gaza tunnel 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Despite efforts by the country's top security echelon to share with Congress videotapes of Egypt assisting Hamas in arms smuggling, the footage has been shown only to some administration officials and never made it to Congress, to avoid infuriating the Egyptians, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The videotapes included footage of Egyptian border policemen allegedly assisting a group of close to 80 Hamas terrorists crossing illegally into Gaza through a hole they had cut in the border fence.
Defense officials said there was also evidence that the Egyptians were assisting Hamas with smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip under the Philadelphi Corridor.
The decision to send the tapes to the Israeli Embassy in Washington was made by Israel's top defense echelon to influence the appropriations process in Congress ahead of a decision to withhold part of the foreign aid granted to Egypt.
That the tape was not shown to Congress reflects a desire by Israel's political and diplomatic echelon not to escalate tension with Cairo by becoming directly involved in lobbying against Egypt in Congress.
For months there has been a debate inside the government over how directly Israel should get involved in the issue inside Washington.
The perception that won the day this time was that over-involvement would be seen by Cairo as an infringement of certain diplomatic "rules" between the two countries and could lead to a major crisis.
The Bush administration is also opposed to pushing too far on the issue at the present time.
The defense establishment believes that showing the tapes can be an effective way of pressuring Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak into clamping down on Hamas's smuggling activities.
"If key congressmen and senators see this, then it will provide a clear picture of the situation and ensure that the money is withheld," a senior official said. "When this happens, Mubarak will feel that he has no choice but to stop the smuggling."
Congress on Wednesday sent a foreign aid bill to US President George W. Bush that for the first time conditions some Egyptian military aid on its efforts to crack down on smuggling into Gaza and improving its human rights record.
According to the legislation, $100 million of the $1.3 billion in Egyptian military aid has been set aside until the secretary of state certifies that Egypt has met these obligations, though the secretary can waive the requirements if she feels holding back the $100m. would harm American national security interests.
An earlier version of the bill would have held back $200m. and not have given the secretary of state a waiver, but it was watered down throughout the process.
Still, critics of Egypt's activities feel that the move sends a strong message that Congress is watching the country and is willing to take some moves that might anger what the administration feels is a key US ally.
Also, according to Washington sources, part of the rationale of continuing with the military aid - begun as part of the Camp David Accords - is that some of it will be used to combat smuggling.
Bush is expected to sign the bill soon.
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