Steinitz, who serves as chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said that Israel is already trying to thwart an Egyptian-PA arms deal that would provide the Palestinian Authority with 100 armored personnel carriers.
Israel has negotiated with Egypt to allow 750 Egyptian troops stationed on the Philadelphi Route along the Egypt-Gaza border, as a means of preventing the Palestinian Authority and terror groups from smuggling weapons into Gaza.
The accord, known as the Philadelphi Agreement, enables Israel to withdraw IDF troops from the route within the framework of the Israeli pullout from Gaza.
The agreement has been backed by Israeli security officials and legal experts who claim that only a total withdrawal of IDF troops from Gaza would enable Israel to declare that the area is no longer “occupied territory” under international law. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, however, has said that the PA would consider Gaza occupied, so long as Israel controls the territory’s borders.
Steinitz asked Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz at yesterday’s meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee whether the new agreement prohibits Egypt from officially transferring weapons and military equipment to the Palestinian Authority. Steinitz told Israel radio Tuesday morning that Mofaz said that the agreement includes no such provision.
Accordingly, Egypt, on the one hand, would attempt to prevent weapons smuggling into the Gaza district, while on the other hand, could legally transfer weapons and equipment such as tanks and armored personnel carriers to the PA.
Steinitz intends to vote against the agreement when it comes up for Knesset approval, stating the new agreement contradicts the Israel-Egypt peace treaty of 1979 that has as its centerpiece the demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula. Steinitz claims that allowing the positioning of hundreds of Egyptian troops on the Sinai-Gaza border may serve as a precedent for allowing Egypt to introduce more substantial military forces into Sinai at a later date.
The head of the Shinui Party, MK Yosef (Tomy) Lapid, worried by the security ramifications of the new Egyptian accord, said that his party would also vote against the agreement in the Knesset. Lapid’s party has backed the plan to expel Israelis from Gaza and northern Samaria, and handover the territory to the Palestinian Authority.
Steinitz has similarly been at odds with other aspects of the government’s security policy regarding the Palestinian Authority in Gaza. He opposes Mofaz’s decision to allow the PA to open a seaport in the city of Gaza, located on Israel’s southern coast, and an airport in Dahaniya, adjacent to the eastern Negev.
Steinitz warned that the PA could anchor arms bearing ships at its Gaza port, recalling the capture of the Karine A—an arms ship intercepted by the IDF before it was able to unload its military cargo off the Gaza coast. Former Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu also recalled the Karine A incident in his news conference in which he explained the reasons for his resignation.