IDF to stay in Philadelphi Corridor
A Hamas security officer opens a gate to the Philadelphi Corridor between Egypt and Gaza near Rafah, July, 1, 2007.
Photo: Ahmad Khateib/Flash90.

FDD’s Richard Goldberg: History would repeat itself the minute the IDF abandons the Gaza-Sinai border, with Hamas rebuilding its smuggling operations.

By Yaakov Lappin
July 4, 2024

(JNS) The Israel Defense Forces is preparing to shift in the coming weeks from high-intensity warfare to targeted operations the Gaza Strip, a transition it calls moving from Stage B to C. The Israeli military plans, however, on continuing to hold the 8.7-mile (14-kilometer) Philadelphi Corridor, which runs along the Gaza-Egypt border.

This continued Israeli control of the border will be critical in preventing the resurgence of Hamas’s smuggling operation and will help dampen the Iran-backed terror army’s hopes to rebuild itself.

Richard Goldberg, senior adviser at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JNS, “History would repeat itself the minute the IDF abandons the Philadelphi Corridor, with Hamas rebuilding its smuggling operations. Egypt was obviously complicit in the Hamas tunneling operation and cannot be trusted with the border.

“The U.N. which is pro-Hamas, is not an option. That leaves the IDF to continue destroying all existing tunnel infrastructure and interdict future tunneling and other smuggling attempts.”

The Philadelphi Corridor, which Israel seized as part of its Rafah offensive, has historically been the route for Hamas to smuggle weapons and contraband from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. By maintaining a presence in this corridor, the IDF aims to ensure that Hamas is unable to rebuild its terror capabilities.

The Philadelphi Corridor has been a focal point for years, turning into a smuggling zone even before Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005, and evolving into a monstrous network of tunnels in the years that followed.

The network of tunnels facilitated the flow of arms, explosives and other contraband, bolstering Hamas’s massive military infrastructure throughout Gaza.

The tunnels sneaking under the Philadelphi Corridor also enabled the transfer of luxury goods, cigarettes and other materials for the Gazan black market, all of which was taxed by Hamas, feeding its war chest.

Chronic corruption

Many observers have pointed to chronic corruption at the Rafah crossing, where bribes were allegedly paid to Egyptian security officials to facilitate smuggling. Additionally, high-level Egyptian figures are allegedly involved in these operations, organizing the passage of Gaza residents into Egypt for a fee. It is possible that this is why Egypt also failed to dismantle the dozens of tunnels that the IDF is now finding and destroying.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, who visited the Rafah area on Tuesday, said that the military killed more than 900 terrorists, including commanders, during the Rafah operation.

“The reason we are working here week after week is now focused on the destruction of the terrorist infrastructure and the destruction of the underground infrastructure, which takes time,” Halevi continued. “Therefore, this is a long campaign, because we do not want to leave Rafah with the terrorist infrastructure intact. There are those we eliminated underground, and some that tried to emerge above ground, and we eliminated them.”

He added, “This ongoing effort of ours, this pursuit, is very, very important. They should feel exhausted, while we feel energized and determined. When we move to the next phase, we will adapt appropriate measures for that phase, bring new tactics, provide logistical support in a different way that fits that phase, and all these things ultimately are focused by our determination, perseverance and patience, wearing down the other side and accomplishing our missions. A lot of willpower, a lot of patience and perseverance, and the results will speak for themselves going forward.”

As long as the IDF maintains control of the Gaza-Egypt border, Hamas’s efforts to rebuild its terror army will be significantly hindered.

Securing the Philadelphi Corridor ensures that Hamas remains isolated from its external sources of weapons and materials, which are crucial for its military operations. It will also harm Hamas’s domestic arms production ambitions, since homemade production sites also rely on material entering the Strip.

In that sense, the Philadelphi Corridor can be compared the Israel’s strategic control of the Jordan Valley, which enables it to intercept and disrupt many Iranian arms smuggling efforts via Jordan into Judea and Samaria (although some smuggling runs have gotten through).

The IDF is also continually expanding a “sterile zone” around the Corridor, as part of its ongoing counter-tunnel and terror infrastructure destruction operations, Israel’s Channel 12 reported on June 30.

The failure of Egypt over the years to put a stop to the tunnels means Israel must take matters into its own hands. The IDF’s continued presence in the Philadelphi Corridor ensures that Israel retains control over a critical aspect of its national security, without relying on external actors.

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