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The Rafah-Gaza border
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Israel concerned over Egypt's policy on Gaza, Hamas
Cairo's decision to open Rafah border has Jerusalem worried over new security threats

Egypt's shifting foreign policy, including the decision to open the Egypt-Gaza border, embrace Hamas and upgrade relations with Iran, has Israel concerned that these recent moves may translate into new security threats, which may eventually undermining the peace between Jerusalem and Cairo.

 

"We are troubled by recent developments in Egypt," a senior Israeli official told the Wall Street Journal. "These developments can affect Israel's national security at a strategic level."

 

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The reaction emphasizes what has already been called a "widening rift" between Israel and Egypt, on the backdrop of the recent wave of popular unrest sweeping across the Arab world.

 

One of the first major changes to ensue was the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who worked with Israel to contain Hamas, through a blockade of the coastal strip.

 

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi said Thursday in an interview with al-Jazeera Television that Cairo plans to open up the Rafah border crossing within 10 days. Israel, however, expressed concerns that such move will ease the flow of weapons into the Gaza Strip, while allowing fluid access to militants bent on attacking Israel.

 

General Sami Hafez Anan, Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces, said that "Israel has no right to intervene in the decision about the Rafah border – it is an Egyptian-Palestinian matter."

 

The Obama administration sought on Friday to play down Egypt's moves, with Jacob Sullivan, director of planning and policy at the State Department, saying that "there had always been movement of people and quantities of humanitarian goods across the border."

 

Still, privately, both US and European officials acknowledged that Cairo's decisions could significantly undercut Washington's efforts to reignite the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.


Hamas-Fatah press conference in Cairo (Photo: Reuters) 

 

New Egyptian policy

Israeli analysts see the new Egyptian border policy as part of the new government's efforts to respond to the Egyptian public's sympathy with the Palestinians in the Gaza, as well as its desire to break Mubarak's policy of cooperation with Israel.

 

This new border policy, on the heels of Egypt's successful brokerage of the recent Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, has Israeli concerned that Egypt will drift toward Iran's orbit of influence.

 

Cairo and Iran both recently announced they were "turning a new leaf" in their diplomatic relations, after more than 30 years without high-level official contact.

 

Egypt's ruling military council reaffirmed its commitment to the 1979 Israeli-Egypt peace treaty shortly after it assumed power, but soon after, the foreign ministry began adopting new policies.

 

Taher Nunu, a Hamas government spokesman in Gaza, said Egypt has gotten "positive signals" regarding the border opening and that "all future progress on Egypt's part is going to serve the interests of the people of Gaza."

 

It is unknown what type of border regime the Egyptians and the Palestinians have reached, but it seems to mark a big departure from a US-brokered border accord between Israel and the Palestinians reached months after the Israeli army withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in 2005.

 

Nabil Shaath, a Palestinian negotiator, told the Wall Street Journal that the "border deal is still in the works," adding that the five-year-old agreement "would not play a factor… because it is not in operation because of the Israeli intransigence and the Israeli siege."

 

A senior Israeli official said Jerusalem was appealing to the international community to remind the Egyptian government to honor the peace treaty.

 

"In the past, despite the effort of the government of Egypt to prevent it happening, Hamas was able to build in Gaza a formidable military terrorist machine," said the Israeli official. "If Egypt ceases trying to prevent that from happening, the threat to Israel will be much greater."

 

 

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