The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has pointed to new reports about Egypts failure to discharge its obligations under the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty by preventing the incursion of terrorists and weaponry from its territory to attack Israel. Reports indicate that smuggling into the Gaza Strip from Egypt beneath the Philadelphi Corridor that runs along the Gaza/Egypt border has returned to the high levels that prevailed before Israel launched its Gaza incursion, Operation Cast Lead, in December 2008. It is estimated that about 350 to 500, and perhaps as many as 1,000, tunnels are now being used to bring in men and materiel in Hamas-controlled Gaza. During Operation Cast Lead, Israeli authorities estimate that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) destroyed about 300 tunnels. Israel had noted a marked reduction in the smuggling into Gaza after Cast Lead, but over the past few months, and especially the last few weeks, it has reverted to its former scale.
Israel has long asserted that the Egyptians could put an end to the entire smuggling industry within 24 hours if they wanted to, using military obstructions along the length of the Philadelphi Corridor. The US, which has provided technical assistance to Egypt in thwarting the smugglers, has been engaged in a dialogue with Cairo over the issue, without much success. It has also been working toward providing aid to local Egyptians so that they need not rely on smuggling for their livelihoods. However, the illicit trade benefits Egypts economy and the Mubarak regime also avoids the need to crack-down of disaffected Islamist elements that would protest any such closure.
It has been reported that fully laden trucks pull up alongside the entrances to the tunnels, often just meters from where Egyptian soldiers are deployed. But the Egyptians do nothing to thwart the smuggling. Last month, Hamas test-fired an Iranian made rocket with a range of 60 kilometers. Israeli Defense officials believe that Hamas may well have long-range rockets capable of reaching Tel Aviv from Gaza. Many in the Israeli security establishment anticipate that sooner or later, Israel will have to mount another military offensive against Hamas in Gaza. On Friday, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said, If we will need to, we will operate again in the Gaza Strip to stop the rocket fire.
Past statements by senior Israeli defense and security establishment officials and analysts on Egypts failure to stop weapons smuggling and co-operate in ending terror from Gaza:
· Yuval Diskin, head, Israels security service, Shin Bet: The amount of weapons and explosives smuggled into the Gaza Strip from Egypt has grown drastically, by more than 300 percent If before the disengagement they smuggled in 200 to 300 rifles a month, they are now smuggling in close to 3,000. Diskin also observed that Palestinians have smuggled three anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza, something they had not succeeded in doing before the unilateral pull out of Gaza, in addition to nearly 200 rocket propelled grenades, 350 anti-tank missiles and tons of explosives being smuggled in monthly (Jerusalem Post, January 10, 2006).
· Diskin: Told the Israeli Cabinet that Egypt is ignoring Palestinian weapons smuggling into Gaza from Egypt. Diskin said that since Israels unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005, an estimated 19 tons of military grade explosives have been smuggled into Gaza from Sinai. The Shin Bet chief also said that the Egyptian authorities are aware of the ongoing smuggling, and even know the smugglers identities, yet have avoided taking any action against them, even when Israel has made specific requests for the detention of key individuals (Haaretz, September 28, 2006).
· Palestinian affairs analyst Ehud Yaari: The Israeli government will have to decide sooner rather than later whether to implement the recommendation of the army and the security services to retake the area along the border between the PA and Egypt. Such a move will entail operating inside residential neighborhoods of the city of Rafiah, and will once again turn the Gaza Strip into a sealed-off enclave. The diplomatic harvest that Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert hoped to reap from the withdrawal will simply wither away. The alternative is for Gaza to continue becoming a huge stockpile of weapons and ammunition that must ultimately explode, with disastrous consequences (Jerusalem Report, October 16, 2006).
· Israeli Internal Security Minister, Avi Dichter: The Egyptians can and have to do a lot more to prevent the smuggling of arms to the Gaza Strip The Americans dont know the scope of the smugglings and the Egyptians capabilities. I believe that the Egyptians have considerable capabilities to make sure that the smugglings are prevented and thats what I said (Yediot Ahronot, October 19, 2006).
· Former Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee Chairman Yuval Steinitz: It has been proven that we cannot trust the Palestinians or the Egyptians, who are conducting a campaign of intentionally ignoring the arms smuggling into Gaza. Egypt has decided to enable the arming of the Palestinian people and all the terrorist organizations, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, against the State of Israel … Egypt is not acting like Jordan, which liquidates the smuggling networks and prevents quantities of arms from reaching the border (Israel National News , January 31, 2007).
· Diskin: Said that Egyptian security forces are failing to stop the steadily increasing smuggling of weaponry from the Sinai to Palestinian Arab terror groups inside the Gaza Strip and disclosed that there has been a massive rise in the Palestinian Arab smuggling of arms into Gaza — up from 6 tons of high-grade explosives in 2005 to 30 tons in 2006. Moreover, according to Diskin, the terrorist group. Diskin refused to explain the reason behind Egypts refusal to properly combat the weapons smuggling, but indicated that Cairo was using the claim that it needed still more soldiers along the border as an excuse to make changes to the treaty. He also said that Egypt confines its efforts to border patrol but does not act against the smuggling infrastructure inside the Egyptian border town of Rafah. If Egypt starts to thwart the transfer of weapons then that will slow down the terror buildup in Gaza and stave off a[n Israeli] military operation there. They [the Egyptians] have a key in their hands and they know it (Jerusalem Post, February 5, 2007).
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, Egypts violations of the agreement by which it received control of the Gaza/Egypt border crossing continue to assists terrorism and harm the cause of peace a serious security issue which ZOA has raised several times in recent years.
Egypt has not sealed the border, though it was allowed to reinforce its presence there in 2006 with over 700 troops for this very purpose. It has not stopped terrorist entering and leaving Gaza. It is not stopping terrorist digging tunnels. It is not stopping terrorists travelling through Sinai. After Hamas had been seriously degraded during Operation Cast Lead, Egypt could have used the opportunity to contribute to peace and the prevention of terrorism, as it is obligated to do, by sealing its Gaza border against terrorist infiltration and weaponry smuggling but it has refused to do so.
This continuing failure to fulfill its obligations to fight and thwart terrorism bear out ZOAs long-standing concern and criticism of Egypts malicious conduct. The ZOA condemns Egypts blatant and continuing failure to live up to the agreements it made with Israel as part of the Gaza withdrawal to seal the border following Israels withdrawal in 2005.
There is simply no valid excuse for Egypt refusing to use the forces available and approved for security purposes to intercept terrorists and smugglers. It is mystifying that, in agreeing to Egypts security role on the Gaza border, former Prime Minister Sharon believed that Egypt would comply with the agreement. Given continued Egyptian hostility to Israel despite the peace treaty signed in 1979, including promotion of anti-Semitism in its media and discouragement of cultural and economic ties with Israel, Egypt cannot be entrusted with matters of security.
If the Obama Administration is truly concerned to assist the cause of peace, it can immediately pressure the Mubarak government to secure its Gaza border.
It should also demand speedy results from the Mubarak government. Egypt simply does not merit American support and billions of dollars in annual U.S. aid if it refuses to behave like an ally and work towards the ending of terrorism in its region and against U.S. allies.