(photo credit: AP [file])
Thirty years after Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's historic visit to Israel, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter accused Egypt on Sunday of knowingly permitting smuggling that strengthens Hamas. He called on the Quartet to intervene and force Egypt to stop the steady stream of men and materiel through the porous Rafah border.
"Egypt understands the situation and they know that the continuation of smuggling is strengthening Hamas and weakening the PA," Dichter said in a phone interview. "After Oslo and especially after the intifada, when smuggling started to be the trend, everybody thought that Egypt was going to play its roleâ€¦.but Egypt is doing practically nothing," he complained.
Dichter emphasized that Israel had given ample chances to Egypt to prevent smuggling across the Rafah border - even allowing Egypt's Border Brigade - a paramilitary police unit under army command - to be positioned along the sensitive area. At times, upwards of 5,000 Egyptian troops had been stationed along the Egyptian side of the Philadelphi Corridor but - according to Dichter - to no avail.
"Egypt could deploy to stop the smuggling within an hour," said the former Shin Bet chief, who specialized in the Gaza sector. "What we previously perceived as weakness or inability to act may be Egyptian policy," he explained - adding that the smuggling seemed to serve no one's interest other than that of Hamas.
Weapons, drugs and what Dichter described as Iranian-trained terrorists were smuggled across the border, mostly through tunnels dug deep in Rafah's sandy soil.
But 30 years after the two countries opened neighborly discourse, Dichter said that he did not believe that Israel could do anything to convince the Egyptians to change their lax policy toward border infiltrations.
"Israel doesn't have strong leverage against Egypt, but other countries such as the US or coalitions such as the Quartet should use the leverage that they have to convince Egypt to stop the smuggling," Dichter suggested. He emphasized that he hoped the topic would be discussed at the upcoming summit in Annapolis. "I hope it will be discussed because it has a lot to do with the stability of the entire area," he said.
In lieu of acting to stop the smuggling through talking to Egypt, Dichter said that there were three directions through which Israel could confront Hamas's growing capabilities in Gaza.
First, he said, Israel must create a deterrent factor to raise the cost of engaging in terror acts against Israel such as the Kassams fired at the Western Negev. Second, the further enhancement of Hamas's capabilities should be blocked. "If not by Egypt," warned Dichter, "then it must be done by Israel." Dichter described these first two steps as "immediate," whereas he termed the third step - "to harm and reduce Hamas's capabilities" - as "the most complicated."
"The problem isn't just about Israel's security, but also that of the PA and of Egypt itselfâ€¦. Hamas did in the Gaza Strip what Abbas said that he wanted to do throughout the PA. Gaza is united under one leadership: Hamas; one law: Islamic law; and one gun: Hamas's army that they are building there."
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