Prime Minister Ariel Sharon launched a scathing attack on Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Dan Halutz for requesting NIS 1.5 billion (USD 320 million) for the military to seal off the border with Egypt.
The prime minister reportedly told his two
most senior defense officials that there is a limit to how much money the government can allocate to the army to cover extra budgetary expenditures.
The security cabinet discussed Israel’s porous border with Egypt where arms and drugs are smuggled into the country, raising fears that terror groups might exploit the flawed border to launched terror attacks from Sinai against Israeli targets.
Sharon visited the border last week and instructed the IDF to find ways to seal off the border “hermetically.”
'How can we fight poverty with this request?'
Mofaz and Halutz presented the prime minister with a plan costing NIS 500 million (USD 100 million) each year for the coming three years to build an environment friendly fence, setting up a patrol force and planting advanced electronic sensors.
“The data we have on the smuggling activities on the border, be it arms, foreign workers, drugs or terrorists, are most alarming and requires firm action,” Mofaz said.
The huge funds requested by Mofaz and Halutz irked ministers who seemed more tuned to the social issue of poverty than to security along the border with Egypt.
“How can we fight poverty when extra-budgetary
requests of this kind are made?” Finance Minister Ehud Olmert said.
Olmert’s comments were echoed by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom who said failing to tackle poverty would be a fatal to Israel.
Despite his rejection of the request, Sharon insisted that “all smuggling activities along the border with Egypt is a potential terror attack,” and ordered the Defense Ministry to use NIS 100 million (USD 22 million) to start building the electronic fence along the border.
An additional NIS 50 million (about USD 10 million) will be partly granted by the Finance Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office.
The government promised to include more funds for the plan in the 2006 budget.
Tougher sentences for smugglers
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni was ordered to explore the possibility of introducing tougher sentences to smugglers and altering the law to extend the IDF’s legal prerogatives against smugglers.
Last week Sharon instructed the IDF to take practical measures to prevent the infiltration of suicide bombers to Israel from Gaza, via Egypt.
This follows repeated intelligence warnings regarding plans by Palestinian terror groups to take advantage of the recent opening of the Rafah crossing and the breached Egyptian border to transfer terror cells from Gaza to Rafah, and from there to population centers in the Negev region.