November 7, 2007
Senator THUNE JOHN
493 RUSSELL Office Building
Washington, DC 20510 USA
Dear Senator STEVENS,
During some meetings with members of Congress last October, I was asked to provide further details about the expansion of arms smuggling from Egypt to the Gaza Strip. Because of the importance of this subject, which has been recently addressed by the House of Representatives, I have put into writing the most recent developments:
1. In recent years the flow of weapons and ammunition through Egypt to terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip - mainly to Islamic groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Palestinian affiliates of Al-Qaeda - has became extremely significant.
2. In the last two years, the rate of smuggling enables Hamas to establish a fundamentalist terror army in Gaza, based on the Hizbullah model in Lebanon. According to Israeli intelligence Gaza is absorbing, on an annual basis, approximately: 20,000 rifles, 6,000 anti-tank missiles (mainly RPG's), 100 tons of explosives, and several dozens of Katyusha rockets as well as shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles.
3. Six months ago, Hamas defeated the Palestinian security forces loyal to president Mahmoud Abbas and conducted a "mini-Iranian Revolution" in the Gaza Strip. This resulted in the establishment of an Iranian satellite, Hamastan, right next to Israel's south. Needless to say, that the weaponry and financial assistance that enabled this fundamentalist victory arrived mainly through Egypt.
4. A new development that has only begun in the last three months is the organized departure of large groups of operatives from Gaza for military training in Iran. Egypt permits their transit to Tehran, where they are trained by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in a wide array of terrorist activities, like the production of rockets and road-side bombs, as well as in basic military training. In late September, a group of 100 operatives who completed their exercises in Iran was permitted to cross the border back into Gaza, despite strong Israeli protests.
5. Egypt's claim that it is doing its best to end this situation by uncovering smuggling tunnels into Gaza is simply an insult to the intelligence. All the experts who have testified before us expressed their conviction that it is almost ridiculous for the Egyptians to focus on finding the tunnels, since it would be much easier for them to intercept the smugglers before they get anywhere near the border.
All they have to do for this purpose is to erect a number of roadblocks along the very few roads that run from mainland Egypt to the Gaza region, in order to intercept heavily loaded trucks carrying hundreds of rifles and missiles from reaching the border. Alternatively, they can declare the border area a closed military zone, with a depth of 2-3 miles into the interior of Sinai, and prevent any movement in it. Since the entire length of the Egyptian-Gaza border is less then 9 miles, the area affected will be equivalent in size to a military airbase.
6. Comparison between Egypt and Jordan will help to clarify how baseless the Egyptian's excuses on the smuggling issue are - taking into account that Jordan shares a far longer border with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank (see the attached map).
True, in contrast to the Egyptian-Gaza border, the Israel Defense Forces are deployed in the Jordan Valley between Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. Yet it is illuminating to note, that the Jordanian security forces do succeed in blocking most smuggling to militant Islamic groups in the West Bank, well before they reach the border area. This is because instead of concentrating their efforts solely at the border area, they prevent the entry of illegal weapons shipments into their territory in the first place. Additionally, and again unlike the Egyptians, they have smashed smuggling networks all over Jordan and imprisoned their leaders for long terms. Hence, when an Arab country truly wishes to fight against terrorism and fundamentalism, it is within its capacity.
It is hard to deny that this Egyptian behavior constitutes a gross violation of the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, as well as the 2005 Philadelphi Corridor Agreement. Unfortunately, this phenomenon, combined with the daily rockets attacks on the Israeli town of Sderot, will ultimately require the Israeli Defense Forces to re-enter Gaza and to move with great panache against the terrorist forces and infrastructure, causing additional bloodshed for both Israelis and Palestinians.
It should be also noted that this Egyptian policy has already undermined the capacity of the Palestinian Authority to govern the Gaza Strip, as well as the chances of success of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In practice, it does not seem extremely consistent with the U.S. policy of strengthening the moderates in the Middle East vis-א-vis their militant rivals.
In essence, this strategy of turning a blind eye to the smuggling is quite similar to the policies of Syria and Iran regarding arms smuggling into Iraq. The only difference is that in contrast to those countries, Egypt is still considered an ally of the west, and is heavily supported by the United States.
After several years of Israeli and American protests, it seems hard to avoid the following conclusion: as long as Egypt is not required to pay a real price for this behavior, weapons and financial aid will continue to flow into the hands of Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza.
It must be stated, however, that the difficult issue raised above is not intended to downgrade the strategic importance of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty signed on the White house lawn. Yet it is my belief that when grave problems arise they should not be ignored. Egypt's compliance with its treaty obligations is a pre-requisite for the Arab-Israeli peace process as a whole, as well as for the success of the regional and global struggle against terrorists.
With best wishes,
M.K., Dr. Yuval Steinitz Chairman of the Knesset Subcommittee on Defense Readiness and Combating Terrorism
IMRA - Independent Media Review and Analysis Website:www.imra.org.il
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