The importance of the buffer zone expansion is becoming clear in light of the armed forces’ announcement on March 29 of the discovery of a secret tunnel connecting Gaza to Sinai and stretching along 2.8 kilometers (1.7 miles) into Egyptian territory. This tunnel is the longest tunnel yet to be discovered by the armed forces.
Nasser Khaled, an infrastructure expert and soil mechanical engineer, told Al-Monitor that digging such a tunnel requires modern equipment and a large number of workers to dig either in rocks or loose land. He said the process takes four to five months, while the average cost of the required equipment is no less than about 10 million Egyptian pounds ($1.3 million).
Khaled said that most of the manufacturers of such equipment do not authorize sales except to states and major engineering and construction companies. He added that the primitive or manual drilling of such tunnels may take years.
Amr Radwan, an infrastructure expert and soil mechanical engineer told Al-Monitor that it is difficult to determine how long it takes to dig such a tunnel unless the nature of the used equipment is identified and the number of workers as well as the specifications of the rocks and soil are known. He said those operations are risky because of loose rocks where drilling could lead to the quick collapse of a tunnel.
The information about the costly equipment, the fact that they are only sold to specific parties and the importance of identifying the nature of the rocks before drilling are factors that indicate that construction companies or experts may be secretly supporting the drilling operations.
Major construction companies in the Gaza Strip have faced difficulties after the Egyptian authorities tightened their control over the tunnels, after the ousting of Mohammed Morsi in July 2013 and the intensification of the terror attacks in Sinai, through which a large proportion of building materials would enter the country. This led in January 2014 to the closing of about 280-300 companies and factories amid a blockade imposed by Israeli forces on the entry of construction materials into the Gaza Strip.