Egyptian tanks arriving in Sinai city of Rafah 370 (R).
(photo credit: Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters)
Last week’s failed attack from the Sinai peninsula, in which terrorists killed
Egyptian soldiers, was extraordinary. Terrorists operating out of Gaza do not
usually attack Egyptians. They can obtain arms and materiel by sea, but the
Israeli navy stops this most of the time.
That leaves the tunnels beneath
the Philadelphi Corridor, the narrow strip of southern Gaza that borders Egypt.
Israel left the Philadelphi Corridor in 2005 when it unilaterally evacuated
Gaza. In the wider interest, as well as its own, it should retake the
Philadelphi Corridor with dispatch.
The evidence that it should do so is
First, there was never a sound reason to leave the corridor. It
occurred purely as an unintended byproduct of a flawed Israeli decision to leave
Gaza. This unilateral withdrawal was widely criticized by the most senior
military and security figures, including the former and then-serving heads of
the Shin Bet (Israel Security Service), the former IDF chief of staff, deputy
chief of staff and chief of IDF Intelligence, and two former heads of the
Even so, leaving Philadelphi was not part of the original plan.
That outcome was due to unexpectedly strong pressure from the George W. Bush
administration, secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in particular. In short,
even those who supported the unilateral withdrawal did not reckon on
relinquishing control of the Gaza/Egypt border.
Second, following the
withdrawal, the evidence rapidly accumulated that the system of Egyptian troops,
Israeli intelligence and international monitors instituted to replace direct
Israeli supervision of the border was no substitute. Instead, there was an
exponential increase in the quantity of offensive weaponry entering Gaza from
Already in 2006, the former OC Southern Command, Maj.-Gen. Doron
Almog, said that “there is a need for a permanent IDF presence in the area,”
while the late doyen of military analysts, Zeev Schiff, observed that “even
though Israel’s security and intelligence services have given the Egyptians a
list of the names of those involved in the gun running... in practice nearly
nothing is being done to prevent large-scale smuggling through the Philadelphi
Third, alterations last year to the security annex of the
Egyptian/Israeli peace treaty to enable Egypt to deploy a further 2,500 troops
in Sinai, in addition to the 700 already on the border, have achieved nothing.
The reason is not hard to find and indeed is even more obvious now than when the
annex was altered: the Egyptian forces are too much in sympathy with the
terrorists and too loath to clash with Hamas to engage in a thorough- going
campaign of terrorist suppression.
Egyptian forces will be brutal on
terrorists that attack them, but will not interfere with Hamas and other forces
bringing weaponry into Gaza.
It is therefore not a matter of troop
numbers but of will. Where the efforts to stamp out the traffic in men and arms
are tepid, grudging and spasmodic, large battalions will not avail. And nothing
– least of all the change of regime in Cairo – suggests that the willpower that
was once lacking has been found.
Fourth, the recent murderous attack on
Egyptian soldiers underscores all of the foregoing, while providing Israel with
an opportune moment to act. The security threats from Gaza to Israel have
multiplied. Terrorism emanating from Sinai has also reared its head. Last
August, it claimed Israeli lives; this August, Egyptian lives. Border clashes
between Israel and Egypt, once a rare occurrence, look like becoming routine.
All such incidents carry the risk of putting the nail in the coffin of
Egyptian/Israeli peace treaty and even producing a war.
case is strong: without having to clash with an internationally recognized
regime holding authority in Gaza by treaty, without resuming control of
Palestinian civilians, and to the mutual benefit of Israel and Egypt –
admittedly a benefit Mohamed Morsy and the Brotherhood would rather forfeit –
Israel can reoccupy the Philadelphi Corridor. It would then be able, as it once
was, to reduce drastically the traffic of men and arms into Gaza.
will find the means to protest this development, but it is hard to see how it
can make much hay of it. In any case, a more tightly sealed Hamas is a weaker
Hamas, one for which there are fewer reasons for Egypt to stick out its neck to
help. And a Gaza that is deprived of weaponry in time becomes a far more
containable and reducible threat to Israel. International criticism of any such
Israeli move will be hamstrung for lack of any serviceable rationale justifying
its stance. There is little scope to protest cutting off the traffic in terror
that helped produce last week’s attack.The writer is a Fellow in History
at Melbourne University and director of the Zionist Organization of America’s
Center for Middle East Policy.