Israeli Troops to Quit Gaza’s Philadelphi Too
debkafile‘s exclusive military sources disclose that Israel and Egypt are in the last stages of drafting protocols that set the time table and arrangements for Israeli military units to abandon the volatile Philadelphi border route cutting Rafah between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Armed Egyptian troops will move up to the border and be deployed along their side of the Philadelphi route. General Amos Gilead, diplomatic coordinator in Israel’s defense ministry, and the Egyptian General Staff’s operations director are working on the final details.
Israel therefore is not only evacuating civilians from Gush Katif, but turning over its Gaza border with Egypt to the Palestinians. The new Israel-Egyptian border will thus relocate northward up to the town of Sderot and the western Negev.
The final troop withdrawal will follow soon after the evacuations and take place in late August. In a lecture he delivered Monday, February 21, the Israeli prime minister’s closest adviser, Dov Weisglass, said that not a single Israeli will be left in the evacuated areas because the infrastructure will be gone. The still unpublished Egyptian-Israeli draft protocols were his reference. His meaning: not a single Israeli – in or out of uniform – will be left in the Gaza Strip in six months’ time.
debkafile‘s exclusive military sources reveal the key points of those protocols:
1. Israel will pull its troops back from the Gaza-Egypt border area up to the international borders demarcated in the Egyptian-Israel 1979 peace accords. This will place Israel behind the pre-1967 lines (a commitment similar to that which the Israeli government extended to Israeli locations in southern Mt. Hebron when it approved the amended West Bank defense barrier route on Sunday, February 20).
2. Egypt will station three battalions – two commando, one intelligence – on its side of the Gaza border.
3. They will be equipped with armored personnel carriers and mortars.
4. To overcome the ban on the entry of military forces to the Sinai peninsula embodied in the peace accords, Egyptian troops will wear border police uniforms and their vehicles will be painted in the same colors.
5. Following the precedent of Israel’s 2000 withdrawal from South Lebanon, Israel will leave behind some of its military installations, including complete fortified positions. Since the Egyptians insist that none of their troops must set foot in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian military forces under the command of Moussa Arafat will benefit – the first time the Palestinians have ever acquired Israeli military positions in toto.
According to the information reaching debkafile‘s desk, the Israeli chief of Staff Lt. General Moshe Yaalon’s outrage over this provision was one reason for defense minister Shaul Mofaz’s decision on his premature departure. The chief of staff vehemently protested the Sharon government’s consent to hand over military positions to an enemy still engaged in combat with Israeli troops and prior to any Palestinian Authority action to disarm terrorists. Yaalon has consistently maintained that his guiding motive has always been the protection of national security. Sharon and Mofaz feared his strong objections on this score would disrupt the entire evacuation process.
6. After the military evacuation of Philadelphi, Israel will lift its naval blockade on the Gaza Strip and the Egyptian fleet will take the Israeli navy’s place.
This changeover allows Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon to deliver a valuable commercial concession to the Palestinians too.
debkafile‘s Palestinian sources reveal that he has quietly okayed a deal to buy natural gas pumped by the Palestinian-British Petroleum company off the Gazan shore – a reversal of previous government decisions. With this deal in the bag, the Palestinians are after bigger game; they are demanding concessions to sink wells north of Gaza in Israeli waters off the Ashkelon coast. In their application, the Palestinians report the project has secured $80m in financing from the Athens-based CCC, a company owned by the late Arafat’s financial adviser Mohammed Rashid, who is partner of a candidate for a Palestinian ministerial post, Mohammed Dahlan. In the past, debkafile‘s sources add, Arafat invested in CCC as a backdoor channel for funding Palestinian terrorist organizations. This funding continues.
7. One open crossing point on the future Palestinian-Egyptian Gazan frontier, probably the Rafah border post, will be manned by Israeli security personnel, to screen the traffic for known terrorists. High-ranking security sources familiar with the protocol’s contents remark that this presence is of little value because there is no word in the documents on how affairs on the border will be conducted after the Israeli military withdrawal. All the parties understand that the Palestinians will very soon beat any Egyptian measures for controlling border traffic by building wildcat crossings of their own.
8. The protocols also neglect to commit Egypt to take action against the Palestinian arms smuggling tunnels running from Egyptian Sinai to the Gaza Strip.
It is taken for granted that Egypt will continue to stop the Palestinians smuggling heavy weapons like Katyusha rockets and short-range surface missiles into Gaza.
In the past week, the Palestinians have made a show of blocking tunnels as though to pull their weight in the evacuation deal. According to our military sources, they have filled in 7 tunnels, five of which Israeli troops located for them from intelligence input. This is a drop in the bucket given the many scores of tunnels known to be still functioning.
9. Because so many clauses of the protocols contravene the Israel-Egyptian peace accords, the two governments will exchange letters determining that the new measures are mutually agreed without prejudice to the validity and legitimacy of those peace accords.
The two sides have not determined on a venue for the ceremonial signing of the protocols that cover Israel’s military withdrawal from the Philadelphi border route. Lt. General Yaalon’s resistance to the arrangements caused the first plan for the two chiefs of staff to sign the documents to be scrapped. Mofaz is now expected to sign for Israel alongside the Egyptian defense minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi.