Hamas officials on Sept 3 tried in vain to tamp down rumors of a pending Egyptian military invasion spreading among the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. Hamas insists the rumors are baseless, one of which even suggests a joint Israeli-Egyptian military operation is in the making.
There are several events likely feeding into these rumors, not least of which is a large buildup of Egyptian troops, armor and aircraft in the Sinai with the approval of Israel, per the conditions of the Camp David Accords. A buildup which initially began after the Mubarak regime was brought down and Egyptian civil authority essentially collapsed in the Sinai.
That initial security force has recently been beefed up with combat formations including tanks, armored personnel carriers; Apache attack helicopters and F-16 Falcon combat jets. Several firefights have taken place in recent weeks, including one near the Israeli border where assistance was reportedly given by Israel to Egyptian forces in the form of an aerial drone strike.
Sept 3 has seen greatly increased combat, with a massed Apache helicopter strike on a force of militants gathering for debarkation or an attack; the militants were taken by total surprise. Sept 1 saw an attempted attack on a container ship transiting the Suez Canal.
Egyptian commanders on the scene in Rafah, now intend to establish a 500 meter strip along the Gaza border to make it harder to dig any tunnels without being discovered. All buildings of any kind within that zone are to be demolished as they were most often used as cover for the Egyptian side of such tunnels.
Hamas’ official take is that the rumors are born out of the worsening relations between themselves and Egypt’s new interim government. Relations between Egypt and Hamas ruled Gaza have never been smooth even before the Arab Spring and Mubarak’s downfall. On numerous occasions Egyptian security forces raided homes on the Egyptian side of the border to find and seal up or collapse tunnels used to smuggle weapons into Gaza after being delivered by sea to the Sinai.
After Mubarak’s fall, the reverse situation presented itself of both arms and al-Qaeda terror cells funneling from Gaza into the Sinai. For the most part, these terror cells purpose has been to traverse the north-south axis of the Israeli-Egyptian border and launch raids or rocket attacks into Israel.
The situation grew increasingly out of Egyptian control during the short tenure of Muslim Brotherhood rule in Cairo. Following the military coup and removal of Pres. Mohamed Morsi, Egyptian Chief of Staff General al-Sissi ordered a crackdown in the Sinai, coordinating the deployment of Egyptian combat forces with Israel in accordance with Camp David.
Hamas has accused Egypt of shooting fisherman of the coast of the border area, collapsing tunnels on the border and of numerous over flights of Gaza by Egyptian helicopters and combat aircraft, as well as accusing Cairo of plotting with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank against Hamas.
Gaza narrowly avoided an Israeli ground invasion in November 2012 after a series of heavy rocket barrages from Hamas militants in Gaza provoked Israel to launch an air and artillery campaign as over 75,000 Israeli troops mobilized for invasion. A cease fire deal was brokered by Washington in the nick of time.
If Egypt did decide to invade Gaza, it would be quite the irony in that Egypt would be fighting an Arab Muslim enemy, rather than trying to evict Israeli forces as would have been the case prior to the Camp David Accords. Israel likely would not protest such an operation, but in fact would quietly breathe a sigh of approval with the final result being the return of Fatah rule to Gaza. Though they have their differences, Fatah and Israel have a largely peaceful security relationship and have even cross trained their security forces with one another.