Hamas gunman 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
In a letter responding to a request from US senators, MK Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset Subcommittee on Defense Readiness and Combating Terrorism, has done his nation a service by outlining Egypt's complicity in Hamas's weapons and training buildup in Gaza. We are watching the folly of Hizbullah's pre-war build-up in Lebanon repeat itself, this time under the blind eye of a neighboring state that claims to be committed to the peace process.
Steinitz's letter to the senators reveals that, according to Israeli intelligence, Gaza's Hamas overlords are "absorbing, on an annual basis, approximately: 20,000 rifles, 6,000 antitank missiles (mainly RPG's), 100 tons of explosives, and several dozens of Katyusha rockets, as well as shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles."
Since Hamas's violent expulsion of Fatah from Gaza five months ago, Hamas has been sending "large groups of operatives" for military training in Iran. Steinitz reports further that "in late September, a group of 100 operatives who completed their exercises in Iran was permitted to cross the border back into Gaza, despite strong Israeli protests."
While Egypt makes a show of finding a smuggling tunnel from time to time, this is "an insult to the intelligence," he states. If Egypt really wanted to stop the smuggling, it would "erect a number of roadblocks along the very few roads that run from mainland Egypt to the Gaza region, in order to intercept heavily loaded trucks carrying hundreds of rifles and missiles from reaching the border," Steinitz writes. "Alternatively, they can declare the border area a closed military zone, with a depth of 2-3 miles into the interior of Sinai, and prevent any movement in it. Since the entire length of the Egyptian-Gaza border is less then 9 miles, the area affected will be equivalent in size to a military air base."
More than two years after Israel's total unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, it is astounding and shameful that the massive flow of weaponry from Egypt to Gaza has increased, rather than been shut down. As Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently said, the necessity of a major IDF ground operation in Gaza is growing daily. This would not be the case if Egypt were carrying out its most basic responsibilities regarding its own borders.
Israel is not asking for the moon, only that Egypt act with the same seriousness that Jordan has for years. Egypt's excuses are "baseless," Steinitz writes, given that "Jordan shares a far longer border with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank." Jordan has succeeded where Egypt has failed because its security forces "block most smuggling to militant Islamic groups in the West Bank well before they reach the border area," he says.
As this newspaper has repeatedly editorialized, the de facto result of Egypt's behavior is little different than that which has justly earned Syria and Iran their rogue status. "The only difference," Steinitz argues, "is that in contrast to those countries, Egypt is still considered an ally of the West, and is heavily supported by the US."
This incongruous situation must end. A bill in the House of Representatives would freeze $200 million of Egypt's $1.3 billion in annual US military assistance, requiring certification that Egypt "detect and destroy the smuggling network... from Egypt to Gaza." The Senate version urges Egypt to do more to stop smuggling but would not halt aid.
It should be clear by now that the Israeli and American refusal to put serious pressure on Egypt to stop the flow of weapons and trained operatives into Gaza is playing with fire and courting the next war. The Mubarak regime has used its ostensible fragility to ward off such pressure for years. But if Mubarak cannot accomplish something so basic as setting up a few roadblocks or securing a small military zone, what is the point of sending his government billions in military aid?
Egypt styles itself as a moderate force, a Western ally in the war against terrorism, and an active proponent and mediator for Arab-Israeli peace. It cannot retain this status while allowing the arming and training of Hamas, which is openly supporting terrorism against Israel and gearing up for the next war.
Egypt must choose, but it will not choose to fulfill its responsibilities absent concrete financial and diplomatic pressure. Whatever risks such pressure might entail, they pale beside the dangers of doing nothing, which we saw so tragically play out in the Second Lebanon War. It is very late, but not too late to cut off the flow of weapons and training to Hamas.
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