January 23, 2024 | Flash Brief

Egypt Claims It Destroyed Hamas Tunnels, But Smuggling Continues

January 23, 2024 | Flash Brief

Egypt Claims It Destroyed Hamas Tunnels, But Smuggling Continues

Latest Developments

Israeli claims that terrorists are using cross-border tunnels between Egypt and Gaza to smuggle weapons into the strip are “baseless,” an Egyptian official said on January 23. The statement was in reaction to comments from Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a January 20 press conference that the 8.7-mile-long Philadelphi Corridor that runs along the Gaza-Egypt border will need to “be in our hands” to ensure that Gaza remains demilitarized following the cessation of fighting.

Diaa Rashwan, the chairman of Egypt’s State Information Service, said that Cairo has undertaken “efforts during the past 10 years to achieve security and stability in the Sinai,” including “taking more actions to destroy these tunnels completely.” He added that Egypt “fully controls its borders with Gaza and Israel.” Still, Hamas reportedly continues to operate tunnels from Egypt into Gaza. On January 7, The Wall Street Journal reported that Jerusalem asked Cairo to install sensors along the Gaza border to detect Hamas movement underground.

Expert Analysis

“A decade ago, the Egyptians were aggressively dealing with the Hamas smuggling issue. It was part of their crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Now, they are warning that if the Israelis do the same thing, it could cause a rupture in the most enduring Arab-Israeli peace agreement. Egypt’s behavior is highly irregular. Why Cairo would not welcome the opportunity to work with Israel to solve the border problem is not clear. But it appears the Sisi regime may be hiding something.” — Jonathan Schanzer, FDD Senior Vice President for Research

“Cairo is embarrassed, and its officials are trying to save face by issuing such defensive statements. There have always been corrupt members of the security establishment who benefited financially from tunnel building and weapon smuggling. It’s time for Egyptian authorities to arrest them and cooperate with Israel on ensuring a safer border. It’s a mutual national security interest for both Cairo and Jerusalem.” — Haisam Hassanein, FDD Adjunct Fellow

Egypt-Gaza Tunnels

Former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood in power from 2012 to 2013, tacitly allowed Hamas and other bad actors to transport missiles and other weapons into Gaza using tunnels underneath the Sinai. Cairo started cracking down on the underground network after current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi succeeded him. Egypt has destroyed numerous tunnels over the past decade using a variety of tactics, including flooding them with sewage. On January 23, Rashwan claimed that the Egyptian army has destroyed 1,500 tunnels and erected ”three barriers” along the Gaza border. “Any smuggling operation is impossible, neither above ground nor underground,” Rashwan said.

However, Cairo has yet to completely shut down cross-border tunnel operations. On October 26, the Israeli military confirmed that Hamas used the tunnel system to smuggle weapons and ammunition from Egypt into Gaza in the runup to its October 7 assault.

Egypt’s Gaza Dilemma,” by Jonathan Schanzer

10 Things to Know About Hamas Tunnels,” FDD Insight

Hamas Tunnels to Egypt Played Key Role in Arming Hamas,” FDD Flash Brief


Arab Politics Egypt Israel Israel at War