Egypt permanently opens the Rafah-Gaza crossing

Hamas at Rafah terminal in 2007

Hamas at Rafah terminal after Gaza takeover in 2007

Israel’s government has been rightly very concerned about Egypt’s plan to open the Rafah crossing to Gaza, effectively ending the blockade on Gaza. That, together with Egypt’s threats to abrogate the peace treaty between it an Israel, and the union between Fatah and Hamas, are a strategic headache for Israel.

Concern is growing in the government over Egyptian plans to open the Rafah crossing with the Gaza Strip, as ties between Cairo and Hamas tighten and the Egyptian people’s support for the peace treaty with Israel wanes.

“We are troubled by recent developments concerning Egypt. We are troubled by the voices calling for the abrogation of the peace treaty. We are troubled by the rapprochement between Iran and Egypt, and we are troubled by the upgrading of the relationship between Egypt and Hamas,” a government official told The Jerusalem Post …”

Yesterday, the crossing was opened officially for the first time (although it has been opened sporadically by Egypt over the last few years).

Despite the opening of the crossing with Sinai, Israel continued to maintain an official silence, with neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor the Foreign Ministry making any formal statements on the matter.

By the end of Saturday, 450 people had crossed into Egypt. Only 23 were turned back because of Egyptian security concerns, a Palestinian border official said.

The Rafah crossing, Gaza’s only door to the outside world not controlled by Israel, will operate six days a week instead of five and will open two hours longer per day than formerly.

Palestinians who crossed the terminal expressed relief over the absence of Egyptian intelligence officers on the Egyptian side. They said that in the past the intelligence officers used to either arrest residents of the Gaza Strip who wished to travel to Egypt or turn them back.

Egyptian authorities said that the border crossing would stay open permanently for the first time since it was closed nearly four years ago.

The Egyptians assigned two medical teams to examine travelers and facilitate the hospitalization of patients in Egyptian hospitals.

And for the first time ever, the Egyptians decided that Palestinian males under the age of 18 and over 40 do not need visas to enter Egypt. All females are also exempt from the visa requirement.

In other words, they are copying Israel’s security tactic of not allowing Palestinian males between the ages of 18 and 40 to enter freely. There is a solid reason for this: Palestinian males of these ages are the most likely to be involved in terrorism. So the Egyptians, despite all the fanfare, are still wary of the terrorist thugs of Hamas and sensibly acting accordingly.

As for those “security guarantees” that Israel is always told it can rely upon, in order to facilitate more surrender to the Arabs:

Hamas representative Ghazi Hamad said that EU monitors who used to work at the Rafah terminal would not return to their jobs. The monitors were stationed at the terminal under an agreement between the Palestinian Authority, the EU and Israel in 2005.

Did the EU coordinate their absence with the Israelis I wonder?  According to the Independent,

The European Union also supported the move, adding that it was in discussions with Israel, the Palestinians and Egypt about sending advisers back to monitor the border.

According to some experts’ analysis, the opening of the crossing doesn’t really change the facts on the ground that much, and might even be used to Israel’s advantage.

Security experts and academics are convinced the opening of the Rafah border crossing on Saturday has some positive aspects. Israel must focus on creating international pressure which would force the new regime in Cairo to tighten cooperation with Israel, they say.

“It’s actually good for the State of Israel in the long run,” says Ido Zelkovitz, an expert on Palestinian society and politics at the Haifa University. “If Egypt opens the crossing, Israel will supposedly no longer be responsible for supplying Gaza’s daily needs and Egypt will become the official gateway,” he explained.

Major-General (res.) Giora Eiland, former National Security Council head, says that the opening of the crossing serves Israel’s interests and should not be opposed to as “Israel is accused of placing Gaza under siege which legitimizes actions against us such as the Turkish flotillas.”

I’m not so sure that’s going to happen so quickly. For the moment the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing is only allowing in people and not cargo, leaving that to the Israeli crossing; implying that Israel is still responsible for the movement of cargo, or its blockading.  If there’s one thing that is always certain, it’s that the world will find a way to blame Israel for something, anything. In this case it will be for the ongoing blockade of cargo into Gaza, irrespective of the fact that the Egyptians could just as easily handle it.

And now we come to the crux of the matter:

Former Shin Bet chief MK Avi Dichter (Kadima) believes that the issue of the opening of the border is less important than the smuggling phenomenon. “What’s important is not whether the crossing is open or not, but whether the Egyptian policy has changed,” he explained. “If there is a change then we have a problem on our hands regardless if the border is open or not.”

“Sadly, Egypt’s record in the smuggling of arms and terrorists into Gaza is very bad as far as Israel is concerned,” MK Dichter says, “Egypt’s efforts on this score varied from doing nothing to very little.”

He adds, “It really depends on how the Egyptians treat the people passing there and their cargo.” If Cairo continues to operate in the same manner, he says, arms will be smuggled through the tunnels and not via the crossing.

“If they open the crossing and let anyone pass, there won’t be much of a difference as far as we’re concerned. We need to ask ourselves what’s the Egyptian policy along the Philadelphi Route and not what their policy is in the Rafah crossing itself.”

According to Maariv (NRG website, Hebrew only), the opening of the Rafah crossing will not change facts on the ground both for Israel and the Gazans. The main reason for the Egyptians reconsideration of the crossing is to keep Hamas quiet so that they won’t cause trouble.  The report adds that on the day-to-day level, life for the Gazans will not be changed by the opening of the Rafah crossing. The tunnels industry has their daily needs well taken care of. Also Israel’s concern about terrorists crossing via Rafah is irrelevant, since they manage to cross in and out of Gaza via the tunnels constantly.

עם זאת, ברמה התודעתית ההחלטה של השלטון הצבאי במצרים מעידה כי קהיר החליטה להמר על חמאס במטרה לשמור על שקט פנימי. להבדיל משלטונו של מובארק, שתמך ללא עוררין באבו מאזן ובמנהיגותו, המשטר המצרי החדש רואה בחמאס שחקן חשוב יותר שכדאי להתאמץ כדי לרצותו.

Translation:

However, the conscious decision by the Egyptian military rulers testifies that Cairo has decided to take a bet on Hamas in order to keep domestic peace.  As opposed to Mubarak’s regime, which supported Abu Mazen and his leadership unquestioningly, the new Egyptian regime sees Hamas as a more important player whom it is worthwhile making an effort to placate.

That’s very reassuring I don’t think.

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3 Responses to Egypt permanently opens the Rafah-Gaza crossing

  1. reality says:

    so now all the flotillas can go via rafah!

  2. Pingback: About that “freely opened” Rafah crossing | Anne's Opinions

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