THE JERUSALEM POST
May. 26, 2005
MK Yuval Steinitz, the chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense
Committee, compares Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to enable the
Egyptian military to deploy its forces in the Sinai Peninsula to the
decision by the ancient Greeks to allow the Trojan horse to enter their
city. “The strategic blindness of both decisions is equally complete,”
Steinitz explains. “Here what is involved is an Israeli government enabling
our most formidable enemy – Egypt – to deploy its forces at our borders
within striking distance of all of our air force bases and other sensitive
sites in southern Israel. It constitutes a strategic threat of the highest
order to Israel’s national security and survival.”
According to the plan that Sharon and his advisers have been negotiating
with Egypt over the past several months, after Israel’s planned evacuation
of the Gaza Strip, Egyptian forces will take control of the border between
Gaza and Egypt. Both Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Sharon said this
week that in spite of the strenuous objections of the IDF and the Shin Bet
security service, Israel will transfer control over the Philadephi Route,
which separates Palestinian Rafah from Egyptian Rafah, to Egyptian control.
According to Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Egypt will deploy
750 troops to the border with Gaza and another 1,500-2,000 troops to the
border with Israel.
As Steinitz and Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – another harsh critic
of the plan – have made clear, this initiative constitutes nothing less than
an Israeli invitation to the Egyptians to remilitarize the Sinai Peninsula,
the demilitarization of which was the most important strategic
accomplishment of the 1981 Camp David peace treaty.
Sharon and his advisers argue that the step is necessary to enable Egypt to
stem weapon-smuggling from Egypt to Gaza. And yet, according to senior IDF
commanders, the border guard presence that Egypt currently fields in the
Sinai is more than sufficient to block the smuggling. What Egypt lacks, they
say, is not the wherewithal, but the will, to act. And yet, in his
negotiations with the Egyptians, Sharon has agreed to allow them to deploy
heavy armored forces to the Sinai. Steinitz is working to block this move by
insisting that any change in the status of forces agreement between Israel
and Egypt must receive the approval of the Knesset before it is implemented.
As Steinitz has rightly argued, in spite of its presumptive peace with
Israel, Egypt is in fact the Arab state most hostile to the Jewish state.
Since the mid-1990s, the Egyptian military’s annual joint forces exercise
involves simulating a war against Israel. Egypt, which due to US military
aid, boasts the most powerful army in the Arab world, is the epicenter of
Arab anti-Semitic publications and incitement.
Egypt stands at the head of almost every political initiative launched
against Israel in international forums. And, in hosting the continuous
dialogue between Palestinian terror groups, the Egyptians have overseen the
operational coordination between the PA, Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
ISRAEL’S DECISION to invite the deployment of Egyptian forces to its borders
is based on an increasingly common and exceedingly dangerous malady that has
plagued Israel’s leaders over the past decade. In working to defend itself
against Arab aggression, Israel is presented with a number of difficult
military options. In the case at hand, Israel faces a security challenge of
contending with Palestinian weapon-smuggling from Egypt. Given that to date
it has not wished to deploy its own forces in the Sinai to stem the flow,
Israel has placed its forces on the narrow strip of land separating Gaza
from Egypt and attempted to seize the weapons at the border. Now that the
government has decided to vacate Gaza, it no longer wishes for the IDF to
man this border.
The reason why weapons are smuggled from Egypt to Gaza is twofold. On the
one hand, the Egyptians have an interest in continuing and escalating the
Palestinian terror war against Israel, because they believe their position
is enhanced through an erosion of Israeli strength. On the other, the
Palestinians have an interest in bringing in the weapons because they wish
to enhance their ability to wage war on Israel.
Israel’s decision to vacate Gaza has done nothing to change the way the
Egyptians and Palestinians perceive their interests. And yet, in order to
leave Gaza with a good conscience, Sharon and his advisers apparently feel
that they must at least pretend this is not the case. So in the absence of
any palatable option for continuing to stem the flow of weapons from Egypt
to the PA, Israel has made one up. In this imaginary option, Israel will
leave and Egypt and the Palestinians will immediately redefine their
interests to match those of Israel. The fact that there is no factual basis
for this assessment is evidently of no interest to Sharon.
The same strategic blindness and petulance informed former prime minister
Ehud Barak when he decided to pull Israeli forces out of southern Lebanon
and when he offered to cede almost all of Judea and Samaria to Palestinian
sovereignty. Israel was deployed in south Lebanon to provide a buffer zone
between Israeli towns in the North and the terrorist forces operating in
Lebanon under Syrian and Iranian sponsorship. Five years ago this week,
responding to years of public pressure from EU-financed political groups,
Barak decided to unilaterally withdraw from Lebanon without defeating
Hizbullah and while betraying Israel’s longtime ally, the
Christian-dominated South Lebanese Army.
The results of this decision are mixed. On the one hand, the IDF has still
managed to deter Hizbullah from attacking Israel – or at least from
attacking Israel often – in spite of its absence in Lebanon. On the other
hand, Israel’s precipitous withdrawal gave a psychological victory to the
forces of jihad worldwide and was one of the factors that led the
Palestinians to launch their terror war against Israel four months later.
Speaking on Wednesday of Israel’s retreat, Syrian-backed Lebanese President
Emil Lahoud said, “Lebanon has been the only Arab territory to drive Israeli
occupation forces out of its territory and the only Arab country to regain
its legitimate territorial rights without making any compromise or
concessions. Lebanon will continue its legitimate struggle with Israel until
a global, comprehensive and just peace is reached in the Middle East.”
Aside from that, in the IDF’s absence, with Syrian and Iranian assistance,
Hizbullah has massively expanded its arsenal, and as Hassan Nasrallah stated
on Wednesday, it now has 12,000 rockets poised at the border capable of
attacking all of northern Israel and has longer-range missiles capable of
hitting targets in southern Israel.
Five years ago, Barak promised Israelis that after an IDF withdrawal, the
“international community” would prevail on the Lebanese government to deploy
the Lebanese Army along the border with Israel. He said that once Israel was
gone, Hizbullah would stop being a terrorist organization dedicated to
Israel’s destruction and turn into a political party. Of course, none of
this happened, but Barak then, like Sharon today, decided not to recognize
the real options on the table, preferring instead to win popularity
domestically by promising the public a perfect option that suffered only
from the marginal deficit of being imaginary.
Barak tried to reenact this same security genius in his offer to the
Palestinians at Camp David in July 2000. Setting aside Israel’s legal claims
to sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, Israel has justified its control of
the areas from a security perspective on three main grounds: It is necessary
for intelligence collection; for preventing an invasion from across the
Jordan River; and for preventing terrorist attacks against Israeli
Although the threat of an eastern invasion has been at least temporarily
mitigated by our peace treaty with Jordan and the US military occupation of
Iraq, the other two rationales remain both valid and acute – and were five
years ago. And yet, given his desire to cut a deal with the PLO, Barak
claimed that as soon as the Palestinians signed an agreement with Israel,
they would magically abandon their societal aggression toward Israel and act
as allies. If Israel needed to enter the areas after they were ceded to
Palestinian control, he argued, the Palestinians would, as allies, allow our
forces to do so.
AS THE ensuing four and a half years of war have shown, there was no basis
for Barak’s view other than his fervent prayers to the Tooth Fairy and his
own vanity. Still today, even as the US is launching a global war on
terrorism, the Palestinian leadership has made no attempt to curb terrorism.
As Brig.-Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, head of Military Intelligence Analysis,
told foreign diplomats this week, like his predecessor Yasser Arafat, PA
leader Mahmoud Abbas “relates to terrorists as though they were heroes, and
therefore he is not interested in implementing arrests, disarming terrorist
groups from their weapons, punishing terrorists, or stopping the smuggling
So today, as was the case with Barak five years ago, Sharon is basing his
strategic policies not on the reality of Israel’s security situation, but on
what he wishes that security situation to be, and in so doing, as Steinitz
argues, he is imperiling our national security.
Sharon has often said that what one sees when sitting in the prime
minister’s chair is different from what we little people see from down
below. To judge from the strategic blindness that afflicts its current and
past occupants, it might be in Israel’s national security interest to
replace all the chairs in the prime minister’s office with new ones. And if
that isn’t practical, we will need to elect ourselves a new prime minister
and hope that he isn’t similarly afflicted by delusions of perfect choices
that do not exist.