PM to decide on Egyptian border fence

Security heads present plan to halt infiltration threats, arms smuggling.

nitzana border 224.88 (photo credit: GPO [file])
nitzana border 224.88
(photo credit: GPO [file])
With the porous border with Egypt presenting a growing security threat, the defense establishment presented Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Tuesday with a plan to halt smuggling from the Sinai by building a robust security fence. Sharon said he would bring the plan, expected to cost some NIS 1.5 billion, to the cabinet "in the coming weeks." Sharon got a first-look at the border when he visited sites halfway between the Mediterranean and Red Sea Tuesday, accompanied by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and top IDF brass. Sharon knows the border well, having led divisions across it as a general during the 1967 and 1973 wars and later as OC Southern Command. "The assignment of the security forces in the area is to stop border infiltrations. I emphasize: Not to cut down on them, not to disrupt them, but to stop them," Sharon said during his tour. "The handling of Israeli or foreign infiltrators is not sufficient. Israel needs to create a deterrence, and we will find solutions to this as soon as possible." The IDF is pushing to erect a security fence along the Egyptian border south of the Gaza Strip and around the Eilat region to halt increased attempts to smuggle in weapons and terrorists. The fence is part of a grand project, dubbed "Hour Glass," that envisions a formidable barrier similar to the security fence around the Gaza Strip. The IDF plan, put together by Deputy Chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplan, calls for setting up an expensive surveillance system and erecting a sophisticated border fence along parts of the 220 km. border with the Sinai. The IDF wants the initial security fence in the Eilat region in the south and the north starting from Kerem Shalom. By comparison, the 60 km. security fence around the Gaza Strip cost over NIS 1 billion. It contains remote-control machine guns, robotic jeeps, a double fence, ditches and pillboxes, along with digitally linked units. Cameras and motion detectors constantly monitor every centimeter of the fence. Repeating this along the huge, relatively empty border with the Sinai would likely go over the estimated NIS 1.5 billion cost. The major threat coming from Egypt, which is at peace with Israel, is from smugglers. Traditionally, Beduin smugglers, who have criss-crossed the frontier for millennia, sneaked in drugs, tobacco and prostitutes. But with Gaza shut, Palestinian terrorist groups are contracting with the Beduin to smuggle in both arms and terrorists. These are then smuggled through the Negev into the West Bank. Sharon stressed during his visit that "there is no difference between criminal and security penetrations. Someone who crosses the border with criminal intentions will do this in the future for security-related reasons." To make it easier to stop the smugglers, the IDF also wants to shut highway 10 that runs from Taba to Rafah. This winding asphalt road, paved after the 1982 pullout from the Sinai, is the entire Philadelphi corridor, its Gaza part being the most infamous section of it. In the past, generals tried to shut the road to civilian traffic, but this was never implemented.