Iran is taking advantage of chaos in post-Mubarak Egypt to bolster its weapons-smuggling capabilities in the Sinai Peninsula, Israeli defense officials say. Tehran's goal is to build a new infrastructure there to enable it to smuggle advanced weaponry into Gaza.
"Iran wants to take advantage of the current anarchy in Egypt and establish a stronger foothold in Gaza," a senior Israeli defense official told the Jerusalem Post. "They are building new capabilities, upgrading smuggling mechanisms and studying the new military presence there to see how it will affect them."
One Iranian weapons-smuggling route starts in Sudan or Eritrea, where ships unload weaponry. They are then taken by truck through Sudanese and Egyptian territory until they reach the Gaza/Egypt border. Then they are smuggled into Gaza using hundreds of tunnels running along the Philadelphi Corridor.
Although weapons were smuggled there during the reign of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian security officials sought to prevent weapons trafficking using methods like building an underground steel wall. It is unclear to what degree Mubarak's successors will continue security cooperation with Israel in this area.
Another complicating factor is the Bedouin population in the Sinai, which Cairo has struggled to exercise control over for generations. "The Sinai is already known as a lawless land," a senior Israeli defense official said in mid-February. "There is real concern that if the Egyptians don't get the Sinai back under their control, it could develop into a major threat to Israel."
Egyptian authorities have abandoned dozens of Sinai police stations after attacks carried out by Bedouins carrying assault rifles and missiles. Concern over this situation prompted Israel to allow Egypt to deploy 1,000 soldiers in Sharm el-Sheikh and Rafah.
Israel and neighboring Arab states have long been concerned that Hamas, al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations might use the Sinai in order to carry out attacks.
In August, members of Hamas' military wing operating out of the Sinai fired a barrage of Grad rockets that landed in Israeli, Jordanian and Egyptian territory. One of the rockets killed a Jordanian cab driver at an Aqaba hotel. Israeli authorities believe the same Hamas squad carried out an April attack during which rockets were fired at Eilat and Aqaba from the Sinai.
The most deadly terrorist strike in the Sinai occurred in July 2005 when more than 90 people were killed and nearly 240 wounded in three bomb blasts at hotels in Sharm el-Sheikh. Al Qaida and another jihadist group claimed responsibility.