In 2014 and 2015, the Egyptian military, in close coordination with Israel, destroyed or blocked hundreds of tunnels used to smuggle arms, as well as consumer goods, into the Gaza Strip from the Sinai Peninsula. Since then, Hamas’s only reliable way to get weapons has been by sea. Emanuel Fabian explains Israeli sailors’ efforts to stymie the flow:
The Israeli Navy’s Ashdod Base—which is tasked with the Gaza area—is overloaded with missions at sea while facing myriad threats from Hamas and other terror groups. The Ashdod Base has a massive area of operations, from Rafah on the Gaza-Egypt border to an area much further north. Its 916th Patrol Squadron is mainly tasked with the region around Gaza, up to 40 nautical miles out to sea.
Attempts at smuggling via the maritime route from northern Egypt are believed to be frequent and are expected to only increase. . . . Over the past year, the Navy has been successful in foiling every smuggling attempt from Egypt to Gaza that it identified, though it believes there are some it did not catch and that Hamas is getting better at carrying them out.
Israel has maintained a naval and ground blockade on Gaza since 2007, when Hamas took control of the Strip from the Palestinian Authority through a bloody conflict that followed contested elections. Egypt also blockades the territory. . . . The blockade has had a particularly negative effect on fishermen, who cannot stray too far from the shore without facing the threat of Israeli fire. As a result, the shallow waters adjacent to the coast have been overfished, diminishing hauls, and thus profits, over time. Nonetheless, figures from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics indicate that Gaza fishermen have more than doubled their catch since the blockade was introduced—from over 1.5 million fish in 2009 to almost 4 million in 2019.
The fishing business is relatively profitable in the impoverished Strip, but helping Hamas smuggle in equipment is thought to be far more lucrative.