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Sunday, November 05, 2006

When friends let their friends smuggle arms

As I have noted on innumerable occasions, Israel and Egypt signed the Camp David accords in 1979, and since then we have nominally been at peace with Egypt. Of course, Egypt continues to remain loyal to their Arab brethren, despite the large package of American financial aid it has received for the last twenty-seven years. Egypt was given every last grain of the Sinai desert in return for agreeing to stop destroying the State of Israel. But the Egyptian reading of the treaty allows some 'benign neglect.'

Last November, US Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice forced Israel to agree that Egypt would police the border between itself and Gaza, which is known as the Philadelphi corridor. European 'observers' are to assist the Egyptians. One of the results of this 'police' action was to have been that the Egyptians would play an active role in preventing weapons smuggling from the Sinai to the Gaza Strip. We all know it hasn't happened. Zev Schiff tells us just how little actually has happened:
What is the best proof that Egypt is taking action against smugglers of weapons and explosives from the Sinai into the Gaza Strip to militant organizations? Security experts in Israel say it is the number of smugglers arrested, and the number of those charged with smuggling arms. However, Egypt has not arrested a single arms smuggler and no one has been brought to trial, even though Israel's security and intelligence services have given the Egyptians a list of the names of those involved in the gun running.

Security sources say this is a very frustrating reality and are hard pressed to explain why it is so. There are many Egyptian promises. Talks are being held in diplomatic and polite conversation with Israeli officials, but in practice nearly nothing is being done to prevent large-scale smuggling through the Philadelphi Route, and elsewhere, including the sea. Israel has agreed to the increase of Egypt's border police force on the Sinai-Gaza border, but in practice nothing has changed.


The rules of engagement for the Egyptian forces guarding the border are also strange. The Egyptian guards are not allowed to shoot Palestinian smugglers. They are also not allowed to return fire unless they are endangered. Clearly the Egyptians are making great efforts not to hit Palestinians, even law breakers.

In the special military agreement between Israel and Egypt, regarding security along the border, the overall Egyptian role in preventing smuggling is specified. Egypt must ensure that illegal arms and ammunition are not brought into the Sinai, that illegal arms sales and their transfer to the border do not take place, and that the arms are prevented from crossing into the Gaza Strip. This means that avoiding total action against the smugglers is a violation of the agreement.

Israel finds it hard to explain what the reasons behind the Egyptian behavior are. Lack of efficiency was considered, or corruption perhaps, but these are insufficient reasons. There are others who argue there is a deliberate Egyptian policy to allow conditions that cause Israel difficulties and perpetuate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This view contradicts Israel's assessment that Egypt is concerned the Gaza Strip may be transformed into "Hamastan," a bastion of Islamic radicalism capable of flowing over into Egypt.
It's real simple: My enemy's enemy is my friend. Egypt considers Israel an enemy and since Hamas is Israel's enemy, Egypt considers Hamas its friend.


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