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Moat May Be Israel’s Defense Along the Gaza-egypt Border

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With its latest proposal for the Gaza Strip, Israel is assuming that the principle that good fences make good neighbors also applies to moats. Last week, Israel’s Defense Ministry ran newspaper ads calling for contractor bids to build a 2.5-mile long moat along the Gaza-Egypt boundary in an attempt to halt arms smuggling through tunnels from Egypt into Rafah, a Palestinian refugee camp on Gaza’s southern border.

Officials in Jerusalem insisted Sunday that the trench would not go ahead without Cairo’s consent.

“There is still no decision on what exactly we will carry out,” the ministry’s director general, Amos Yaron, told Israel Radio, calling the half-page advertisement in Thursday’s Ha’aretz merely a “feasibility study.”

That was news to any contractors who had paid the $65 fee to place a bid on constructing the multimillion-dollar moat. The Defense Ministry even set a July 12 deadline for the bidding process, suggesting urg! ency for the project.

But sources in Jerusalem said that as soon as the media picked up on the development, politics came into play — specifically, the need to avoid offending Egypt, which only recently expressed a willingness to help train Palestinian security forces to take over Gaza after an expected Israeli withdrawal in 2005.

Yaron said the moat project “has many ramifications, for example vis-a-vis the Egyptians and as part of the disengagement plan.”

Egypt has made its participation in Israel’s Gaza withdrawal process conditional on a consensus among Palestinians in Gaza, many of whom have bitter memories of Egypt’s administration of the coastal strip before it was captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.

The Egyptians “don’t want to look bad” if there is violence in Gaza, “and they don’t want it to backfire,” Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Nabil Sha’ath told Reuters on Sunday. “They also don’t want to feel they’re a foreign power intruding ! on anybody.”

The Rafah project would be dug inside the Philadelphi Corridor, a buffer zone that has been under Israeli control since the 1978 Camp David accords with Egypt. The remaining 5 miles of the border would remain untouched.

Palestinians have said Israel’s moves to seal off Gaza ahead of a planned withdrawal constitute an attempt to turn the crowded coastal strip into a “prison.”

Some in Jerusalem see a similar fate for Israeli troops should the moat be dug.

According to political sources, Interior Minister Avraham Poraz urged Cabinet colleagues Sunday to abandon the project and give up its hold on the Philadelphi Corridor as part of a comprehensive pullback.

“Otherwise, Gaza will turn into a second Lebanon,” Poraz said, referring to Israel’s 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon, which cost Israel heavily in terms of lives lost.

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