Demand Egyptian action

Cairo needs to be told that it cannot sow the seeds of war while pretending to facilitate peace.

Rafah guard 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Rafah guard 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel has filed an official complained to Egypt about a blatant violation of the 2005 agreement concerning crossings into Gaza. That agreement, reached in the context of Israel's total unilateral withdrawal, provided that the Rafa crossing only be opened under international supervision. Instead, on Monday and Tuesday, Israel allowed 1,700 Gazans to enter Egypt, ostensibly for a pilgrimage to Mecca. IDF intelligence estimates released Wednesday claim that a couple of dozen wanted terrorists were among the "pilgrims" who crossed into Egypt. This "clear breach," as senior diplomat called it, came on the heals of another violation in October, when 85 Hamas operatives were allowed by Egypt to cross back into Gaza through a hole in the fence. In addition, a group of American military engineers recently toured the Egyptian side of the border with Gaza and, according to Israeli officials, were not convinced that Egypt was doing what it could to prevent the smuggling of weapons and terrorists. Finally, an Israeli defense official echoed the public comments of Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter and others saying, "We have no doubt that if they only wanted to, [Egypt is] capable of curbing smuggling." For its part, Egypt claimed last month it has intercepted about 23 tons of explosives, 300 firearms, 50 rocket-propelled grenades, 300,000 bullets, and arrested some number of Palestinians who attempted to carry out terrorist attacks in Israel via the Sinai. All this may be true, but it does not change the fact that Hamas continues to arm itself and send terrorists out for training at alarming clip, resulting in a Hizbullah-like build up in Gaza under the noses of Egypt and Israel. This build up has a created a situation in which a massive Israeli military operation in Gaza is increasingly imminent, so much so that Fatah Palestinian leaders are warning that they will back out of post-Annapolis talks and join Hamas against Israel if such an operation takes place. In other words, the same Egypt whose blessing the US and Israel so eagerly sought for Annapolis has overseen the weapons buildup that threatens to scuttle the process Annapolis sought to launch. This is absurd. It should be clear by now that Egypt, for whatever reason, interprets its interests differently than what might make sense to Western observers, who cannot understand why Cairo would allow a branch of its bitter internal enemy - the Muslim Brotherhood - to build up in Gaza. But, sense or no, it is impossible with the fact that Egypt is not doing anywhere near what it could to prevent this dangerous buildup. Until now, the US and Israel have politely complained to Egypt behind the scenes. This obviously has been insufficient. The time for gentle nudging and hopeful appeals to reason and common interests has past. The US Congress is considering a measure that would link some $200 million out of the $1.3 billion in military aid that Egypt receives annually from the US unless to Cairo stopping the smuggling to and from Gaza. This is an important step in the right direction, but even this may not be enough to change Egyptian behavior. In addition, Egypt must be made to pay a steep diplomatic price for playing the role of enabler for Hamas that Syria has played for Hizbullah in Lebanon. Though Syria has actively engaged in arming Hizbullah, while Egypt is passively allowing the arming of Hamas, the practical result is the same: a terrorist buildup that sets the stage for the next war. Nothing that Egypt can possibly do, positively or negatively, with regard to the peace process matters as much as shutting down Hamas's weapons and training lifeline. Moreover, Egypt's diplomatic role is a two-way street: Cairo needs to be seen as a "player" about as much as Washington and Jerusalem need it to play. Cairo needs to be told that it cannot sow the seeds of war while pretending to facilitate peace. Further, this message must be delivered publicly, since years of private cajoling have proven ineffective. It is inconceivable that Israel would rather fight a war in Gaza then go public at the highest level against Egypt's refusal to prevent the build up that necessitates that war. It is also inconceivable that an Israeli government committed to learn the lessons of the last Lebanon War would watch sanguinely as Hamas and Hizbullah engage in preventable and massive weapons buildups. Yet such are the crossroads we have reached.