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Monday, November 12, 2007
Text: Letter from MK Steinitz to US Senators regarding arms smuggling from Egypt to the Gaza Strip

November 7, 2007

Senator THUNE JOHN
U.S. Senate
493 RUSSELL Office Building
Washington, DC 20510 USA

Dear Senator STEVENS,

During some meetings with members of Congress last October, I was asked to
provide further details about the expansion of arms smuggling from Egypt to
the Gaza Strip. Because of the importance of this subject, which has been
recently addressed by the House of Representatives, I have put into writing
the most recent developments:

1. In recent years the flow of weapons and ammunition through Egypt
to terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip - mainly to Islamic groups like
Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Palestinian affiliates of Al-Qaeda - has
became extremely significant.

2. In the last two years, the rate of smuggling enables Hamas to
establish a fundamentalist terror army in Gaza, based on the Hizbullah model
in Lebanon. According to Israeli intelligence Gaza is absorbing, on an
annual basis, approximately: 20,000 rifles, 6,000 anti-tank missiles (mainly
RPG's), 100 tons of explosives, and several dozens of Katyusha rockets as
well as shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles.

3. Six months ago, Hamas defeated the Palestinian security forces
loyal to president Mahmoud Abbas and conducted a "mini-Iranian Revolution"
in the Gaza Strip. This resulted in the establishment of an Iranian
satellite, Hamastan, right next to Israel's south. Needless to say, that
the weaponry and financial assistance that enabled this fundamentalist
victory arrived mainly through Egypt.

4. A new development that has only begun in the last three months is
the organized departure of large groups of operatives from Gaza for military
training in Iran. Egypt permits their transit to Tehran, where they are
trained by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in a wide array of
terrorist activities, like the production of rockets and road-side bombs, as
well as in basic military training. In late September, a group of 100
operatives who completed their exercises in Iran was permitted to cross the
border back into Gaza, despite strong Israeli protests.

5. Egypt's claim that it is doing its best to end this situation by
uncovering smuggling tunnels into Gaza is simply an insult to the
intelligence. All the experts who have testified before us expressed their
conviction that it is almost ridiculous for the Egyptians to focus on
finding the tunnels, since it would be much easier for them to intercept the
smugglers before they get anywhere near the border.

All they have to do for this purpose is to erect a number of
roadblocks along the very few roads that run from mainland Egypt to the Gaza
region, in order to intercept heavily loaded trucks carrying hundreds of
rifles and missiles from reaching the border. Alternatively, they can
declare the border area a closed military zone, with a depth of 2-3 miles
into the interior of Sinai, and prevent any movement in it. Since the entire
length of the Egyptian-Gaza border is less then 9 miles, the area affected
will be equivalent in size to a military airbase.

6. Comparison between Egypt and Jordan will help to clarify how
baseless the Egyptian's excuses on the smuggling issue are - taking into
account that Jordan shares a far longer border with the Palestinian
Authority in the West Bank (see the attached map).

True, in contrast to the Egyptian-Gaza border, the Israel
Defense Forces are deployed in the Jordan Valley between Jordan and the
Palestinian Authority. Yet it is illuminating to note, that the Jordanian
security forces do succeed in blocking most smuggling to militant Islamic
groups in the West Bank, well before they reach the border area. This is
because instead of concentrating their efforts solely at the border area,
they prevent the entry of illegal weapons shipments into their territory in
the first place. Additionally, and again unlike the Egyptians, they have
smashed smuggling networks all over Jordan and imprisoned their leaders for
long terms. Hence, when an Arab country truly wishes to fight against
terrorism and fundamentalism, it is within its capacity.

It is hard to deny that this Egyptian behavior constitutes a gross violation
of the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, as well as the 2005 Philadelphi
Corridor Agreement. Unfortunately, this phenomenon, combined with the daily
rockets attacks on the Israeli town of Sderot, will ultimately require the
Israeli Defense Forces to re-enter Gaza and to move with great panache
against the terrorist forces and infrastructure, causing additional
bloodshed for both Israelis and Palestinians.

It should be also noted that this Egyptian policy has already undermined the
capacity of the Palestinian Authority to govern the Gaza Strip, as well as
the chances of success of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In
practice, it does not seem extremely consistent with the U.S. policy of
strengthening the moderates in the Middle East vis--vis their militant
rivals.

In essence, this strategy of turning a blind eye to the smuggling is quite
similar to the policies of Syria and Iran regarding arms smuggling into
Iraq. The only difference is that in contrast to those countries, Egypt is
still considered an ally of the west, and is heavily supported by the United
States.

After several years of Israeli and American protests, it seems hard to avoid
the following conclusion: as long as Egypt is not required to pay a real
price for this behavior, weapons and financial aid will continue to flow
into the hands of Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza.

It must be stated, however, that the difficult issue raised above is not
intended to downgrade the strategic importance of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian
Peace Treaty signed on the White house lawn. Yet it is my belief that when
grave problems arise they should not be ignored. Egypt's compliance with its
treaty obligations is a pre-requisite for the Arab-Israeli peace process as
a whole, as well as for the success of the regional and global struggle
against terrorists.

With best wishes,

M.K., Dr. Yuval Steinitz
Chairman of the Knesset Subcommittee on Defense
Readiness and Combating Terrorism

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