through tunnels, should improve GOE interdiction efforts. The first phase is expected to be operational by April 2009. To be successful, the GOE must use their new knowledge of the tunnel routes to destroy tunnels and break up smuggling rings. ----------------------------------------- Long-term: Reducing Incentives to Smuggle -----------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Egypt also views an improvement in the political and economic situation in Gaza as crucial to long-term border security. On the political front, GOE efforts on Palestinian reconciliation continue at full steam. On the economic front, increasing humanitarian flows into Gaza is crucial to undermining the commercial smuggling networks that arms smugglers have exploited, especially if increased GOE counter-smuggling efforts succeed. Economic deprivation in the Sinai also fosters cross-border smuggling rings. USAID is supporting a number of economic development projects, including a micro-finance program in Northern Sinai and a $10 million project in central Sinai to develop infrastructure, community centers, schools, and eco-tourism. SCOBEY

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