In the Middle East, Its Good Fences for Bad Neighbors

Manmade barriers are springing up around the Middle East at points where manmade conflicts are most intractable. Be they security fences, earthworks, moated ramparts, steel walls, razor wire – or combinations thereof, their purpose is to apply division and separation to breaking up difficulties into manageable elements. Will this device work? Some think it’s worth a try.
Israeli forces who drove into the southern Gaza Strip town of the terrorist hotbed of Rafah’s Tel Sultan early Tuesday, May 18, came with giant engineering corps bulldozers. Earth banks were speedily thrown up to isolate from their environment the spaces in which Israeli armored and infantry units are hunting for wanted terrorists, cut off their escape routes and provide perches for Israeli snipers lying in wait for escapees.
Last Tuesday, May 11, after an Israeli armored personnel carrier was blown up, banks were raised to protect and conceal the units looking for the remains of the six-man crew killed in the blast. Two days later, after a second APC blew up, earthworks helped protect units who were scouring sections of the Philadelphi Route for the remains of their five dead comrades against Palestinian harassment. Another two Israeli soldiers were nonetheless shot dead.
These earth barriers – and the large-scale wall under construction down the West Bank-Israeli border – are not only found separating Israelis from Palestinians. In Iraq, US forces are finding them useful for besieging guerrillas and al Qaeda terrorists in Fallujah and for blockading Moqtada Sadr’s militiamen at flashpoints in Najef and Karbala.
The largest American military barrier project of all is now underway to seal Iraq against the incursions al Qaeda and Arab fighters from Syria, especially the truck convoys carrying ammunition. The American barrier strategy resembles the new Israeli tactic for sealing off the Egyptian-Israeli-Gaza border against Palestinian smugglers. Both are aim at plugging cross-border leaks with one important difference: in the great Syrian Desert, terrorists find their way across the border overland, while in Rafah, Palestinian smugglers tunnel their way through underground.
According to debkafile and DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, the American barrier was well advanced before the Rafah operation began.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report that the earthwork barrier American engineering units together with US and Jordanian engineering firms are throwing up will stretch 500 miles from the conjunction of the Syrian-Jordanian-Iraqi borders in the south to the Syrian-Turkish-Iraqi border junction in the north.
The first segment is going up in the al Qaim province through which most of the illicit traffic passes from Syria to Iraq at a point opposite the Syrian Jabal al Tanf mountain, at the foot of which Wadi Shal runs from Syria into western Iran. The first project is a bulwark to block this dry river wadi. Next, a barrier will be raised opposite the Syrian town of Abu Kamal where the Euphrates flows from Syria into Iraq. The section from the Jordanian border to the Euphrates will be 200 miles long.
From the Euphrates, the barrier will turn north, traversing regions roamed for thousands of years without hindrance by nomadic Arabs. It will circle round the towns of Mosul and Sinjar from the west and wind up at the point where southern Turkey meets the Iraqi Kurdish town of Zako.
According to our sources, the “wall” will be composed of five elements: A. An earthwork raised at its highest point to 3 meters, tall enough to block the path of four-wheeled drive vehicles. B. Deep trenches to prevent the crossing of light and heavy vehicles, to be dug in places where the earthwork cannot be raised to a sufficient height because of the lie of the land. C. Reinforced concrete cubes to block the many gulches and crevasses riddling the area. D. Water obstacles to obstruct river traffic. E. Electronic sensors scattered along the barrier’s length that will serve the same function as an electronic fence. F. The unit in charge of the barrier’s operation will have the use of a fleet of light spy and surveillance aircraft, helicopter gunships and drones. Its command center and air fleet will be linked to the spy satellites continually orbiting over Syria and Iraq.
US Ground Commander Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who fought hard for the wall, has admitted the structure cannot be completely impermeable. But by obstructing vehicular movement, it can substantially cut down the volume of illicit traffic entering from Syria.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts note that the project shares the same shortcoming as every other American endeavor in Iraq, a chronic shortage of military personnel to man and maintain it against sabotage. The itinerant Syrian-Saudi tribes, who subsist on smuggling and who have been helping Syrian intelligence infiltrate anti-US fighters and weapons into Iraq, have roamed the region unrestricted by boundaries from time immemorial. In just a few weeks, they will suddenly find themselves on either side of a dividing wall. Their first instinct will be to knock it down by one means or another, such as a powerful water cannon that can force a breach in the structure. They will not be deterred by ground or air patrols, any more than the Palestinian weapons smugglers will be halted permanently by any Israeli barrier.

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