Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
is apparently considering to raise next week with President Bush the possibility of deploying an international force in the Philadelphi route, between the Gaza Strip and Egyptian Sinai, which has served as the main weapons smuggling route for Hamas
and other Palestinian organizations. The problem is that such a deployment at this time will not contribute to the stabilization of this area, but may actually make it a great deal worse.
According to past experience, international force deployments have been extremely problematic in areas still afflicted by active combat operations. The main issue is that these forces spend most of their energies seeking to protect themselves from attacks of the more aggressive party, in particular. As a result, these forces inevitably decide to appease the party that threatens them more.
For example, UNIFIL established intimate ties with Hizbullah
over the years, in order to protect itself. It failed to address serious cease-fire violations by Hizbullah and even refused to take any effective action when the organization kidnapped Israeli soldiers in broad daylight. Many times UNIFIL was more preoccupied with Israeli Air Forces surveillance flights than with flow of new Iranian weaponry to Hizbullah through Syria.
This problem has arisen elsewhere. In Bosnia, during 1995, UN peacekeepers tended to show greater sympathy—and in some cases even admiration—for the commanding officers of the Bosnian Serb Army, who were engaging in ethnic cleansing and of the Bosnian Muslims. A year earlier in Rwanda, the UN Secretariat was reluctant to authorize US force on the ground to active thwart the campaign of Hutu death squads against the Tutsi population.
A senior Hamas official has already said that his organization would refuse to accept a multinational force along the Gaza-Egypt border and would treat it as an occupying power. It is pretty clear that if an international force were to undertake a serious operation against the tunnels running underneath the Philadelphi route, that are used by Hamas and by the crime families in Rafiah, local Palestinian forces would not show the slightest hesitation to open fire on them.
Given the threat environment that they will face, any international force that is deployed will probably end up doing nothing more than narrowing the freedom of maneuver of the Israel Defense Forces to deal effectively with this area in the future.
So what should the Israeli government do? Israeli diplomacy should focus right now on the other side of the Philadelphi route —that is the role of Egypt in the development of the current crisis and its possible contribution to ending it. Since the August 2005 Gaza disengagement, Egypt has had mixed motivations in how it should relate to the security problems of the Gaza Strip.
On the one hand, Cairo has no interest in the emergence of a state belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas defines itself as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood), along its northeastern border. On the other hand, Egyptians might fear that an outright clash between Egyptian forces and Hamas would cause a backlash among the members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. And while Egypt wants to be perceived as a state that contributes to regional stability, undoubtedly there are voices still in Cairo that are not disturbed by an ongoing strategic situation being perpetuated that has Israel
bleeding, as along as it does not spin out of control.
For these reasons, Olmert should focus his energies in his meeting with Bush on obtaining a firm commitment from Egypt to at long last seal the Philadelphi route.
Such an action would be far more effective than deploying yet another multinational force that doesn't help. It should be recalled that European monitors are presently deployed in the Rafah passageway from Egypt into the Gaza Strip, as part of an arrangement negotiated by the Bush administration. These intentional monitors have not blocked the massive flow of arms and trained terrorist personnel that have been flowing into Gaza without interruption. But most importantly, Israel must not take any initiative that could block the freedom of movement of the Israel Defense Forces, in the event that the security situation in the Gaza Strip deteriorates even further.
Dr Gold was Israel's ambassador to the UN (1997-1999) and now heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs