Pressure Egypt now

Cairo's refusal to take seriously its duty to stop arms smuggling is fueling the Palestinian civil war.

Gaza violence kids 224.8 (photo credit: AP [file])
Gaza violence kids 224.8
(photo credit: AP [file])
Burhan Hammad, who heads the Egyptian security team in Gaza and had been trying to mediate between Hamas and Fatah, strongly opposed the idea of an international force to prevent weapons smuggling from Egypt to Gaza. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Saturday, he called such proposals "nonsense." He explained, "Egypt has a peace treaty with Israel, there is no need for an international force and Egypt won't accept the idea." Yes, Egypt does have a peace treaty with Israel. Yet it is Egypt, with its refusal to take seriously its obligation to prevent weapons smuggling into Gaza, that is fueling the Palestinian civil war and paving the way to the next war between Israel and the Palestinians. Security officials say that the border between Egypt and Gaza is riddled with as many as 30 active tunnels used by Palestinian terror groups, and that some 30 tons of high-grade explosives were smuggled into Gaza through these tunnels in 2006. It is well known and a point of great frustration within the Israeli security establishment that the 750 Egyptian border police monitoring the border with Gaza are not doing as much as they can to prevent smuggling. It is also known that the Egyptians have wanted to send many more troops to that border - some 6,000. Israel objected to this because it would violate the demilitarization requirements of the Camp David Accords. Israeli officials argue that more Egyptian troops are not necessary to police the border, and can't understand why Egypt is not doing more to prevent a fully foreseen catastrophe. One possible explanation is that the Egyptians hope that Israel will back down on its objections to more of its troops on the border. Yet even more mysterious than Egypt's behavior is Israel's. Why has our government been so reluctant to openly criticize Egypt for failing to stop the flood of weapons going into Gaza? Security officials have openly complained, and so has Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said almost nothing or downplayed the problem. Nor has Defense Minister Amir Peretz spoken out forcefully on the need for Egypt to act. Given this Israeli reticence, it should not be surprising that the US has not made this issue a major priority with Egypt. For example, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, on his recent swing through the region, did not mention the issue publicly either in Cairo or Jerusalem. This situation must change. We are, by all accounts, possibly on the brink of war in Gaza in order not only to stop the Kassam attacks on Sderot, but to address an ongoing buildup of exactly the sort that Israel mistakenly turned a blind eye toward in the six years following the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon. What is the point of the Winograd Committee, and a government that claims that it is industriously implementing that committee's recommendations, if we are repeating precisely the same mistake that set the stage for the last war? Among the lessons of the Second Lebanon War is that it is a mistake to let terrorists build up their arsenals with impunity. This can be addressed through military action, but the far better way is to prevent the buildup in the first place by denying the terrorists the ability to smuggle in vast quantities of weaponry. Moreover, the utility of military action is limited, to say the least, if the inflow of weaponry has not been addressed and will quickly restore the status quo ante. One solution that Israel contemplated before the 2005 withdrawal, and is reportedly being considered by Egypt, is to dig a large ditch along the Gaza border and flood it with sea water, thereby making it much more difficult to tunnel under the border. This will not happen, however, absent much greater pressure from Israel, the US, and Europe on Egypt to stop the weapons smuggling now.