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Securing The Philadelphi Route: Tunnels and Rafah

In yesterday's PrincipalAnalysis, The Israeli Long View In Gaza, we considered how Israel and Egypt may cooperate along the Gaza-Egypt border in order to enable the Palestinian Authority (ie Fatah) to rebuilt itself in Gaza in order to eventually challenge Hamas's primacy there.

With a sufficiently degraded and battered Hamas, Egypt could support a Fatah resurgence by permitting its supply and support through the Gaza-Egypt border, including the Rafah over-land crossing as well as through select tunnels currently peppered across the Philadelphi Route, a narrow strip of land. Just as Hamas needed its weapons and ammunition stores destroyed as much as possible, likewise the same must be built up and established for Fatah.

Reports indicate that Israel is considering re-taking the Philadelphi Route and holding it. This indicates Israel's commitment to clamp the tunnel smuggling routes beneath the east-to-west border corridor. It can destroy the tunnels as it detects them. But it may also be selective, as the key here is that Israel would essentially control them. It would maintain a presence above the smuggling tunnels with the ability to destroy them - or not - and also have the benefit of a co-interested Egyptian force at the Egyptian entrances.

Cooperation details on tunnel monitoring and interdiction are unlikely to make public reports, or so one would hope. But the aim of a Israel-Egypt-Fatah nexus at the visible overland Rafah crossing is already openly apparent. Talks in Egypt, as reported by the Washington Post, include the suggested solution of an EU-PA visible joint control of the Rafah crossing, supported by both Israel and Egypt. Hamas clearly objects.

The talks in Egypt center on the question of how to keep Hamas from smuggling weapons across the Egypt-Gaza border. A senior Israeli official said Israel and Egypt are in basic agreement on a plan that would allow the European Union and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority to share responsibility for monitoring the border and the crossing point at Rafah.

"We think the Egyptian position is very reasonable," the senior Israeli official said. Egypt has said that it is reluctant to have any international monitoring presence on its borders.

But the Israeli official said the Islamist Hamas movement is adamantly opposed to any deal that would permit the Palestinian Authority, which is led by the secular Fatah party, to return to Gaza. Hamas, which won 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, routed Fatah forces in June 2007 and has had control of Gaza ever since.

If you've been following ThreatsWatch discussion and analysis of the situation in Gaza, you know what Hamas knows: Fatah has joined forces with Israel and Egypt, each of them seeking to resurrect the Palestinian Authority in Gaza in order to reduce or destroy Hamas' monopoly on power and violence there. This is the "long view" on Gaza beyond suppression or elimination of Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilian population centers.

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