Israel says Egypt is doing far too little to stop the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, from smuggling weapons, militants and cash into the area from Egypt, and is appealing to Cairo to do more.
At the same time, a senior Israeli legislator from the opposition Likud bloc who is close to the security services is lobbying the U.S. Senate to withhold some military aid to Egypt unless it takes action.
The legislator, Yuval Steinitz, has written to all U.S. senators to encourage them to support a move begun in the House of Representatives to freeze $200 million of a projected $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt. Steinitz said he was asked to write the letter by senators he met as a leader, with Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., of a joint group on defense that meets twice a year.
The House bill would freeze the $200 million until the secretary of state certified that Egypt “has taken concrete and measurable steps” to enact a law protecting the independence of the judiciary, to “curb police abuses” by providing training for police leadership and to “detect and destroy the smuggling network and smuggling tunnels that lead from Egypt to Gaza.” The Senate version urges Egypt to do more to stop smuggling but would not halt aid.
In his letter, Steinitz, former chairman of the Israeli Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and chairman of the security subcommittee, accuses Egypt of allowing Hamas to obtain 20,000 rifles, 6,000 anti-tank missiles, 100 tons of explosives, several dozen Katyusha rockets and shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles every year.
In the last three months, Steinitz says, Egypt has allowed “the organized departure of large groups of operatives from Gaza for military training in Iran.” In September, he notes, 100 Gazans who had trained in Iran were allowed by Egypt to return home despite Israeli protests.
Egyptian authorities say the accusations are inaccurate and aimed at sabotaging Egyptian-U.S. relations. They say that they have done all they can to try to safeguard the border, but are hamstrung by the 1979 Camp David agreement, which restricts the number of soldiers they can deploy there.
“Egypt can’t have a real security presence on the border,” said Fouad Allam, former director of Egyptian State Security. “Egypt tried to amend this, and Israel refused.”
Steinitz’s assessments track those of the Israeli military and military intelligence. His complaints are shared by the Israeli government. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Tuesday told her Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, that “there is a real need for a determined effort to stop weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip.”
But the government does not associate itself with the Steinitz letter or its call to freeze aid to Egypt, which, like Jordan, has a formal peace treaty with Israel.
The U.S. House move was led by Reps. Gary Ackerman and Nita M. Lowey, both D-N.Y., who are strong supporters of Israel.
Ackerman is chairman of the subcommittee on the Middle East and Asia; Lowey is chairwoman of the state and foreign operations subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.