The construction of a wall on the border between Egypt’s Sinai and the Palestinian Gaza Strip is nearly complete, after Egyptian authorities stepped up work on it with the aim of shielding Sinai against infiltration by jihadists from Gaza.
Closing Down Egypt’s Vulnerable Entry Point
Salafist jihadists from Gaza used to enter Sinai using a network of smuggling tunnels and a porous border with the Egyptian territory. Once in Egypt they would join Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists operating in the Sinai region.
The wall construction started in 2014 to make Sinai inaccessible for the jihadists and make it difficult for ISIS terrorists to cross into Gaza and seek escape from Egyptian army attacks. The construction of the wall is part of a broader crackdown by the Egyptian army on tunnels between Sinai and Gaza. The tunnels were used in past decades in the smuggling of goods and arms to and from Sinai.
In recent years, they were also used in the infiltration into Sinai by Gazan jihadists and for travel into Gaza by ISIS terrorists to seek medical treatment in the Palestinian territory.
Stopping Infiltration With a Wall
The presence of a wall on the border between Sinai and Gaza is necessary for the protection of security in Sinai, especially with the Sinai branch of ISIS teaming up with Salafi jihadists in the Palestinian territory, as security analysts report.
The Gaza-ruling Hamas movement has long struggled to secure the joint border with Egypt. However, Hamas’ attempt to secure the border and prevent the smuggling of militants into Sinai can land it in trouble, given the alliance between ISIS Sinai and some jihadist factions in Gaza.
“This is why constructing such a wall is important,” said retired Egyptian police general, Ali Hefzi. “The presence of this wall will offer solutions to the infiltration of these militants into Sinai.”
A Tall Order for the Egyptian Military
The Egyptian army spent a sizable amount of resources on the construction of the wall which extends over 12 kilometers, covering most of the joint border between Sinai and the Gaza Strip. The wall is six meters high and five meters deep underground. This means that it can be an effective mechanism against the renewed digging of tunnels along the border.
Egypt has destroyed hundreds of smuggling tunnels on the border with Gaza in the past years. Some of the tunnels were difficult to find, having begun in Gaza and ended inside the homes of some Sinai Bedouins.
“These tunnels posed a real threat to security in Sinai,” said security expert Hossam Suweilam.
Egypt’s Successful Strategy
The construction of the wall on the border with Gaza is only one measure in a series of others taken by Cairo to secure Sinai and end the threat of militancy in it. The Egyptian army has been fiercely cracking down on this militancy for over five years now, having deployed all army branches in the territory which also shares borders with Israel.
Apart from deploying tens of thousands of ground troops, the army also uses the air force and the navy to besiege the ISIS terrorists and prevent them from receiving supplies. This strategy has so far succeeded in trimming the power of ISIS, which is a vital reason for the failure of the terrorist group in maintaining attacks against army and police posts in Sinai.
This does not mean, however, that ISIS is over because the group is sometimes capable of staging deadly attacks. On April 30, it killed two army officers and eight conscripts in a bomb attack on an armored vehicle in the North Sinai city of Beir al-Abd.
Big Plans for Sinai
Sinai has always been absent from Egypt’s development agenda. Larger in size than Israel, the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian West Bank and Lebanon combined, Sinai is inhabited by only 600,000 people.
The Egyptian government wants to relocate between 3 and 5 million citizens to Sinai. To do this, it is spending billions of dollars on the development of the territory. The development projects implemented include dozens of roads, hospitals and schools. They also include tens of thousands of flats, and tourist and industrial facilities.
“A comprehensive development plan is being implemented in Sinai,” said economist Zeinab Anwar. “However, this development cannot be completed without the eradication of the terrorist threat in it.”