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Weapons Smuggling from Egypt to Gaza: What Can Egypt and Israel Do?

 
Filed under: Egypt, Israeli Security, Palestinians
Publication: Jerusalem Issue Briefs

Vol. 7, No. 25    December 19, 2007

  • The Palestinians have brought into Gaza more than 30,000 rifles during the past two years, more than six million rounds of ammunition, more than 230 tons of explosives, and scores of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. These are the weapons Israel will face next time. The next round in Gaza will look more like Lebanon than what Israel faced in Operation Defensive Shield in Judea and Samaria in 2002 or in previous rounds in Gaza.
  • The Egyptian police and army have not yet received a clear order to block infiltration or smuggling from Sinai into Gaza. If they have a clear order, they will act. If the Egyptian side will declare the border inside Sinai a closed military zone for three kilometers, I’m sure they can do it.
  • The Philadelphi corridor between Egypt and Gaza should be the first priority for Israel. We should not expect the Egyptians to do the job for us, so this means we should clear the three kilometers from our side. As I have been saying for years, Israel should reoccupy Philadelphi and should stay there until we have had a peaceful relationship with the Palestinians for at least 25 years.
  • The terrorist groups in Gaza, especially Hamas and Islamic Jihad, are looking only toward the next war with Israel. They are not preparing themselves for any other option. The next round is unavoidable from my point of view, and sooner is better for us.
  • Even if a political agreement is reached with the Palestinians, who will implement it? The weak Fatah or the strong Hamas, who is waiting for the day to fight Israel? There can be no political solution if there is no force to implement it.

The Border Is Open

During the last year alone, Israel faced more than 1,500 security-related incidents along its border with Egypt. There were more than 100 infiltrators, most of them without peaceful intentions, in addition to more than 3,000 Africans, which just shows how this border is open and not controlled from the Egyptian side. And these are the numbers from public sources.

Israel knows of more than 130 tunnels between Egyptian Rafah and Palestinian Rafah. There is at least the same number that we don’t know about. Today, however, most of the weapons can be transferred by truck or car through the Rafah passage, so I really don’t understand why they need the tunnels. Maybe they are smuggling goods like gold and hashish through the tunnels that they don’t want the terrorists to take from them.

The Palestinians have brought into Gaza more than 30,000 rifles during the past two years, more than six million rounds of ammunition, more than 230 tons of explosives including some two or three times more powerful than TNT, and even C4 explosive. They have brought in scores of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles and dozens of mortars. These are the weapons Israel will face next time. The next round in Gaza will look more like Lebanon than what Israel faced in Operation Defensive Shield in Judea and Samaria in 2002 or in previous rounds in Gaza.

Unilateral Withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza

Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 was seen by the other side as Israel running away from Lebanon. I was at that time commander of the Southern Command, part of the executive management of the army, and I said, if we are going to pull out of Lebanon unilaterally, without any agreement, let’s change the rules. I proposed new rules: One, no Hizbullah presence south of the Litani River. Two, if any Israeli settlement or army patrol was attacked by Hizbullah from the Lebanese side of the border, within six hours we would destroy the Syrian army infrastructure in Lebanon (the Syrian army was still in Lebanon at the time). Three, the response to any Katyusha rocket on any settlement in Israel would be the destruction of civilian infrastructure in Lebanon. And these three rules should be declared in every newspaper and TV station in Lebanon.

Then came the disengagement from Gaza. I don’t have any arguments with a leader’s decision to evacuate the settlements and the army from Gaza. It is a leader’s job to take steps to find a solution. But again, we were leaving Gaza without changing any rules of the game. I asked the leadership at the time: What are the new rules for tomorrow? Why are we leaving the Philadelphi corridor between Egypt and Gaza? Is it not clear what is going to happen in Philadelphi the day after?

Can we count on the Egyptian police to do the job for us? The Egyptian police and army have not yet received a clear order to block infiltration or smuggling from Sinai into Gaza. If they have a clear order, they will act. If the Egyptian side will declare the border inside Sinai a closed military zone for three kilometers, I’m sure they can do it.

Let me be clear. The peace between Egypt and Israel is a strategic asset for both sides. Even if it is not warm, there is no bad peace. Both sides should make every effort to keep this peace, and the Egyptians should take very clear steps regarding the situation on their international border.

Israel Must Control the Philadelphi Corridor on the Egypt-Gaza Border

I drew the maps of the Gaza and Jericho agreement in May 1994 in Cairo, where both sides agreed on a military zone in the Philadelphi area. Even in the Oslo agreement, neither of the sides thought Philadelphi could be anything other than a military zone.

The Philadelphi corridor should be the first priority for Israel. We should not expect the Egyptians to do the job for us, so this means we should clear the three kilometers from our side. As I have been saying for years, Israel should reoccupy Philadelphi and should stay there until we have had a peaceful relationship with the Palestinians for at least 25 years.

The terrorist groups in Gaza, especially Hamas and Islamic Jihad, are looking only toward the next war with Israel. They are not preparing themselves for any other option. The next round is unavoidable from my point of view, and sooner is better for us.

Even if a political agreement is reached with the Palestinians, who will implement it? The weak Fatah or the strong Hamas, who is waiting for the day to fight Israel? There can be no political solution if there is no force to implement it.

*      *     *

Maj. Gen. (res.) Dr. Yom Tov Samia was Commander of the IDF Southern Command during 1997-2001. He was a member of the Israeli negotiation team during the Taba and Cairo talks for the implementation of the Oslo Accords. He also served as commander of the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Security Council (JSC). This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on his presentation at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs on November 21, 2007.