Prime Minister Ehud Olmert instructed the defense establishment to prevent the infiltration of African refugees across the Egyptian border into Israel.
Olmert further called on the Defense, Foreign and Public Security Ministries to increase their activities on the matter. "We must take every measure necessary to prevent such infiltrations, even if it means increasing deployment across the border," he said.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter attended a special meeting on the matter held by the Prime Minister's Office Sunday.
The four were joined by Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On, Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog and Housing and Construction Minister Ze'ev Boim, as well as by IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Major-General Moshe Kaplinsky and the head of the police operations branch.
The meeting reviewed the escalating infiltration problem and the need to find a humanitarian solution to the thousands of refugees who have made their way across the Israeli border.
"This is tsunami that can only get worse," said Olmert. "We must do everything we can to stop it."
Olmert was reportedly furious by the fact that the problem has yet to be curbed: "Israel has taken a tough stand with the Palestinian, stopping any of their citizens form entering Israel, and yet thousands have crossed over (to Israel) in a matter of months."
Olmert then instructed Barak to apply the full force of his ministry in order to stop the infiltrations, even if it called for "a moderate use of force".
Barak was also asked to review what – if any – legal recourse Israel has in the matter; whilst the Foreign Ministry was asked to try and find a country which would agree to take the refugees in.
Increasing deployment. IDF Soldiers patrolling southern border (Archive photo: Avi Roccah)
Olmert's criticism aside, the defense establishment offered the PMO data showing a sharp decrease in the number of refugees crossing into Israel – with the numbers dropping from 740 weekly infiltrators at the end of February, to 80 a week by mid March.
These numbers, said a security source, are a direct result of the work being done by IDF forces and Border Guard officers on the Israeli side of the border, and by their Egyptian counterparts on its other side.
Reinstating the revolving door system
Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter demanded during the meeting that the revolving door system, in which captured infiltrators are immediately returned to Egypt, be reinstated.
Dichter further asked more facilities be made available to hold detainees, especially at the Ktzion Prison; as well as a push in the contraction of the fence along the Israel-Egypt border.
Both Israel and Egypt agree on the need for a tighter border, both in the area separating them as well as in the area between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, in the Philadelphi route and Rafah crossing.
The Egyptians want to add some 750 men to their border troops, claiming the extra manpower is vital in their efforts to curb infiltrators, smugglers and terror activists from crossing the border.
"The IDF must be given the freedom to deal with infiltrators," said Dichter. "They have to be able to send infiltrators back immediately… and since we can't send them back to countries which with we have no diplomatic relations, (Israel) must find an alternative destination to send them to."
The new fence along the border, he added, is imperative: "The problem if infiltrations in a plight we must attack through the use of military and police intelligence as well."