Gov’t worries after Cairo plans to open Rafah crossing

Opening Rafah would help Hamas build a formidable terrorist military machine, a government source says.

rafah border crossing_311 reuters (photo credit: Ismail Zaydah / Reuters)
rafah border crossing_311 reuters
(photo credit: Ismail Zaydah / Reuters)
Concern is growing in the government over Egyptian plans to open the Rafah crossing with the Gaza Strip, as ties between Cairo and Hamas tighten and the Egyptian people’s support for the peace treaty with Israel wanes.
“We are troubled by recent developments concerning Egypt. We are troubled by the voices calling for the abrogation of the peace treaty. We are troubled by the rapprochement between Iran and Egypt, and we are troubled by the upgrading of the relationship between Egypt and Hamas,” a government official told The Jerusalem Post Saturday night.
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These developments, as well as the planned opening of the Rafah crossing between Sinai and the Gaza Strip, have strategic implications for Israel, the source said.
Hamas was able to build a formidable military machine in Gaza when the Rafah crossing was closed and the Egyptian government was actively working to prevent weapons smuggling, he said. Opening Rafah would make it possible for Hamas to build an even more formidable terrorist military machine, the source said.
At the same time, some officials said the opening of the crossing could be viewed as an opportunity for Israel to complete its “civilian disengagement” from Gaza and transfer all responsibility for the Strip to Egypt.
On Thursday, Egypt announced plans to permanently open the crossing sometime in the next 10 days. While the crossing has been officially closed since June 2007, when Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip, Egypt has sporadically opened it to allow Palestinians to travel in and out of Gaza.
Some 162,000 people passed through the crossing in 2010, Israeli defense officials said.
On Saturday, The Wall Street Journal cited an unnamed Israeli official as saying that the permanent opening of the crossing could “affect Israel’s national security on a strategic level.”
The report drew a harsh response from Egyptian Chief of Staff Gen. Sami Anan, who warned Israel not to interfere in his country’s internal affairs.
“Israel has no right to interfere in the issue of the opening of the Rafah crossing,” Anan wrote on his Facebook page. “This is an Egyptian- Palestinian matter.”
Israel’s concern is that opening the crossing would enable Hamas men to travel freely overseas for training and commit terrorist attacks.
Without effective inspections, the crossing could also be used as a conduit for weapons and money into the Strip.
In 2005, the United States brokered a deal among Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt under which the crossing would only be open under the supervision of the EUBAM (European Union Border Assistance Mission Rafah) monitoring force.
Israeli officials said the Egyptian- Hamas agreement to open the crossing did not include international supervision.
The government is also concerned about the strengthening of ties between the new regime in Cairo and Hamas.
Last month, Hamas Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar visited Cairo for talks with Egyptian intelligence and military officials.
Israeli officials said the bolstered ties could be linked to the elections in Egypt set for September (legislative) and November (presidential). The opening of the crossing could also have been one of Hamas’s conditions for accepting the Egyptian-brokered reconciliation agreement with Fatah.
“The interim government [in Cairo] knows that the Muslim Brotherhood is strong in Egypt, and therefore it wants to keep it and Hamas content,” one official said.