THE SPINE JANUARY 24, 2008
A high and highly reliable security source in Israel told me today that Hamas had been planning the breaking down of the walls (built by Israel) at Rafah, between Gaza and Egypt, for several months. (This was also confirmed by Amira Hass, the Ha'aretz reporter who seems to support the most extreme Palestinian forces in the conflict.) And Egypt seemed prepared for them to fall.
One piece of evidence: the Egyptians did not even try to push the Gazans back from whence they came.But this is not a fortuitous development for the regime that rules so awkwardly in Cairo. The first danger is that some Hamas militants may well have stayed, and are now winding their way to the capital where they will meet up with their Muslim Brotherhood cohorts. Dozens of the Brothers were arrested by Egyptian security forces yesterday, perhaps only to preclude these reunions.Nonetheless, the reunion buys Mubarak some goodwill with the Gazans. Of course, there are few residents of the Strip who recall the two decades before 1967 when the Egyptian army ran this tiny and overpopulated piece of land like a jail (unlike how the Jordanians ruled the West Bank). Still, if Hamas men link up with the restive Bedouins in the Sinai, many of whom have on several occasions facilitated the terror against tourism in the peninsula, it will only result in troubles for Egypt. And believe me: no one will rebuild these security walls.
This also established expectations by the Gazans from Egypt. Shopping there in the last days was a hoot. Ibrahim Barzak, an AP journalist, reported from the breach in the wall that, in addition to "food, fuel, cigarettes, shoes, furniture, car parts, even generators...some carried huge boxes of Toshiba-make TVs, ranging in price from $243 to $649." As I quoted the Times' Steve Erlanger in a Spine "'Patrolling' the Gaza Border" yesterday, "The scene at the border was one of a great bazaar." All of this indicates that the Israelis are right in claiming that there are few untoward shortages, least of all of money. I don't know whether many people noticed that, in "protest" against the Israeli embargo on fuel and power, Hamas itself closed down the power station it runs autonomously. Why? To fabricate an emergency where there isn't one.For the Israelis, the opening of the Gaza border with Egypt may be an improvement.
Yes, there will be the danger of arms smuggling and infiltration from the Sinai. But that will be Cairo's problem -- not only with Israel but with the United States, especially with the congress which is not so pleased to support a corrupt and immutable dictatorship to the tune of nearly $3 billion annually. From Jerusalem, shedding the pressure of policing Gaza's only border points with the outside world may seem a terrific relief.
There is one immediate problem for Israel, and it is that Hamas might smuggle the kidnapped Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, out of Gaza into the sands of the Sinai, loosing such intelligence as it has as to his whereabouts and his situation.Once Gaza is again bound up with Egypt, the Palestine problem also changes in dimension. The West Bank is the only Arab territory on the diplomatic agenda.