ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Dragging Egypt into the Rafiah Quagmire 31.5.04

Dragging Egypt into the Rafiah Quagmire

31 May 2004

By Yisrael Ne'eman

A week after the Rafiah incursion, many Israelis are asking if the operation was worth the effort and the accompanying world-wide condemnations. On the face of it Israel uncovered three arms smuggling tunnels originating on the Egyptian side, killed several tens of terrorists and unfortunately a dozen or so non-combatants as well. The mass wreckage of scores of homes along the widened Philadelphi border road made the greatest impact, not only on world public opinion, but also in Israel.

Commentators are accusing the army of “overdoing it”, “using excessive force” and having a “gut reaction” to the loss of 13 soldiers in the days preceding the incursion. One would have to consider PM Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz to be completely detached from reality to allow such an operation to take place without a political/diplomatic goal.

As pointed out by Channel 2 veteran Arab world commentator, Ehud Ya’ari, Israel was in blatant and gross violation of the 1979 peace agreement with Egypt (Camp David Accords) through the massive use of armor in such close proximity to Sinai. “Stationing of Forces”, clause C states, “In the area within 3 km east of the international border there will be Israeli limited military forces not to exceed four infantry battalions and United Nations observers.” Clause D then mentions adding another three border patrol battalions if necessary. Nowhere are tank forces mentioned, yet not an inkling of protest was heard from the Egyptians.

Egypt is breach of the entire spirit of Camp David by allowing the free smuggling of weapons, ammunition and terrorists across its border with Gaza. Although publicly Israel took the brunt of all condemnations, Egypt’s failure to halt the tunnel traffic became undeniable.

In the diplomatic spotlight, and no matter how much the media downplayed Cairo’s role, President Mubarak is being forced to take steps to ensure quiet on his Rafiah border, without getting directly involved. Egypt is to halt the tunnel operations and train “moderate forces” to serve under former Gaza Security Chief Mohammed Dahlan (an erstwhile Arafat confident) who is to take over control of the Gaza Strip.

Most Israelis want to leave Gaza completely, removing both army and settlements, but reserving the right to battle terrorism whenever necessary. Compared to Hamas, the Jihad, Fatah, the Tanzim or the extended family militias, Dahlan is the only agreed upon choice by Israel, Egypt, Europe and the US. All others are non-starters. Despite claims to the contrary, Sharon wants to hand over Gaza security to someone.

Egypt does not mind Israel getting bloodied, but should Israel leave a total vacuum, Gazan Islamic radicalism and violence may find its way to Cairo, and nothing could be a greater nightmare for the secular Egyptian power elite. Despite all the bad press, Israel is dragging Egypt into taking responsibility for terrorism in Gaza, even if it only means closing down the tunnels.

Unfortunately, if his track record is any indication, Dahlan will fail. But with the tunnel traffic halted, Israel will only have to return to Square Two.