Israel is soft on Egypt's failure to honor its treaty obligations to effectively fight the smugglers for all the wrong reasons.

First some facts: As IDF Southern Gaza Brigade commander Colonel Pinkie Suarez warned just last week on Israel Radio, a very large quantity of arms, including anti-aircraft missiles, Katyusha rockets and anti-tank missiles destined for the Gaza Strip are being held now in the Egyptian Sinai Desert. If these weapons are introduced into the Gaza Strip, they will dramatically enhance the ability of the Palestinians to terrorize the Jewish State by putting many strategic targets within range, threatening Israeli aviation, and making IDF operations considerably more dangerous and complicated.

As Amira Oron, an Israel Foreign Ministry spokesperson, confirmed to me recently, the March 26, 1979 Peace Treaty Between Israel and Egypt sets no limit on the number of Egyptian police armed with assault rifles that Egypt can deploy in the border area adjacent to the Gaza Strip, and no limits were introduced after the Treaty was signed. Subparagraph 1.c.2. of Article II of Annex I, "Protocol Concerning Israeli Withdrawal and Security Agreements", states that "Egyptian civil police will be stationed in Zone C," (the area adjacent to the border) without setting any limit on the size of the force. Subparagraph 1.c.3. states that they will be "armed with light weapons". Assault rifles qualify as "light weapons".

Again: There is absolutely nothing preventing Egypt from flooding its border area today with a police force armed with assault rifles to seize the weapons intended for Gaza terrorists.

And don't think for a minute that Egypt doesn't know - or cannot find out - where these weapons are. It would be an insult to Egyptian intelligence to even entertain the notion that they are not able to track down smuggling operations in their own sovereign backyard; operations that pass weapons across great distances on a limited number of routes to reach a small border area.

Egypt has consistently taken the lead in efforts to keep the various Palestinian terror forces armed and intact, and today the situation is no different. At most, Egypt offers to help broker a temporary cease-fire, during which the terrorists can acquire even more weapons.

Why then does the Government of Israel consistently avoid criticizing Egypt?

Cynics say that Egyptian participation is a critical card in the retreat "house of cards". Concede that it is, at best, wishful thinking to expect Egypt to play a truly positive role in the Gaza Strip and you are only a step away from admitting that retreat itself is a half-baked idea.

Others explain that if Egypt takes significant action against the smuggling of weapons to the Palestinian "freedom fighters", that this would undermine its standing in the Arab world and pit the Egyptian "street" against the ruling regime. Force Egypt to act against the smugglers, the argument goes, and we may end up finding ourselves next door to a considerably more dangerous Egyptian regime that is still armed with the best and most advanced Western weapons systems American aid can buy.

But this is where the whole logic of inviting Egypt into Gaza disintegrates.

If Egypt, out of pan-Arab and internal considerations, declines to make a serious effort against dangerous weapons on sovereign Egyptian soil, it will be even less inclined to be associated with security measures against Palestinian "freedom fighters" beyond their borders in Gaza.

The financial rewards for smuggling rockets, missiles and other weapons into Gaza are great - many-fold the lifetime salaries of the Egyptians expected to be sent to Gaza. Add to this the very real possibility that Israel, in the spirit of its consistent policy of avoiding criticizing or embarrassing Egypt, will studiously avoid carrying out anything but the most cursory examination of material crossing into Gaza associated with the official Egyptian Gaza team, and we have a formula for disaster.

It would be bad enough for Egyptian "advisors" in Gaza to discourage serious action against the terror infrastructure and provide human shields for the terrorists via their presence in the field. Add to this the very real danger that the Egyptian operation in Gaza could easily become the most dangerous weapons conduit to the terrorists, and the Egyptian role in Gaza goes from a mediocre idea to a dangerous one.

Can Ariel Sharon and his team face up to reality about Egypt and still find a way to retreat from Gaza?

I don't know. But if they can't come up with a retreat plan that doesn't rely on Egypt, it is best that they face reality now, when the choice is between bearing the political consequences of dropping bad policy, and implementing deadly bad policy.