Egypt says that restrictions on the strength of its forces in Sinai prevent it from clamping down on smuggling. The reason for Israel’s forbearance is less clear. It has often said that the tunnels are used to import sophisticated weapons into Gaza that threaten its security. If so, they are not lying around in plain view in the border area; but much in evidence are rocks of chalky TNT used in the production of Gaza’s home-made rockets.
However, the tunnels are used for much more than munitions. Nasser, a pharmacist in Rafah, says that he receives regular visits from smugglers offering to supply him with medicine bought in Egypt. While he does buy dried milk and drugs, his most popular import is generic Viagra, made in India, which he sells for 75 cents a tablet.
…Tunnels are equipped with lighting and telephones. Pumps provide air, and winches drag trains of jerry cans over the smooth surface of the tunnel floor. The cans can be filled with earth, merchandise or people.
Mr Adnan complains that the increase in the number of tunnels is driving down profit margins. So is the heavy taxation imposed by the Hamas police. But there are always new opportunities. Israel has threatened to reduce fuel supplies to Gaza; so Mr Adnan and his friends are already planning a pipe to import subsidised fuel from Egypt.