Sunday, August 2

Egypt-US Relations: It's just amazing what $1.3bn in weapons delivery can do to repair friendship. And a few words about tunnel building.

Reuters, August 2: Kerry says United States, Egypt return to 'stronger base' in ties; David Brunnstrom reporting from Cairo:
The United States and Egypt are returning to a "stronger base" in bilateral ties despite tensions and human rights concerns, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday after talks with his Egyptian counterpart.
"Egypt remains vital ... to engagement and stability in the region as a whole," said Kerry, who held the first strategic dialogue between the two countries since 2009.
"There are obviously circumstances where we have found reason to have grave concern and we have expressed it very publicly," he said at a news conference with Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri. "But we have multiple issues that we need to work on simultaneously."
U.S.-Egyptian relations cooled after Islamist president Mohamed Mursi was ousted in 2013 by the military amid mass protests against his rule.
But Cairo remains one of Washington's closest security allies in the Middle East, an increasingly crucial role in a region beset by turmoil in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya.
Shukri told journalists his country had no major disagreements with Washington but there were "differences in points of view over some issues, which is natural".
Cairo and Washington have been exploring opportunities to expand their security relationship. In late March, U.S. President Barack Obama lifted a hold on supplying arms to Cairo, authorizing deliveries valued at over $1.3 billion.
The United States delivered eight F-16 fighter jets last week to Egypt, which is battling insurgents in the Sinai Peninsula who have killed hundreds of soldiers and police since Mursi's removal. The most active group is Sinai Province, an affiliate of Islamic State.
For details on the Sinai Province outfit, see the Reuters Special Report published February 5, 2015, How Cairo is taking the fight to Sinai militants. Reuters had to withhold the name of the lead author for security reasons that are obvious from the report. The correspondent had to put his life in serious danger to gather information firsthand.

One question not discussed by the correspondent: How are the terrorists managing to tunnel into the Sinai from Gaza, given the Sinai's historically high water table? Because the water table has fallen drastically, from what one of John Batchelor's guests said a few weeks ago.   

Batchelor wrote an illuminating report a year ago for Al Jazeera about the tunnel warfare, Hamas’ attack tunnels are transforming war with Israel:  IDF confronts a new, effective weapon that has proved difficult to defeat.

Now, it's not only the IDF that is confronting the weapon; it's also Egypt's military.  And it so happens the weapon can be virtually impossible to detect without locating the entrance or exit to a tunnel. This surprising and I might add alarming point was brought out in the following passages from a New Yorker article by Monte Reel in the August 3 issue, Underworld: How the Sinaloa drug cartel digs its tunnels:
The San Diego Tunnel Task Force owns two ground-penetrating radar devices that look a bit like push lawnmowers. The machines fire electromagnetic signals deep into the ground, and an L.C.D. screen shows the patterns of the waves as they ricochet back to the surface. The agents do not use these machines often, because they aren’t very effective.
According to Steve Sloan, a geophysicist who has studied tunnel detection, the heterogeneous soil near Otay Mesa [San Diego] creates an unusual amount of background noise. On the screen, most deep-set geophysical variations—seams of rock, mismatched strata of soil, and excavation projects—show up as indistinct lines. Investigators can determine what a given line represents only by digging, which is prohibitively expensive and time-consuming.
For decades, tunnels have defied detection by satellites, motion sensors, and thermal imaging systems. During the Vietnam War, when the Vietcong used underground passages like the Cu Chi tunnel network to launch surprise attacks, the Army had no effective tunnel-detection technology, so it had no choice but to send infantrymen—“tunnel rats”—on dangerous search-and-destroy missions.
Serious research into tunnel detection began in the mid-nineteen-seventies, after intelligence indicated that Kim Il-sung, the President of North Korea, had dug more than twenty tunnels across the border into South Korea, for use in a future invasion. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency attempted to design reliable detection technology using seismic and electromagnetic waves, to no avail.
In 2005, the U.S. government funded the Tunnel Detection Initiative, which recruited academics, industry specialists, and military engineers to detect excavation near the border.
“It seemed like a really simple problem,” Nedra Bonal, one of the geophysicists who worked on the initiative, said. “You have a hole in the ground, and I thought I’d look at the seismic data, and that would be that.”
But, according to a government report, the proposals yielded “massive amounts of data and unacceptably high false alarm rates.”

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