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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Tunnel-Vision in Gaza

By Doron Almog- Middle East Quarterly - Summer 2004
The term "smuggling" does not do justice to the problem of the Philadelphi corridor, and indeed, of the entire length of the Egyptian-Israeli border. Of course, some of the cross-border smuggling, overland or by tunnel, involves contraband and drugs—economic smuggling that occurs across all borders (and all of Israel's borders). But in Gaza, this smuggling has a strategic dimension. It involves the illegal importation into Gaza of significant quantities of arms and materiel, on a scale sufficient to turn Gaza into launching pad for ever-deeper attacks against Israel proper. Armed militias, awash with illegal weapons, could also undermine the balance of forces within Gaza itself, creating a situation of near-chaos and dangerous spirals of terrorist attacks and reprisals.

But however worrisome these prospects, there is one that eclipses them all. Given the position of Gaza, sandwiched between Israel and Egypt, it is not difficult to imagine scenarios in which these events could produce international crises of the first order. Smuggling and infiltration have the potential to endanger the Israeli-Egyptian peace accord and threaten the stability of the whole region. This might be even more likely in certain post-disengagement scenarios, in which Egypt would assume responsibility for the border area or the Gaza Strip itself.

This article will outline the scale of the problem, consider its recent evolution, establish its political context, and ask what can be done to neutralize it.