The Philadelphia Corridor is a narrow stretch of land, mostly sand, ten kilometers long and some hundreds of meters wide, that separates Egypt (the Sinai) from the Gaza Strip; it runs from the Mediterranean Sea to the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza.
The town of Rafah straddles this corridor and is the crossing point between Egypt and Gaza.
The 1979 peace accords with Egypt allocated to Israel control of and the right to patrol the Corridor, even as Israel pulled back from the Sinai. That situation pertained until Israel's unilateral "disengagement" from Gaza in 2005, which -- if Israel were truly to "leave" Gaza -- required a self-imposed (and very unfortunate) withdrawal from the Corridor.
Jurisdiction for patrolling on the Gaza side of the Corridor was turned over to the PA. But any agreement with the PA in this regard no longer exists, as the PA was driven out of Gaza in 2007 by Hamas, which is in control there now.
As to the Sinai side, at that time, Egypt -- worried that radical Islamists might slip into the Sinai from Gaza because the PA would not patrol effectively (this is when Hamas was not in favor with Mubarak) -- secured permission from Israel, via a formal agreement, to station patrols along the line. The number of guards permitted was 750, across the Corridor on the Sinai side. It was understood that they were to combat terrorism, and were not for military purposes; the agreement did not modify the original peace treaty. It is this deployment force whose numbers Egypt has sought to augment recently with growing unlawfulness in the Sinai
One of the original purposes of the Corridor was to prevent smuggling from Egypt to Gaza. The assumption was that this band of sand, patrolled by Israeli soldiers, would make it very difficult for smugglers to cross over without being seen.
But that was before the tunnels, which were dug under the Philadelphi Corridor, mainly in the area around Rafah. There are many dozens if not hundreds of such tunnels today. Some of them are quite large and sophisticated. There are so many, and new ones are dug so rapidly, that no matter how many are taken out in intermittent Israeli Air Force strikes, there are always many more.
They have been used for bringing in commercial goods and building materials -- a whole underground economy, literally and figuratively. Even livestock, including cows, have been brought through. Although this economy has dwindled somewhat as Israel (which always allowed humanitarian materials in) has permitted more goods to come through the crossings into Gaza.
But the tunnels are also used for bringing weapons to Hamas, and over time those weapons have become more numerous and more sophisticated.
Some -- for example, Grad Katyusha rockets -- are utilized for intermittent Islamist terror attacks on Israel's south. But there is also military equipment -- such as shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank missiles -- that can be stockpiled against the time when Israel goes to war against Hamas. This is a deeply worrisome situation, as Hamas has morphed from a rag-tag terrorist group to something resembling a decently equipped army.
There have been rumors time and again about Israel re-taking the Corridor. When we fought the last war in Gaza in the end of 2008 and early 2009, there were sources predicting that when Israel pulled out, a force would remain at the Corridor. It didn't happen.
Now the subject is being raised again, and with very good reason: The growing lawlessness in the Sinai, with the Egyptians not firmly in control there and Sinai Bedouin increasingly engaged in the smuggling of arms, has brought about a very troubling situation.
Even more so is this the case because in post-war Libya there are huge unsecured arms depots; reliable reports trace arms from this source to the Sinai, where they are held for smuggling into Gaza. I wrote
recently, in the course of a post on Morsi, that Egyptian forces -- even as ineffectively as they may be monitoring the Sinai -- had captured the largest cache of serious weapons intended for smuggling yet; they believe that cache came from Libya.
Ariel Harkham, in an article on this issue cited the head of Shin Bet as saying that the newly available Libyan depots are "the new gate to hell":
And so, the case for re-taking the Corridor can be made. It becomes a question of political will.
Some say with a new Egyptian regime that has Muslim Brotherhood elements predisposed to Hamas, the chance has already been lost. Others believe that now is precisely the time, while Egypt is still in the throes of a political struggle, and the Brotherhood less dominant than it may yet become.
And there is yet one other factor that might come into play. Earlier this month, it was reported -- http://imra.org.il/story.php3?id=57332 -- that:
"The Israel Defense Forces plans to install a new underground system along the Gaza border to detect tunneling activity in its early stages, Army Radio reported Monday. According to the report, over the past several months the army has carried out a series of tests near the Kerem Shalom border crossing
and declared the new technology, called 'Strong Number,' a success. The system will eventually be deployed along the entire border aiming to avert all cross-border raids...
"An IDF spokesperson told Army Radio on Monday that the system is considered reliable. It is not prone to false positive detections, and may even prove to be the ultimate weapon in combating tunnel-related terror activity.
"...'The IDF believes that a solution has been found to the tunneling problem; we will soon be able to overcome this complex challenge,' the officer said. 'What we have is a reliable system that seldom fails.'"
This report indicated that this new underground system was eventually to be installed along the entire border between Gaza and Israel, thereby preventing terrorists from entering Israel via tunnels in order to attack, or doing cross border raids that result in kidnappings, as Shalit was kidnapped.
But Aaron Lerner, director of IMRA, which ran this article, has another thought: Does this justify re-taking the Corridor? he asks. Until now, the fact that tunnels would be utilized to smuggle weapons even if Israeli soldiers were again stationed at the Corridor was used as an argument against re-taking the Corridor:
"After all, what's the point of endangering soldiers and taking a lot of diplomatic heat if the smuggling tunnels continue to operate despite the Israeli presence. But if the IDF has come up with a way to detect the tunnels this means a dramatic shift in the equation." (Emphasis added)
Well, another attempt at hammering out a law to replace the Tal Law has failed. After having sounded off about how either Prime Minister Netanyahu had to agree to everything that the disbanded Plesner Committee had recommended, or Kadima would quit the coalition, Mofaz agreed to a second try. Netanyahu then appointed a two-party team, MK Yohanan Plesner for Kadima and Minister of Security Affairs Moshe Ya'alon for Likud.
But they, too, have failed to come to an agreement, with Ya'alon saying Plesner is inflexible and "looking for war."
One of the major stumbling blocks involved the insistence by Plesner that haredi draft invaders be put in prison. Responded Ya'alon:
"He wants to declare war on the haredim. I look at the numbers and there is an increase of thousands of haredi recruits in five years. We have agreed on a quota of 6,000 haredi recruits by 2016. Who even expected that much? But why do we need penalties? Why put them in jail? That is the big gap that brought about a breakdown in the talks."
An additional point of contention between the parties was the way the numbers were to be set. Plesner wants a specified number of excellent Torah scholars to be exempted, with everyone else drafted or penalized. Ya'alon wants to set a specific number of recruits annually and exempt everyone else, who would be free to study Torah.
Netanyahu's response to this was that Plesner's position was too harsh. "In a Jewish state, it is not possible, nor is it desirable, to limit the number of people who are allowed to study Torah. No one will be sent to prison for studying Torah in the Jewish State."
And so, stay tuned...
For those who still believe that Obama is a friend to Israel, I offer this:
"Despite pleas from Senators on Capitol Hill, the Obama administration excluded Israel from a new counterterrorism forum and neglected to mention its long and deadly struggle with terrorism during remarks presented yesterday in Spain.
"Maria Otero, the State Department’s Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, delivered a speech entitled 'Victims of Terrorism' before 29 members of the Global Counterterrorism Forum, an coalition of countries—not including Israel—that collectively combat terror.
"...During [Monday’s] gathering, Israel was also excluded again from a list of nations recognized by the U.S. for their efforts to deal with terrorism.
"'Last September at the official launch of the Global Counterterrorism Forum, I had the privilege to introduce the premiere of a film "Hear their Voices’," which tells the stories of eleven survivors of terrorist attacks from Pakistan, Jordan, Northern Ireland, Uganda, Turkey, Indonesia, India, Spain, Columbia, and the United States,” Otero said before the gathering of nations.
"...Experts say the omission of Israel was intentional.
"...'What we’re seeing is a trend of Israel being left out of the global discussion on terrorism, while Israel was extremely helpful during the beginning stages of this conversation,' said Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. 'The [Obama] administration is downplaying the struggle that Israel has been enduring.'
"I believe to a certain extent, this is due to regional politics, and it’s disconcerting to see this change," said Schanzer, who pointed out that Israel is the leading authority on strategies to combat terrorism."
A perfect example of cutting off your nose to spite your face: they'll do without the Israeli expertise they desperately need, in order to please the Arabs, who in some cases -- oh the exquisite irony! -- are also the source of terrorism.
This report has a terrible deja vu quality to it for me: When Obama came here as a candidate, there was a terrorist attack in Jerusalem, not far from his hotel. From Israel, he went to Germany to give a major speech in Berlin, in pale imitation of Jack Kennedy. In his speech he alluded to countries that were combating terrorism. And he left out Israel.
I had his number then and this man has not changed.
The Egyptian tug of war continues:
The Egyptian military had recently dissolved the Islamist-dominated parliament, in line with a court ruling that had determined that there were constitutional irregularities in the parliamentary elections. The military, according to constitutional guidelines it had established, assumed its powers.
President Morsi, in defiance of this, called the parliament into session. But now the Supreme Constitutional Court has over-ruled Morsi. There is no appeal.
"If yesterday's constitutional court ruling prevents parliament from fulfilling its responsibilities, we will respect that because we are a state of the law. There will be consultations with forces and institutions and the supreme council for legal authorities to pave a suitable way out of this."
The Brotherhood has taken a hit here.
I continue to see enthusiastic responses to the Levy Report, and want, once again to offer this word of caution: Little has happened unless Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Ministerial Committee on Settlements endorse the report and adopt its recommendations. A very good place to start would be with Migron, but much more beyond this will be needed. I am still holding my breath.
In coming posts I will have a great deal more to say about this entire issue. Here I would like to recommend a piece by Moshe Dann, "Edmund Levy's revolution," which touches upon some important bases.
MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) who is submitting a bill to enter the Levy Report into law, has made a very significant point in an article she has just written on the same subject:
Only 10% of Judea and Samaria has been used for building. And this includes the major Palestinian Arab population centers in places such as Ramallah, Hevron and Schechem (Nablus). And then, "among the built-up portions, only 3% is Jewish."
Hotovely's point is that there is tremendous potential for Jewish settlement that has not begun to be realized -- but can be when Israeli law is applied to Judea and Samaria .
But I would also make another point. When one understands the reality on the ground, it becomes very readily apparent what a crock it is, that "settlements" are a stumbling block.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.