Egypt Increases Gaza Border Force

Egypt announced the addition of 5,000 troops to the Gaza border over the weekend in response to Israeli threats to step up operations in the area.

Hillel Fendel and Yechiel Spira, | updated: 06:35

Egypt first announced on Saturday afternoon that it was bringing in 1,500 more troops, and within a couple of hours, upped the number to 5,000. Up until now, only 750 Egyptian troops were stationed the Gaza border.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz told the Cabinet today that the reports are untrue, and that only 750 Egyptian troops are stationed there.

It was reported that Israel has been considering targeting the weapons-smuggling tunnels in the area in aerial assaults. Israel denied such plans, saying that in any event, such plans would be coordinated with Egypt.

Egypt reportedly fears that Israeli air attacks would endanger some 20,000 residents of the border area. An underlying motive for Egypt's increased deployment includes the country's desire to maintain Cairo’s current standing in the eyes of the West as the regional Arab peacemaker. Egypt wants to be perceived as a moderate force working towards stability in the area.

In actuality, since Egyptian forces accepted responsibility for the Philadelphi Route between PA (Palestinian Authority)-controlled Gaza and Egypt, Israeli intelligence reports that the smuggling of weapons, ammunition and explosives from Sinai has significantly increased. Intelligence and military officials report that the Rafah Crossing border is “wide open,” a terrorist haven for the importation of weapons and ammunition.

Former IDF Southern District Commander Gen. Yom Tov Samiya said today that Israel has no choice but to turn back the clock and re-take control of the 12-kilometer-long and 100-meter-wide Philadelphi Route. "Even the Oslo Accords stipulate that Israel continues to control this area," he said. "And I don't mean that we should occupy just a 40-meter wide swathe, but 400 meters."

Israeli forces continue operating in southern Gaza, searching for and destroying weapons tunnels. The army appears to be preparing for the possibility that the 11-kilometer (6.6-mile) long border will be targeted in aerial assaults, striking weapons tunnels with smart bombs as efforts to halt or at least curb terrorist activities continue.

Since Israel’s unilateral retreat from Gaza in the summer of 2005, terrorists have brought massive anounts of weapons into Gaza, including the anti-tank rockets used to destroy over 30 IDF tanks in the recent war in Lebanon.