TEL AVIV Ñ Israel's military has been pitted against the government
in the debate over a response to Egypt's failure to halt the flow of weapons
and operatives to the Palestinian insurgency.
Officials said the dispute between the military and the government of
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon erupted as Palestinian insurgency groups have
tried to smuggle rockets and heavy weapons from the Sinai Peninsula to the
Gaza Strip. They said that despite repeated Israeli and U.S. appeals, Egypt
has failed to crack down on the weapons smuggling rings that operate in
Cairo, El Arish and the divided city of Rafah.
Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon has advocated a tough approach to
the Egyptian government, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials said Ya'alon and other generals want
Sharon to warn the United States that Egypt's refusal to secure its eastern
border could threaten regional stability and torpedo Israel's plan to
unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank.
"The General Staff sees the flow of weapons from Egypt as a strategic
danger that will eventually provide the Palestinians with everything they
need to attack Israeli cities," a senior military source said. "If something
is not done now, then it will get much worse and our relations with Egypt
will become endangered."
On Wednesday, Israeli National Security Council director Maj. Gen. Giora
Eiland was expected to discuss Egypt during a meeting with Bush
administration officials in Washington. Officials said Eiland's talks were
meant to focus on the government's withdrawal plan, including U.S. help to
finance the resettlement of about 10,000 Israelis in the Gaza Strip and
northern West Bank.
The military's key concern, officials said, has been that the PA would
obtain Katyusha surface-to-surface rockets as well as SA-7 surface-to-air
missiles from Egypt. They said that in August, amid heavy U.S. pressure,
Egypt blocked an effort to smuggle Katyusha rockets and man-portable
surface-to-air missiles to the Gaza Strip.
Officials said Egypt has become the main source of weapons to the
Palestinian Authority. They said the Palestinians chose the Sinai route
after Jordan seized shipments of weapons Ñ provided largely by the
Iranian-sponsored Hizbullah Ñ to the West Bank.
Ya'alon has demanded that Egypt halt the flow of weapons to the Gaza
Strip before Israel proceeds with plans to withdraw from the area. Egypt has
been training Palestinian Authority police officers and offered to send at
least 200 advisers to help restore security in the Gaza Strip.
On Sunday, Ya'alon's demand was supported by Israel Security Agency
director Avi Dichter. Dichter told the Cabinet that the eight-kilometer-long
Philadelphi corridor between Egypt and the Gaza Strip could become a major
smuggling route for the PA and insurgency groups. He warned that the
Palestinians could receive heavy weapons from Egypt following an Israeli
Sharon has agreed with the military assessment, but aides said he has
sought to avoid a crisis with Egypt. Cabinet sources quoted Sharon as saying
that Egypt has demonstrated some effort to stop smuggling, but that much
more must be done.
Officials said Egypt has also failed to stop the smuggling of components
for the Kassam-class short-range missile to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They
said that in July, a shipment of standard fuzes was smuggled from the Sinai
Peninsula to Rafah in a move that enhanced the lethality of the missiles.
"The Egyptians are not doing their best to stop smuggling of weapons
from Egypt," Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's
political-military bureau, said. "But as far as I can tell the Egyptians are
improving their effort. I wouldn't be surprised if they take military
measures. The question is will this be sufficient."