In recent months we’ve been hearing an old-new story: Egypt will be putting an end to the smuggling into Gaza. Those of us blessed with sharp memory still remember the series of agreements signed with Egypt by Major General Amos Gilad and by Tzipi Livni in 2005 in the aim of curbing the smuggling.
Over the years, we’ve also seen delegations of US engineers, seismographic equipment, and cameras installed along the border. This time too we’re getting an audiovisual show: Giant hammers pound steel beams into the desert earth, while news stories inform us of the imminent flooding of the tunnels and end to Hamas’ smuggling festival.
This Egyptian-American production costs plenty of money, yet this venture in addition to the tales about the distress suffered by Hamas’ regime as result of the Egyptian wall are merely yet another phase in the double game. It has been going on ever since Israel (unsuccessfully) attempted to disengage from Gaza – Egypt is making every effort to draw us back into the Strip.
The economic situation in Gaza is terrible, as it’s always been. However, as opposed to the stories about “curbing the smuggling tunnels,” the Strip enjoys regular supply of fuel from Egypt. This fuel is no longer being smuggled via cans; it arrives daily in 40,000-liter tankers via pipes that pass through the tunnels.
Had Egypt wanted to fight the smuggling, it is well aware of the location of the border area fuel pipes that make Hamas rich. However, Egypt is uninterested in fully blocking them. It actually wants to make it clear to both Israel and Hamas that it controls the flow: When it wishes to press Hamas it curbs this flow and prevents trucks from reaching the border, yet when it wants to press Israel it does so too – every metal pipe and every mortar shell that Israel is hit with has been through Egypt en route to Sderot.
We should not be confused by the shows of “blowing up tunnels” – hundreds of them are still active. When one outlet is “blown up,” other outlets remain open. When several Gazans are killed in such blasts, the Egyptians aren’t concerned. There are no rights groups like Machsom Watch or B’Tselem over there.
So why does Egypt need to play this double game? It wants to prevent, at any price, the turning of Gaza from an Israeli problem into an Egyptian problem. To that end, Cairo is currently pressing Hamas to “make amends” with the Palestinian Authority.
Egypt does not conceal its objective. Cairo’s foreign minister (who just recently referred to Israel as an “enemy state”) clearly explained a year ago that should the Gaza Strip be detached from Israel, it will mark the end of the “Palestinian problem.”
“Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip does not mark the Strip’s liberation from occupation, as the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and east Jerusalem constitute one geographic unit that cannot be discussed separately; else, this will constitute a decisive blow to their unity and will mark the end of the Palestinian issue,” he said.
In respect to voices we hear in Israel about Gazans no longer facing an occupation, the Egyptian minister declared: “We must not accept it, as this will provide an excellent outlet for Israel from the occupation problem and the shifting of its implications to Egypt; this will prompt the elimination of the Palestinian problem.”
I think back to the days where I stood along with thousands of Peace Now protestors holding signs urging Prime Minister Begin, who was en route to his fateful trip to Camp David, to “hand back the Sinai to Egypt.” Looking at it from a 33-year perspective, I prefer the clear situation on our border with Syria over the wonderful friendship with Egypt. No refugees arrive here from Syria, while thousands come via Sinai.
In order to be cured of the abovementioned malady, we should do the following:
• Send every infiltrator who comes in from Egypt back to Egypt.
• Put an end to our participation in the Egyptian game known as “not opening the Rafah Crossing.” The Gaza-Egypt border is not under Israeli monitoring or sovereignty, and Egypt along with the Hamas government should decide amongst themselves how they wish to open it (in practice, it’s open in any case.)
• As required by Security Council Resolution 1860, Egypt must stop the weapons smuggling to Gaza. Cairo’s other commercial ties with the Strip are of no concern to us. This issue involves Egyptian authorities and Hamastan’s authorities.
• Gaza has a big Arab sister on the south: It’s only natural for Gaza to be connected to Egypt. Five years after the disengagement we’re still responsible for the Strip only because of Mubarak’s phobias.
Avi Trengo is a journalist