A Faulty Video Camera at Rafah Must Keep Al Qaeda at Bay

Defense minister Shaul Mofaz may have talked from the top of his head when he threatened an economic siege of Gaza unless security measures at the Rafah crossing from Sinai started working. The prime minister’s office slapped him down in a trice. But the PMO did not contradict Mofaz’s assertion that the accords brokered by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to monitor the passage of terrorists were being trampled under the feet of incoming terrorists and their weapons.
An unnamed American diplomat made haste Saturday, Dec. 10, to dismiss Israel’s complaints as exaggerated. He admitted that the video camera installed at the Rafah from which the Palestinians had contracted to transmit data on incoming traffic to Israel, was on the blink. But he promised it would be fixed within days. Until then, of course, the terrorists may stroll through the Egyptian-Palestinian crossing as they have since Israel’s pullout, with no one the wiser – except for the European inspectors who are under instructions not to interfere.
In place of the ultimatum Mofaz and other Israeli officials broadcast last week, Amos Gilead, security adviser to prime minister Ariel Sharon, who led the negotiations over Palestinian passage into and out of the Gaza Strip, spoke reassuringly Sunday morning.
He said Israel would continue to insist on access to the full identities of entrants through Rafah before the next stages go into effect, chiefly the first experimental commuters’ bus due to open the shuttle road link between the Gaza Strip and West Bank Thursday, Dec. 15.
But, he said, more “staff work” remained to be done before the bus service could start running.
Much of this is posturing.
C. David Welch, the US assistance secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, was dispatched to the region last week to guarantee that Israel’s “exaggerated” security reservations do not obstruct progress on the deals the secretary forced through on Nov. 15. Welch knows as well as Jerusalem that, even after the video camera is “repaired,” there is no bar to the free passage of terrorists and weapons into the Gaza Strip, because –
1. No party in Brussels, Cairo or Ramallah exercises control over the international border at Rafah. Since Israeli troops pulled out, it has degenerated into a lawless enclave ruled by gangs of Palestinian and Sinai Egyptian-Bedouin weapons smugglers who buy passage with substantial bribes.
2. The Palestinian Authority official who signed the Rafah accords, civil affairs minister Mohammed Dahlan, has never honored a single pledge or commitment he signed off on, including the 1994 protocol in the 1993 Oslo Accords. His record is an open book to Washington too.
David Welch’s mission is not to satisfy Israel’s concerns but to ascertain that the Palestinian bus service starts on schedule. Just as the Sharon government gave way to Rice’s demand to sign on the dotted line in November, it is unlikely to stand in the way of the American insistence on daily bus convoys.
Israel would like the buses to go only as far as the Turkumiya roadblock near Hebron.
The Americans are adding stops in Ramallah and Tulkarm or Jenin in the north.
The Bush administration is shutting its ears to the prognosis shared by all Israel’s security and intelligence experts that even a single bus convoy per day without Israeli security control is a major hazard; tantamount to opening a highway for terrorists including al Qaeda incoming from Sinai to deploy with their weapons on the West Bank directly opposite Israel’s main cities, industrial heartland and population centers.
They have already gained access to the Gaza Strip; their unsupervised connection to the West Bank is only days away.
If Sharon and Mofaz appear to turn a blind eye to this terrifying prospect, it is only because it is the inevitable corollary of their heedless policy of evacuating the Gaza Strip four months ago without sustainable security safeguards. The danger is therefore systematically played down by domestic media. In consequence, 70% of Israelis canvassed in the last few days awarded high marks to Sharon’s handling of security matters, chiefly out of sheer ignorance.
By the end of this week, therefore, Palestinian convoys will start rolling out of the Gaza strip to the West Bank. Al Qaeda operatives, from the cell they were allowed to establish in Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal, will be able to drive straight for Hebron, Ramallah and Jenin. The Al Qaeda express bus service will drop the “holy warriors” at convenient sites for striking choice targets in Tel Aviv and Kfar Saba as well as Hadera and Netanya, which are routinely battered by Palestinian suicide bombers

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