Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has requested that the Defense and Transport ministries draw up alternative proposals, to be submitted in two weeks, for the construction of barriers along the border with Egypt as a preliminary move to limit access by illegal African migrants.
This would entail building fences and installing a variety of electronic hurdles along selected "sensitive" stretches particularly prone to infiltration. These pilot impediments are to be linked up, over a number of years, so that much of the border is sealed off.
It seems simple on paper, but the price is high and hermetic closure is impossible. At this point, however, the thinking is that even a partial solution is better than none at all.
Quite so. The problem is acute - more acute than most Israelis realize.
The IDF recently warned that no fewer than one million would-be infiltrators - mostly from sub-Saharan Africa - are poised to trek across Israel's elongated border with Egypt and enter this country unlawfully. The borderline in this wilderness area is virtual. No real barriers exist.
Once in, most infiltrators, if apprehended, portray themselves as refugees. In popular Israeli mythology they are considered "Darfurians," though in the overwhelming majority of cases they have no connection to the genocide-ridden Sudanese region.
Most, in fact, are economic migrants, with no credible claim to refugee status. Many are Muslims. Many hail from hostile countries without diplomatic relations with Israel.
But besides the palpable security risks, the potential demographic dangers are significant.
Africans persistently seek new exit points from their continent to the First World. Such "spouts" exist in Western Sahara (formally still under Spanish administrative rule, though Spain abandoned the territory in 1975), via Libya (where boats are used to reach Italy). The Sinai was "discovered" a few years ago and is gaining attractiveness in view of relative Israeli lenience, Beduin collaboration and the corruptibility of low-paid Egyptian border policemen. Israel is thus fast becoming a major conduit out of Africa.
Heart-wrenching campaigns spotlighting the threatened deportation of the illegals' children often divert attention from what ought to be the prime focus of public discourse. Barring resolute counteraction, Israel stands to be swamped by people most of whom, contrary to manipulative PR distortions, are not threatened with annihilation in their homelands and whose difficulties simply cannot be addressed by this small, threatened Jewish state.
Judging from current statistics, approximately 400,000 foreigners already reside here, mostly illegally. The real numbers are thought to be far higher. Of these, only some 16,000 Sudanese and Eritreans have applied for asylum. Minimal guesstimates are that 700-1,000 illegals cross the Egyptian border monthly. Again, the real numbers are probably much higher.
Experts predict that if nothing is done, the illegal population already here, their children and the hundreds of thousands heading this way will together comprise a block of at least a million within a decade. That amounts to almost a seventh of Israel's population - the kind of proportion some European nations initially countenanced and now rue. Israel is less-equipped than many such European nations to cope with the consequences of self-inflicted disaster.
FENCES ARE not instant panaceas. They will cost some $1 million per kilometer to build, and many hundreds of kilometers are required. They will need to be maintained and patrolled. And even then, they will likely prove less than totally impregnable.
That said, Israel would become less of a "soft-touch" with some sort of surveillance. Proper fencing along the border with Egypt is incredibly overdue. Indeed, Israel needed border-barriers long before it became a magnet for African infiltrators.
The global jihadist movement has gained a powerful foothold in Sinai and the smuggling from Egypt is already described by Israel police as "mega-sabotage." The porous Egyptian border is a veritable highway for drug-runners, terrorists and people-traffickers. It was gross negligence not to have begun erecting fences years ago.
A version was actually approved by the Olmert administration, but never built. There are compelling reasons to launch this project, expensive as it may be.
As so often happens, Israel could have saved itself colossal headaches - notably including a burgeoning population of illegal migrants - had it not been agora-wise and shekel-foolish in the past.