Shteinitz, who heads the influential Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, severely criticized Egypt on Tuesday for letting the security situation on the border deteriorate.
“Over the past few years, we have witnessed a deliberate effort on the part of the Egyptians to turn the Sinai Peninsula into a paradise for smuggling weapons into Israel and the Gaza Strip,” said Shteinitz.
Egyptians, often working alongside Bedouin Arabs from the Negev, have been smuggling drugs, terrorists, prostitutes, and weapons for terrorists and criminals into Israel at an alarming rate.
Using language generally reserved for Israel’s most implacable enemies, Shteinitz said that Egypt was “aiding and abetting” terror against Israel “in exactly the same way as Syria and Iran.”
Unlike Syria and Iran, Israel and Egypt have full diplomatic relations, established after the signing of a peace treaty in 1979.
Shteinitz’s support for a security barrier coincides with ideas put forward by the IDF and the security apparatus to deal with the smuggling problem.
“The time has come to invest in a border fence with Egypt and for condemning its behavior in the international arena,” he said.
A cabinet decision on Tuesday, allocating NIS 150 million for border security, fell short of approving the construction of a security barrier or border fence.
The money will be spent as a first step in combating the smuggling problem. The plan is expect to cost as much as NIS 1.5 billion over three years.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said at the cabinet meeting that “there should be no distinction made between crime-related smuggling and other types of smuggling. The fight against smuggling will reduce the crime rate as well as the intensity of terror activity.”
The prime minister, however, recommended that there be “more cooperation [among law enforcement authorities] and less money” spent on the problem.
Israel conquered the Sinai from Egypt in the 1967 Six Day War. Under the terms of the peace treaty, Israel completed a withdrawal from the Sinai Desert in 1982.
The last phase of that withdrawal was accompanied by the destruction of Jewish communities in the Yamit region. Five thousand Jews were expelled from their homes in an operation carried out by Ariel Sharon, who then served as Defense Minister.