The Gaza-Egypt Smuggling Tunnels Must Be Closed

[Wall Street Journal] Dore Gold - When Israelis look back on what caused the current conflict in Gaza, they point to their government's decision in September 2005 to leave the narrow "Philadelphi Route" that runs along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. More than Israel's disengagement from the Strip as a whole, the abandonment of this strategic area made full-scale war inevitable. The 1994 Gaza-Jericho Agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization placed this 100-meter-wide corridor under Israeli military control. By 2000, local Palestinians, many of whom worked with Hamas, dug underground tunnels that allowed for a lucrative smuggling trade that included weapons. During 2008, rockets with a 40-kilometer range came through the Gaza tunnels and into Hamas' weapons cache. At the same time, the tunnels allowed hundreds of Hamas operatives to leave Gaza for Egypt and on to Iran for military training with the Revolutionary Guards at a base outside of Tehran. Today, Israelis are concerned that even if Hamas is defeated militarily, its stocks of rockets will be fully replenished by Iran in a matter of months unless the tunnels under the Philadelphi Route are addressed. That is precisely what happened with Hizbullah after the 2006 Lebanon War. There is an added concern that Iran will supply rockets that reach well beyond the 40-kilometer range. In the next war, Hamas could strike Tel Aviv from inside the Gaza Strip. In 2005, Secretary of State Rice proposed border controls for the area that completely failed because the European Union monitors ran away the moment there was an escalation of violence. Today the idea of a new EU monitoring force - a proposal Western diplomats are discussing - does not engender much confidence on the Israeli side. Anticipating the end of the Gaza war, there is already talk that the peace process can simply be picked up where it was left off and pursued with new determination. But the crisis over the Philadelphi Route has taught Israel a bitter lesson about relinquishing critical territory: It was a cardinal error to leave this strategic zone at the perimeter of Gaza, even if Israel wanted to get out of the Strip in its entirety. Israeli leaders including Yitzhak Rabin have warned that Israel must never leave the Jordan Valley, the equivalent perimeter zone in the West Bank.

2009-01-14 06:00:00

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