Following 2014 summer's Operation Protective Edge, terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip, and first and foremost Hamas, continue making efforts to rebuild their infrastructures and promote force and military buildup. Their plan is to prepare for another round of fighting and military conflict with Israel in the future.
For Hamas, military reinforcement is the key priority – even over the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and the wellbeing of its civilian population. Hamas has recently been using most of its resources for large-scale procurement of goods, including dual-use materials that can be used for weapon manufacture. These goods are brought into the Gaza Strip in cooperation with merchants from the West Bank and Israel. The materials, which otherwise require special permits, are also concealed as innocuous goods and smuggled into the Gaza Strip. Most of these materials, including electronic and electric equipment, communications equipment, and industrial raw materials, are used to rebuild and upgrade offensive tunnels leading to Israel; to manufacture weapons, particularly rockets; and to create technological combat support units.
In addition to investing vast financial resources in procurement, Hamas seeks to take hold of materials allowed into the Gaza Strip for the civilian population and its reconstruction-related needs. The materials, which are sometimes seized by Hamas using violent means, are predominantly cement, iron, and wood. Only a small part of these materials is transferred to the civilian population, while the lion's share is confiscated and passed directly to Hamas operatives who rebuild and expand the organization's military infrastructures.
Cement, iron, and wood meant for reconstruction used for force buildup
As the governing force in the Gaza Strip, Hamas takes advantage of various construction and raw materials that are allowed into the Gaza Strip for reconstruction and aid to the civilian population. Instead, these materials are used for military Hamas buildup, and particularly attacking capabilities. For instance, many tons of cement, concrete, and wood are used for constructing Hamas posts and offensive tunnels, including those that cross the border into Israel.
In some cases, Hamas buys the cement meant for the civilian population; in others, it seizes and confiscates it by violent means. For example, the questioning of Gaza-based merchant Khaled Lubad indicated that out of every 100 sacks of cement (meant to reconstruct an average house in the Gaza Strip), Hamas transfers only 5 or 6 to civilians. The rest is confiscated and used for Hamas's needs.
This is also true for wood and boards that serve as tunnel lining. An example of this may be seen in the questioning of Hassan Shurafi and Sami Shkhaibar, who were involved in the smuggling of wooden boards for several companies in the Gaza Strip, including The Arabian Company for Wood, El Aashi, and Hamed Group. The questioned operatives said that some of the people involved in the smuggling were aware that the wood was intended for military Hamas activity, including tunnel lining.
Furthermore, we have recently received reports on Hamas's violent seizure of such materials, including raids by Hamas operatives on wood warehouses in the Gaza Strip. The contents of the warehouses were confiscated and sent to Hamas tunnels.
Up-to-date information also indicates that Hamas raided iron warehouses in the Gaza Strip, seizing tons of iron and iron frames from merchants and companies. The iron and its products are used by Hamas's manufacturing apparatus, among others, for building tunnels and posts, as well as for manufacturing rockets and launchers.
Once again, the questioning of merchants and smugglers, such as Hassan Shurafi and Naji Zaaroub, indicated that the people involved knew that the raw materials were meant for Hamas's military wing. Some of the questioned operatives confessed that the raw materials, including iron plates weighing 5-6 tons, were transferred directly to Hamas. Thus Hamas seizes iron that is brought into the Gaza Strip, allotting only a small part of it to reconstruction and appropriating the rest for its needs.
Smuggling of banned materials through border crossings
Security measures were recently implemented by Egypt in the Sinai Peninsula, including the closure of smuggling tunnels along the Gaza Strip border. This reduced the volume of activity in Hamas's smuggling tunnels to Gaza, and Hamas began to seek alternative ways of bringing raw materials and goods for force buildup into the Gaza Strip. The importance of Kerem Shalom Crossing grew, as the main channel for bringing various consumer goods and products into the Gaza Strip. Hamas recently worked on large-scale procurement of electronic and electric equipment, among others – to create alternative electricity infrastructures for its development and manufacture facilities. Hamas turned Kerem Shalom Crossing into the main smuggling route for various materials and tools for military force buildup.
Since January 2015, the Israeli authorities and security forces have been making considerable efforts to disrupt smuggling via Kerem Shalom. Following this activity, a complex smuggling chain from Israel to the Gaza Strip was exposed. Over 25 suspects were arrested and questioned, including Palestinians and Israeli citizens – merchants, warehouse owners, shipping and storage companies, drivers, and moving companies. Their questioning revealed a well-oiled smuggling machine. As part of this activity, in recent years Hamas brought into the Gaza Strip thousands of tons of equipment and tools for offensive tunnels, posts, training facilities, and the weapon manufacturing industry. After exposing the smuggling chain, the Israeli security forces seized 160 tons of goods meant for the Gaza Strip. These included dual-use materials such as graphite and silver nitrate that, among others, can be used for manufacturing weapons. The Israeli forces also seized other items used for Hamas force buildup, including winches, motors, and compressors for tunnel digging; various types of accumulators used as alternative electricity sources; communication cables, and steel products.
In some cases, banned materials were concealed inside goods that have been approved by the authorities for transfer to the Gaza Strip. On one occasion, raw materials for manufacturing of explosives were even found in a crate of humanitarian equipment. Some recent examples:
· Nitzana Crossing, March 2015 – several shipments from Egypt meant to be transported via Kerem Shalom, most likely to terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip. One shipment of dried food was found to contain 200 kg of raw sulfur sticks, which (of course) have not been declared to customs. Laboratory tests confirmed that this was yellow sulfur, which requires a special permit for transfer to the Gaza Strip, due to the possibility that it will be used as a component in weapon manufacturing.
· Nitzana Crossing, March 2015 – a shipment of 18 tons of metallurgical coke – a special kind of coal used for heating of metal casting forges. The coke originated in Egypt and was meant for the Gaza Strip – most likely, for Hamas's metal casting facilities, including forges for metal processing, casting, and molding into weapons.
· Kerem Shalom Crossing, April 2015 – a truck carrying marble from Hebron to the Gaza Strip. A check of the marble plates found electrodes concealed between them.
Hamas invests vast resources in rebuilding its infrastructures that were damaged during Operation Protective Edge, particularly in the field of force and military buildup. Allocation of resources to military buildup is mainly done at the expense of the Palestinian public in Gaza – the same public whose dire financial situation the Hamas leaders decry at every opportunity, blaming Israel in the process.
This is yet another indication that Hamas unscrupulously takes advantage of Israel's humanitarian approach. Hamas does not abandon efforts to improve its military capabilities, even as this puts at risk the basic interests of civilians in the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli authorities and enforcement entities will continue to strictly monitor the transfer of goods to the Gaza Strip. We intend to exercise the full rigor of the law on anyone involved in purchasing, storing, and smuggling forbidden materials into the Gaza Strip. The State of Israel will use all available means to counteract smuggling, including criminal prosecution, substantial economic sanctions, termination of permits and licenses, and forfeiture and confiscation of goods.