The Rafah Crossing
Palestinians bought in Egypt
Palestinians bought in Egypt
Egyptian security forces
Egyptian security forces
Egyptian forces defending themselves against stones thrown by Palestinians
trying to pass through the Rafah Crossing (Reuters, January 25).
1. Breaching the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Egypt and the flow of hundreds of thousands of Gazans into Egyptian Rafah are, in our assessment, a well-planned Hamas move which is liable to have far-reaching implications for the status of the radical Islamic terrorist entity which was created in the Gaza Strip when Hamas took over in June 2006.
The Rafah Crossing breached: crowds of people and vehicles
passing though (Al-Alam TV, January 24).
2. In our assessment Hamas’s main objectives were the following:
1) Removing or seriously easing Israel ‘s pressure on the Gaza Strip which followed the closing of the crossings into Israel and Egypt .
2) As a result freedom of action for Hamas and the other terrorist organizations to fire rockets and carry out terrorist attacks from other areas in the Gaza Strip has increased.
3) Accelerating Hamas’s military buildup by establishing a border regime which will enable the easy and unobstructed passage of operatives and weapons into the Gaza Strip , including advanced weapons such as standard rockets and anti-aircraft guns, etc.
4) To display Hamas’s strength to Egypt (and the rest of the Arab world) and to motivate the Egyptians to support it in its confrontation of Abu Mazen’s Palestinian Authority .
3. As in the past, Egypt avoided confronting the Hamas challenge and ensuing dilemmas. On the ground , the Egypt security forces allowed the flow of Gazans into Egyptian Rafah without using excessive force. Politically , Egypt is trying to mediate between Hamas and Abu Mazen to find an internal Palestinian solution which will lead to the reopening of the Rafah Crossing on a basis different from the Crossings Agreement of 2005. In our assessment, any solution reached will mean Hamas control of the crossing into Egypt , the Gaza Strip’s "oxygen tube.”
4. As far as Israel is concerned, the situation created is a clear and present security threat . A breached border fence and the possibility of a reopened Rafah Crossing under Hamas control enable the terrorist organizations to keep up a steady stream of weapons and operatives into the Gaza Strip ( including global jihad operatives , who have easy access to weapons and supporters in the Sinai Peninsula ). In addition, it will be relatively easy for the terrorist organizations to dispatch squads into Israel through the wide-open Israel-Egyptian border from the Gaza Strip to Eilat.
5. The situation on the ground since the fence was breached until noon of January 28 is as follows:
The main developments along the Gazan-Egyptian border
6. For the sixth consecutive day , there has been a steady flow of Gazans in and out of Egyptian Rafah, although it has slowed somewhat due to the weather. Gazans continue to cross into Egyptian territory to buy basic foodstuffs and various types of fuel. It has been estimated that hundreds of thousands have passed through the breaches. As they were widened vehicles began crossing at three main locations. Scores of trucks have entered carrying basic commodities and fuel from Egypt . The Gazans have emptied most of the shelves in the stores in Egyptian Rafah and El-Arish.
Palestinians reentering the Gaza Strip with merchandise bought in Egypt
7. At first the Egyptian security forces tried to control the breaches and stop the flow of Gazans, but Hamas operatives breached the fence in additional locations with bulldozers. The security forces showed relative restraint, did not use much force to block the crossing and did not fire on the Palestinians. Nevertheless, there were several violent confrontations when they tried to disperse the crowd using night-sticks, water cannons and dogs; the Gazans threw rocks at the Egyptian forces Al-Aqsa TV, January 25).
The Egyptian security forces attempting to prevent the passage of Palestinians
8. Egypt announced that there were 30-40 wounded security force members and border guards, among them two senior officers. The Egyptian foreign minister said that he was worried by the Palestinian provocations and that it had to be made clear to them that it was absolutely out of the question that Egypt’s desire to host them and make their lives easier threaten the lives of the Egyptian security forces (Middle East News Agency, January 26). At the same time, Egyptian authorities appealed to the Hamas leadership to take action to stop the provocations (Al-Hayat, January 26).
9. On January 26 Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak said that the border would remain open in the coming days and that Egypt would continue to allow Palestinians to cross to buy the basic items them needed (Middle East News Agency, January 26). However, Egypt demanded that the Palestinians go no further than Egyptian Rafah and said they would not be permitted to enter Sinai toward El-Arish . On the ground the reinforced Egyptian security forces managed to block the entrance to El-Arish and used force to close stores in the city, although Rafah and the border crossings remained open.
10. On the afternoon of January 28, after six days of uninterrupted Palestinian movement in and out of the Gaza Strip, the Egyptian security forces, in collaboration with armed Hamas operatives, began closing the breaches to stop the stream of cars crossing the border. The feeling in the Gaza Strip is that the mass movement of Palestinians into Egypt will stop by the weekend (Ali Waked, Ynet, January 28).
Arms and Weapons Smuggling
11. The collapse of the border fence enabled the Palestinian terrorist organizations to freely smuggle weapons and terrorist operatives into the Gaza Strip, including advanced weapons, and no longer need the extensive network of tunnels constructed under the Philadelphi route. In addition, breaking through the crossing provided a clear avenue for terrorist operatives who are liable to leave for the Sinai peninsula, cross the wide-open border between Egypt and Israel and carry out terrorist attacks within Israeli territory.
12. According to the first media reports, during the past few days the terrorist organizations smuggled weapons and military equipment into and from the Gaza Strip. The Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot quoted sources within Hamas who said that during the last three days large quantities of assault rifles, machine guns and ammunition were smuggled into the Gaza Strip of the sort used in the past to attack IDF helicopters (Yediot Aharonot, January 27). The Egyptian authorities recently detained dozens of Palestinians armed with assault rifles and pistols who crossed the border into Egyptian Rafah (Haaretz daily newspaper, January 28). Egyptian sources revealed that their security forces had detained Palestinians in a number of districts who had explosives and latest generation cellular phones in their possession, capable of eavesdropping on the Egyptian security forces’ communications networks (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, January 27).
13. The radical Islamic nature of the Gaza Strip, the freedom of action of the terrorist organizations and the relative ease in entering and leaving are liable, in our estimation, to encourage global jihad groups to enter. For example, Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Ansari , responsible for information coming from an organization called Fatah al-Islam in the Land of Ribat , 2 issued a call to jihad fighters around the world to exploit the breached Rafah Crossing to go to the Gaza Strip (a global jihad forum called Al-Hesbah, January 24).
14. Caught between Hamas’s defiance and the Islamic opposition’s identification with Hamas , Egypt has avoided trying to resolve the crisis by employing military force against the Palestinians. Its activity has focused on diplomacy in an attempt to promote a political solution based on an agreement between Hamas and Abu Mazen:
1) Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has called for a renewal of the Fatah-Hamas dialogue and expressed willingness to host the talks in Egypt . He said that the break through the crossing and the flow of Palestinians were the direct result of Israel ‘s blockade and collective punishment of the Gaza Strip. He also said that Egypt was prepared to act immediately to mediate between the Palestinians but was not a side in internal Palestinian conflicts and was not prepared to get involved in them (Middle East News Agency, January 25).
2) The Egyptian foreign minister said that Egypt was interested in restoring former arrangements and agreements regarding the operation of the border crossings and had invited the two rival Palestinian leaderships to arrive in Cairo separately to discuss the issue. However, he made it clear that Egypt would call upon Fatah and Hamas to deliberate only after a suitable arrangement had been formulated and that Hamas would agree to sign it (Middle East News Agency, January 26). At this point it would seem that Hamas and Fatah delegations will meet separately with members of the Egyptian administration and that a tripartite meeting will not take place (BBC Radio, January 27).
15. Expressions of identification with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip continued throughout Egypt , coming particularly from the Muslim Brotherhood opposition :
1) About 1,500 Egyptians recently held a demonstration at the Cairo Book Fair. They gathered in answer to a call sent out by the Muslim Brotherhood after the Friday prayer and were surrounded by hundreds of security police (Agence France Presse, January 25).
2) Many convoys of humanitarian aid which left from various locations in Egypt drove to Rafah to relieve the blockade in the Gaza Strip. They were not permitted to enter northern Sinai, forcing most of them to return. The largest convoy was sent by the Arab Doctors’ Association and included food and drugs worth $1 million (Muslim Brotherhood Website, January 25)
16. On January 27, official Egypt television’s morning program broadcast live from Egyptian Rafah, Palestinian Rafah and El-Arish. In addition to its regular programming, in an exceptional move a number of anti-Israeli incitement songs were broadcast and pictures were shown "testifying” to the so-called "slaughter” of the Palestinian people (Egyptian TV, January 27).
The Hamas Movement
17. Hamas is playing a double game with Egypt : on the one hand , it was behind the collapse of the fence, sent Gazans to confront the Egyptian security forces, absolutely refuses to return to the status quo ante and is not prepared to accept any solution which will not ensure it control over the Rafah Crossing. On the other , Hamas spokesmen publicly praise Egypt, state that breaching the fence was not aimed against it, apologize for the confrontations between the Gazans and the Egyptian security forces and even express willingness to reach an arrangement regarding Palestinian-Egyptian management of the Rafah Crossing ( an arrangement which would ensure Hamas control of entrance into and exit from the Gaza Strip ). 3
18. Khaled Mashal , head of Hamas’s political bureau in Damascus , said that the movement was going to send a delegation to Egypt to discuss the Rafah Crossing. He congratulated the Egyptians on their handling of the situation and said that breaking through the crossing had not been aimed against the Egyptians. He called upon Egypt to reach an agreement with the Palestinians for Palestinian-Egyptian management of the Rafah Crossing which would replace the previous agreement. On January 27 he also communicated with the Arab foreign ministers who had met in Cairo and demanded that they support the Egyptian position, which was to open the border to the residents of the Gaza Strip (Palestine-info Website, January 27).
Khaled Mashal: in favor of joint Palestinian (Hamas)-Egyptian management
of the Rafah Crossing (Al-Alam TV, January 25).
19. Ahmed Yussuf , Ismail Haniya’s political advisor, said that the Hamas delegation which would go to Cairo would discuss a final solution for managing the Rafah Crossing. He said that Hamas was interested in joint Palestinian-Egyptian control without Israel and the European Union, as required by the Crossings Agreement of August 2005 (Ma’an News Agency, January 28).
The Palestinian Authority
20. Abu Mazen and the PA are in favor of turning control of the Rafah Crossing and the crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel over to the PA’s security services . At the same time, they oppose giving Hamas control, which would aid Hamas’s buildup and strengthen its control of the Gaza Strip. Abu Mazen is expected to leave for Cairo on January 30 to discuss the issue of the crossings with President Hosni Mubarak. In our assessment, the presence of Abu Mazen’s security services at the Rafah Crossing (or the crossings into Israel ) would not have practical importance both because of the absence of territorial continuity between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and because of Hamas’s military control of the Gaza Strip.
21. In view of the collapse of the border fence contacts are being made between the PA and Egypt : PA prime minister Salam Fayyad went to Egypt and spoke with Omar Suleiman, head of Egyptian intelligence and with foreign minister Ahmad Abu al-Gheit. Senior figures in the PA said the following:
1) Nimr Hamad , Abu Mazen’s political advisor, said that the suggestion to turn the crossings over to the PA had been made at the Paris conference and again after the recent incidents. He said that Israel ‘s ideas for solving the problem are an attempt to place responsibility on Egypt for the Gaza Strip or to found a Hamas-controlled emirate there (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, January 26).
2) Yasser Abed Rabbo , secretary of the PLO’s executive committee, said that if the situation continued it would play into Israel’s hands because it would separate the West Bank from the Gaza Strip. In his opinion, the only solution would be to turn over control of all the crossings to the PA (Al-Hayat, January 26).
3) Riyadh al-Maliki , foreign minister in Salam Fayyad’s government, said that the Egyptians had agreed to resolve the crisis by implementing the Crossings Agreement and renewing the control of the Presidential Guard over the Rafah Crossing (Reuter’s, January 27).
22. The IDF is following the developments and continues to reinforce the border with Egypt , which is 300 kilometers (more than 185 miles ) long. Following warnings, Route 10 along the Israeli-Egyptian border was closed. In addition, tourists and day trippers were forbidden to visit 20 tourist sites along the border (Haaretz, January 27). All Israeli tourists vacationing in the Sinai peninsula were requested to leave the area by the Israeli Counter-Terrorism Bureau.
23. Israeli security sources regard the breach of the crossing as a strategic problem with far-reaching implications. The collapse of the fence created a new security situation on the ground by making it much easier to smuggle large quantities of weapons which may upset the on-going balance with Hamas ( such as anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles). It can also be expected that squads of terrorists will leave the Gaza Strip for Sinai to infiltrate into Israel through the wide-open Israeli-Egyptian border to carry out terrorist attacks in Israeli territory (Yediot Aharonot, January 27).
24. Deliberations were held in the prime minister’s office about the strategic implications of the crisis and the decision reached was to dialogue with the Egyptians to resolve rather than to confront the crisis (Yediot Aharonot, January 27). Israel ‘s demand is that Egypt restore the status quo ante to the Rafah region . Under instructions from the minister of defense, head of Israel ‘s political security staff General (Ret.) Amos Gilad spoke with Egyptian officials over the weekend and demanded that they stop the unmonitored movement of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to Egypt . He stressed the security threat to Egypt resulting from the open border (Haaretz, January 27).
1 Follow-up of our January 23 Bulletin "Crowds of Gazans streamed into Egypt after the border fence was breached” at http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/html/gaza_230108e.htm and http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/pdf/gaza_230108e.pdf.
2 A terrorist organization which is a branch of the global jihad. Its center of power was in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in north Lebanon , where it was suppressed by the Lebanese army in September 2007. It recently began claiming responsibility for attacks in the Gaza Strip. The Land of Ribat ("frontier” in Arabic) is a nickname for the territory called Palestine which includes the Temple Mount , one of three places holy to Islam. Since the territory is controlled by Israel , it is considered a kind of garrison whose role is to take part in the future jihad for the liberation of the Islamic holy places.
3 Ismail Haniya’s government exploited the crisis and announced that the Crossings Agreement of August 2005 was obsolete. He claimed that it had been limited to one year and that it could not be renewed after having once been extended (Palestine-info Website, January 27). It is doubtful whether the announcement carries political-legal meaning since Hamas and Ismail Haniya’s government are not party to the Crossings Agreement, but it definitely has practical importance because Hamas is in control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah Crossing.