gaza tunnel 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Our media are in full fret over a "diplomatic crisis" with Egypt. But there is no diplomatic crisis; there is a smuggling crisis. The problem is not what Israeli officials are saying, but what Egypt is doing.
This was illustrated most dramatically yesterday when Egypt flagrantly violated the understandings reached just days ago in Defense Minister Ehud Barak's meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. According to Israeli officials, Egypt agreed not to allow about 1,700 people back into Gaza through the Rafah crossing so they could be checked by Israel at the Kerem Shalom crossing instead. This group, supposedly pilgrims, included wanted Hamas terrorists, carrying money, weapons, and training materials related to terrorism, according to Israeli officials.
This scandalous Egyptian behavior far overshadows the original supposed crisis that began with a remark in a closed Knesset meeting by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who said that Egypt's efforts to stop smuggling across its border with Gaza are "poor, problematic and undermine the ability to move forward on a political process with the Palestinians." Indeed, Egypt has once again proved Livni's point.
Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit responded to Livni, claiming that if Israel "continues to push and affect US-Egyptian relations and harm Egyptian interests, for sure Egypt will retaliate and will harm their interests." Speaking on Egyptian television on Monday, he continued, "We have claws capable of retaliating in all directions, and through diplomacy."
Threats of hostile diplomacy are a bit rich, coming from Egypt. As Israeli diplomats were quick to point out, Egypt has been working against Israel diplomatically for years. It was Egypt, for example, that led the Arab opposition to the first Israeli resolution adopted by the UN, an anodyne statement encouraging the sharing of agriculture technology with the developing world. Indeed, Egypt has been pivotal to the transformation of the UN into an anti-Israel propaganda machine.
Even sports events are not safe from Egypt's anti-peace troublemaking. In 2005, when Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos tried to invite both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to a mini-Olympics for the Mediterranean region, Egypt blocked this minimal gesture of mutual cooperation and goodwill.
Most importantly, shooting the messenger does not change the facts. Livni was right. Egypt has behaved miserably with respect to stopping the smuggling of weapons and terrorists across its border with Gaza. This has now been going on for the more than two years since Israel's total unilateral withdrawal, resulting in a replay of the scenario that led to all out war between Israel and Hizbullah in 2006.
One of these smugglers told the Australian newspaper The Age that "We are completely dependent on our Egyptian sources, and they have a certain amount of space they are allowed to play in." Israel also has video tapes documenting Egyptian complicity with smugglers.
While the Egyptians claim that they need to violate the peace treaty with Israel by sending more troops to the area, Israelis point out that the weapons generally come from outside of Egypt and can be stopped at the ports, or on the few roads leading to the border. Further, the Egyptians could turn the border into a closed military zone, thereby greatly increasing their control over the whole area.
It is not to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's credit that, in the midst of this flap, he seemed more interested in praising Mubarak than backing his own foreign minister.
In an interview appearing in full in tomorrow's Jerusalem Post, Olmert did say that he had repeatedly pressed Mubarak to "honor his obligations" with respect to stopping smuggling. But he was also full of praise for the Egyptian leader, stating that "when I even think of how things would be if we were dealing with people other than Mubarak, well, I pray every day for his well-being and good health."
This goes beyond politeness to imply that the Egyptian failure to stop smuggling is a mere nuisance, even though this failure could easily force Israel into a foreseen and preventable war in Gaza. Egyptian irresponsibility is risking Israeli lives, harming Israeli security, and working directly counter to the international goal of isolating Hamas and bolstering an Israeli-Palestinian negotiating process. If anything, our leaders have not spoken out early and forcefully enough on this issue, and should certainly not stop pressing Israel's case now.