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PM tours South, heralds completion of border fence
By HERB KEINON
01/02/2013
Netanyahu says fence has achieved primary objectives of stemming the flood of African migrants, defending from Sinai terror.
 
“There has not been an engineering feat in Israel this large since the days of Herod,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday on a tour of the newly completed 230-km. fence along the Sinai border.

Netanyahu, who was shepherded through the massive, NIS 1.6 billion project, said the model will now be duplicated on the Golan Heights border with Syria, and later on the country’s eastern frontier.

“I think that the success here tells us that we need to complete the work on the other borders, and in the future we will close all of Israel’s borders,” he said.

Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh said a similar barrier on the frontier with Syria was in the process of being built, and should be finished by the middle of the summer to “preempt the possibility of terrorist attacks against communities on the Golan Heights.”

Work on the five-meter-high southern fence began in November 2010, and Netanyahu – who is touting the project as one of the major achievements of his current tenure – has taken helicopter visits to various points along the border to gauge the pace of work being done since then.

On Wednesday, Naveh told Netanyahu, “Mission accomplished.”

Nevertheless, another 13 km. in mountainous terrain near Eilat still needs to be built. When that is completed in an estimated three months’ time, the long stretch of border from Kerem Shalom, where Sinai and Israel meet the Gaza Strip, to Taba, on the Red Sea, will be sealed.

Brig.-Gen. Eran Ofir, head of the project, told the prime minister that “just as the Iron Dome defends Israel’s skies, the fence is an iron wall defending Israel’s border.”

Netanyahu said the fence had two primary objectives. The first was to stop the flood of African migrants into the country, which he said would – had it not been stemmed – have posed a strategic threat to the country.

The prime minister said that at the height of efforts to infiltrate the border last January, some 2,300 people were making their way across the border each month. That number dropped to 36 in December.

Just as Israel succeeded in stemming the influx of migrants, he added, it will also succeed in sending those already here back to their lands of origin. There are an estimated 60,000 African migrants here, some 40,000 of them from Eritrea and Sudan, countries to which Israel is unable to deport them.

Israel
Israel's 5 meter high border fence with Egypt.

Netanyahu last month appointed former Mossad official Hagai Hadas to spearhead efforts to send the migrants back home. He did not, however, provide any details on how those efforts were proceeding, or which countries would be willing to take the migrants in.

The fence’s second objective, Netanyahu said, was to combat terrorist attacks originating from Sinai. Quoting OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Tal Russo, who briefed him at the fence, the prime minister said there has been a significant decline in attempted attacks from Sinai.

He attributed that both to the fence and to November’s Operation Pillar of Defense.

The prime minister briefly met with a few members of the IDF’s Rimon commando unit, their faces partially covered in masks, established a couple of years ago to patrol the southern border.

According to Defense Ministry numbers, the new fence was built with 45,000 tons of steel, and enough earth was moved during construction to fill 1.67 million trucks.

Some 100 contractors were involved in the project, employing more than 1,000 people who – at times – worked around the clock to finish ahead of deadline.

The Defense Ministry said the fence was attracting interest from other countries facing similar challenges from illegal infiltration, smuggling and terrorism. The barrier includes the 5-meter steel fence itself, as well as a more rudimentary barbed wire fence in front of it, a sand road for tracking, a patrol path, and communications infrastructure including information collection points, cameras and state-of-the art radar.
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