CAIRO: Four US Embassy officials traveled to North Sinai Wednesday on a routine visit, spokesperson of the US Embassy in Cairo Margaret White told Daily News Egypt in an email interview, emphasizing that embassy officials routinely visit the border area to liaise with Egyptian government officials as part of their official duties.
Two days earlier, daily newspaper Al-Shorouk had reported that the construction of the underground steel barrier on the border with Gaza is in its “final stage and will take only a few weeks to complete, much earlier than the projected 18 months.
There has been widespread speculation that the barrier, which would cut through hundreds of smuggling tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border, is funded by the Obama administration.
However, White confirmed that “the US has no involvement in the project to install a barrier on the border with Gaza.
Yet events over the past three years seem to indicate that several US measures have played a role in Egypt s decision to build the barrier.
After Hamas seized control of the Gaza strip in 2007, Israel accused Egypt of turning a blind eye to smuggling of goods and arms through illegal subterranean tunnels in the Rafah border area. In November 2007, the Israeli Finance Minister Steinitz asked the American Congress to freeze US military aid to Egypt if no improvements were made to meet Israeli concerns.
Egypt is, after Israel, the largest receiver of US Foreign Military Financing (FMF) – with $1.3 billion a year out of a worldwide yearly FMF budget of $5.2 billion.
In 2008, $100 million in aid allocated to Egypt were withheld until the US Secretary of State could certify concrete steps on the Egyptian side to “detect and destroy the smuggling network and tunnels that lead from Egypt to Gaza.
Simultaneously, the US Congress agreed to spend $23 million in aid to increase security and control of the Rafah border. The financial aid included the installation of advanced technical devices at the border and a two-month special training for Egyptian soldiers conducted by US troops.
“The US believes that weapon smuggling into Gaza should be stopped and that incentives for smuggling legitimate goods into Gaza should be reduced by increasing the volume of commercial and humanitarian goods allowed through Israeli-Gaza crossings, White said.