Abramovich seeking guarantees to end smuggling

Agreement would be part of cease-fire.

smuggling tunnel 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
smuggling tunnel 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israeli officials are in Washington trying to get the US to lead an international coalition in stepped up efforts to prevent Iranian weapons from reaching Hamas through Egypt. Though Foreign Ministry director-general Aaron Abramovich was still in the midst of meetings with US officials in Washington at press time in the hopes of forging a deal in the next few days, Israeli officials said it was likely many of the details would be hammered out after US President-elect Barack Obama was inaugurated on Tuesday. If Abramovich is successful, however, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni could fly to Washington as early as Friday to seal a deal, which Israel expects would be binding on the next administration. Israel is looking for guarantees that the smuggling into Gaza will end as part of any cease-fire, and wants to sign a memorandum of understanding or similar document with the US administration that will be used as basis for greater intelligence sharing, technology enhancement and international enforcement efforts to stop the movement of weapons before they reach Egypt. The effort is one of several bricks in the wall Israel is trying to erect to stop the smuggling, with others including the possibility of building a moat, increased Egyptian efforts on the border, and international technical assistance to the Egyptians. Israel would like to see a new effort modeled on Active Endeavor, a NATO program that brings Mediterranean countries together in a headquarters in Naples to share intelligence on sea-based threats. Israel, officials said, hoped to create a new mechanism including the US, NATO and the European Union - similar to Active Endeavor - which would share intelligence on weapons shipments designated for the Gaza Strip and thwart them before they arrive in Sinai. Some weapons are believed to come from Iran and others via Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia. One government official said international cooperation was key to success because the weapons are moved through international waters and no country, including the US, could take sufficient measures alone. The idea is to build international support for more aggressive action that could include denying harbor to suspect ships and blocking their routes. A State Department official indicated that American support could be forthcoming, though he declined to go into specifics concerning the ongoing discussions. He reiterated American backing for the cease-fire deal Egypt is attempting to broker in which stopping the smuggling into Gaza would be a major component. "We have always held that the prevention of Hamas from rearming is an essential component of a cease-fire, and the US will do what it can to assist the efforts to end the smuggling and illegal arms trafficking," the official said. Israeli diplomatic officials acknowledged that the US - which has not been overly successful in stopping the flow of arms into Iraq - is not going to be able to put an end to the flow of weapons into Gaza. What the agreement will do, however, is place the issue higher up on the international agenda, and perhaps place those involved under greater pressure to stop. While the talks on choking off the smuggling were likely to continue after Tuesday, Israel is also making a final push for approval of a shopping list of advanced military platforms before President George W. Bush leaves office. Defense Ministry director-general Pinchas Buhris made a lightning trip to Washington on Tuesday for talks at the Pentagon on the matter. Among the platforms Jerusalem is hoping to acquire are bunker-buster missiles and aerial refueling tankers, both which could be used in a strike on Iran. A previous request by Israel to receive the platforms was rejected by the US in early 2008. During his visit, Buhris also discussed Operation Cast Lead and the integration of Israeli technology into the Joint Strike Fighter that Israel hopes to begin receiving in 2014. Also known, as the F-35, the JSF is a fifth-generation stealth fighter jet that Israel has already received approval from Congress to purchase. Israel is still waiting for final approval to be able to integrate its systems into the aircraft.