Egypt: The Elephant in the Room - Part I

The media has focused almost exclusively on the eviction of Jewish residents in Gaza and four West Bank settlements. The same is true, for the most part, of opponents of the plan. But this disregards a key point: as part of the Israeli retreat, the Egyptian military will regain control of the Gaza-Egypt border.

Jared Israel,

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Reporting on the so-called Disengagement Plan, the media has focused almost exclusively on the eviction of Jewish residents in Gaza and four West Bank settlements. The same is true, for the most part, of opponents of the plan. But this disregards a key point: as part of the Israeli retreat, the Egyptian military will regain control of the Gaza-Egypt border.

Some have argued that this major Israeli concession will encourage the Egyptians to crack down on gangs that smuggle weapons from the Sinai desert to terrorist groups in Gaza, thus improving Israeli security. Others have argued that it is absurd to expect the Egyptians, who have permitted - or encouraged - weapons smuggling for years, to stop it when they are in control, and that with Egypt instead of Israel in charge of security, Gaza will become a far more dangerous bastion of terrorism.

As we shall see, the evidence supports the latter view. Indeed, combined with the eviction of Jewish settlers from Gaza, the transfer of border control from Israel to Egypt may produce worse results than critics have argued. This is because both the Disengagement Plan and the Egyptian border takeover contradict key clauses and language in previous agreements between Israel, on one side, and Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, on the other. These clauses and language not only directly hinder an Egyptian military buildup in the Sinai, but give Israel the right to defend the Gaza-Sinai border as part of the defense of Israel. The Disengagement Plan and border takeover put Egypt and the so-called international community in the position of being able to argue that Israel has surrendered, de facto, this crucial right. This could lead to one or more of the following scenarios, jeopardizing Israel's very existence:

1) The creation of an Egyptian military protectorate in Gaza, with provocations leading to...

2) A serious military confrontation with Egypt, which may in turn lead to...

3) The introduction of NATO or similar peacekeepers, meaning a further surrender of Israeli sovereignty, and/or military confrontation between Israel and NATO.

A Minor Issue?

The recent mass eviction of Jews from Gaza and four West Bank settlements is very important. First, it means tragedy for the 10,000 people directly involved. Second, it means the acceptance of the idea that Gaza, and by extension, also the entire West Bank, are by right "Palestinian" Arab territories. Third, it also means accepting the blatantly racist principle that Jews have no right to live in "Arab lands".

However, the media - and even opponents of Disengagement - have missed or deliberately disregarded another aspect of the plan: the return of the Egyptian military, by Israeli invitation, to Gaza.

Last night, the Knesset voted, by a margin of 53 to 28, to accept a deal worked out between the Egyptian and Israeli governments to give Egypt security control of the Gaza-Egypt border. In the Knesset vote, it was not only Arab and "Left" MKs who voted for the deal. Enough Likud members also voted for it to give the measure an almost 2/3 majority. Even a few anti-Disengagement MKs voted yes. Israel National News reported:

"Several MKs who strongly opposed the withdrawal from Gaza voted in favor of the agreement today. Minister Yisrael Katz and Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin both say that there is no point in keeping Israeli soldiers in the area, in between Egyptian and Palestinian Authority forces, now that there is no Jewish civilian presence there."

This sentiment misrepresents the meaning of the Egyptian border takeover.

The takeover has been justified on security grounds. For years, the Egypt-Gaza border has been the site of a huge weapons smuggling operation, using tunnels running from the Egyptian side of the border into Gaza, mainly in the town of Rafah. To combat this smuggling, Israel stationed troops in the "Philadelphi Corridor", a narrow security road running between Gaza and Egypt. Using sophisticated monitoring devices, Israeli troops searched for and destroyed the tunnels. (Click here for a graphic illustration.)

To better understand the huge scale of weapons smuggling, check out this IDF chronology of anti-smuggling operations: According to the IDF, the Gaza weapons smuggling poses a deadly threat to all of Israel, a threat the Israeli government admits will get worse following its eviction of Jews from Gaza. How does the Sharon government expect to combat this worsened threat? Here's the New York Post:

"Fearing that abandoning Jewish settlements in Gaza will help foment a new terror state there, Israel is seeking Egyptian assistance by agreeing to let its former adversary deploy forces along Gaza's border with the Sinai Peninsula." (1)

According to the Post:

"Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hopes the Egyptians can help stem the flow of weaponry into the Palestinian-controlled territory." (1)

There is no doubt that, if they have the desire, the Egyptians "can help stem" the flow of rockets and other weapons to terrorist groups in Gaza. But do they have the desire?

We have a direct answer from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. On June 20, 2005, Mubarak was interviewed on Israel's Channel 2. Here is a report posted by the Saudi newspaper, Arab News:
"Asked on [sic] Egypt's role in the planned Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and whether it will try to prevent weapons smuggling through tunnels under Rafah, President Mubarak said the Israelis themselves cannot prevent weapons smuggling as they currently patrol the Philadelphia [sic] route.

"The President said that Egyptian police are frequently searching for illegal weapons in Sinai and trying their best to foil any attempt to smuggle weapons into Israel.

"But Mubarak said that no country in the world, including the United States and Russia, can completely seal off its borders to prevent smuggling as there would be definitely some porous areas." (2)

Even though he was speaking on Israeli TV in June, before the Knesset had approved the Egyptian takeover, Mubarak makes no effort to convince viewers that Egypt is sincere about stopping the smuggling. Instead, he goes out of his way to say that Egypt will not stop the smuggling. He does so using black humor, comparing the approximately eight kilometers of border along which weapons are smuggled into Gaza to the Russian and US borders, which are thousands of kilometers long. Thus, he ridicules the Israeli government's "hopes [that] the Egyptians can help stem the flow of weaponry into the Palestinian-controlled territory." (1)

President Mubarak's promise that Egypt will fail, made on television, is an obvious invitation for terrorists to greatly increase the flow of weapons into Gaza after the Egyptians takeover.

Mubarak told Channel 2 that Egyptian forces were already "trying their best" to stop the smuggling. Again, this is black humor. According to the Jerusalem Post, here is what General Moshe Ya'alon, former IDF Chief of Staff, had to say about Egypt's "best":
"Speaking to a small group of reporters in his Tel Aviv headquarters in a closed-door meeting, Ya'alon blasted the Egyptians for allowing the Palestinians to continue smuggling arms from Sinai into Gaza despite Israeli protests.

"According to a summary of his comments, leaked by a person present in the meeting, Ya'alon charged that if the Egyptians wanted the Palestinians to have Katyusha rockets capable of hitting Ashkelon, they would facilitate that as well.

"Ya'alon added that Egypt knew exactly which arms were being smuggled, and could halt the smuggling of rocket- propelled grenades into Gaza.

"His scathing comments came as top Defense Ministry officials are trying to stabilize meetings with Egyptian security counterparts to coordinate the disengagement from the Gaza Strip. These talks are being headed by Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Gilad, head of the ministry's political bureau.

"According to defense sources, Gilad is seeking an agreement by which Egypt and the Palestinian Authority will secure its end of the Philadelphi corridor, the narrow border separating Sinai from the Gaza Strip where Palestinians are digging tunnels to facilitate arms smuggling.

"According to reports, talks held in Egypt last week resulted in an Israeli agreement to allow more experienced Egyptian troops into the border area, instead of Egyptian Border Police. This would be a modification to the peace treaty between the two countries, which aimed at distancing the Egyptian and Israeli forces." (3)


a) if the weapons smuggling is a deadly threat, as the IDF states, and

b) if Egypt has deliberately permitted the smuggling to go on up until now, and

c) if Egyptian President Mubarak openly mocks the idea of Egypt stemming the flow of weapons, and

d) if the Gaza pullout will, as the New York Post reports, and the Israeli government admits, "help foment a new terror state" in Gaza, then...

How can giving Egypt control of the Egypt-Gaza border possibly prevent the creation of said terrorist state? Won't it instead guarantee the creation of said state?

But the Egyptian takeover poses other problems as well, as we shall see in Part II.


(1) "Ariel Asks Egypt For Gaza Help", the New York Post, August 5, 2005 Friday, All Editions; Pg. 5, 349 words, Uri Dan

(2) "Mubarak: Gaza withdrawal should be followed by further pullouts" Egypt-Israel, Politics, 6/21/2005

(3) "Ya'alon slams Egypt for role in smuggling", the Jerusalem Post, August 25, 2004, Wednesday, News; Pg. 1, 494 words, Arieh O'Sullivan