A goal for Netanyahu, a red line for Egypt

The “Philadelphia Corridor” is a buffer zone between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. This corridor, 100 meters wide and 14 km long, could represent the only passage for thousands of Palestinians in the event of a major attack by the Israeli army in Rafah. Benjamin Netanyahu has been saying for weeks that he wants to take control of the corridor, a threat that worries Egyptian authorities. Decryption.

Despite international warnings of an imminent humanitarian disaster, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears committed to launching a ground offensive on Rafah, south of the Gaza Strip, near the Egyptian border.

In a televised speech, he announced on February 7 that he had ordered the army to “prepare” such an operation against the city, which had become a huge, overcrowded camp that housed 1.4 million Palestinian refugees, according to the UN. Men, women and children fleeing the four-month-old war between Israel and Hamas.

Sunday February 11, on the American channel ABC News, Benjamin Netanyahu assured that Israel will “ensure a safe passage for the civilian population so that they can leave Rafah”, which is described as the “last stronghold” of Hamas. Without saying where Gazans could take refuge, he mentioned areas north of Rafah that could be used as safe zones for civilians.

Gaza strip map.
© Studio Graphic France Medias Monde

It is in this context that eyes once again turn to the “Philadelphia Corridor”, the route from the Mediterranean coast to the point opposite the Kerem Shalom passage, along the Gaza Strip’s border with Egypt. The latter is controlled by the Israeli army and is located at the border meeting point between Israel, Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

Fearing a large influx of refugees and its possible consequences, Egypt has deployed around 40 tanks and armored personnel carriers in northeastern Sinai over the past two weeks. The deployment is part of a series of measures aimed at strengthening security along the border with Gaza, according to two Egyptian security sources interviewed by Reuters.

A strategic corridor at the center of tension

Named after the code name given by the Israeli military and also known as the “Saladin Corridor”, the “Philadelphia Corridor” is a buffer zone, 14 kilometers long and 100 meters wide, in accordance with the terms of the Camp David Accords. . Signed by Egypt and Israel in September 1978.

Its objective: to prevent any armed infiltration, to control the movement of Palestinians in both directions and the trafficking of weapons between the Egyptian Sinai and the Gaza Strip.

South Gaza strip map.
© Studio Graphic France Medias Monde

Delimited by a barbed wire fence, whose height varies between two and three meters and concrete blocks, the corridor was under the control of the Jewish state until the unilateral withdrawal of the Israeli army from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

As part of this withdrawal, ordered by Ariel Sharon’s government, Israel and Egypt signed an agreement, known as the Philadelphia Agreement, which provided for the deployment of 750 Egyptian border guards along the buffer zone (on the Egyptian side). They were the first Egyptian troops to patrol the area since the 1967 war, during which the Gaza Strip, then administered by Egypt, and the Sinai Peninsula were conquered by Israel. The controversial agreement went so far as to define very precisely the equipment of the Egyptian contingent, namely 8 helicopters, 30 light armored vehicles and 4 speedboats.

Their mission was to monitor the corridor on the Egyptian side, the only border with the Gaza Strip outside the direct control of the Israeli army, to fight terrorism and prevent any acts of infiltration and smuggling.

On the other side of the corridor, it was the Palestinian Authority’s security forces that took over from the Israelis, two years later, in June 2007, after Hamas’ coup against Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah led to its pursuit of the force.

In response, Israel decided to impose a blockade – land, sea and air – and an embargo on territory now in the hands of the Islamist movement. These restrictions favor the development of a system of smuggling tunnels, which run under the No Man’s Land between Gaza and Egypt, allowing goods and people to cross the border, and whose existence has been documented by Israel since 1983.

Since then, while the Rafah terminal, controlled by Egypt and through which people, goods and humanitarian aid are transported, has been open only intermittently since 2007, Israel considers the area important for supplies to Hamas.

In December 2007, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni stated that Egypt was doing a “poor” job of preventing arms smuggling under the “Philadelphia Corridor”.

Already in 2009, at the time of Operation “Cast Lead”, Israeli military plans were provided for the occupation of the “Philadelphia Corridor” in order to destroy the smuggling tunnels there. An occupation that would, in fact, make possible the complete encirclement of the Gaza Strip.

After the dismissal, in July 2013, of President Mohammed Morsini, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood from which Hamas emerged, the Egyptian army undertook to destroy hundreds of smuggling tunnels dug under the Gaza Strip’s border. It was retaliation against a Palestinian Islamist movement accused by Cairo of participating in the destabilization of the Sinai. To destroy this underground system, Egypt deliberately flooded the border area in 2015.

A corridor is now open to Netanyahu’s places

After the October 7 attacks, perpetrated by Hamas and its allies, unprecedented in their scale and their human toll on Israeli soil, eyes turned once again to the “Philadelphia Corridor”, considered more than strategic for Hamas, and a regular target. was created. by the Israeli army since the beginning of the war in Gaza.

“The ‘Philadelphia Corridor’ must be in our hands and under our control, and any arrangement other than that will not be accepted by Israel,” said Benjamin Netanyahu in late December, whose government has vowed to “crush” the Palestinian movement.

The Israeli prime minister has repeatedly repeated this threat, so Cairo takes it very seriously.

According to Salah Goma, deputy editor-in-chief of the official Egyptian agency Al-Charak Al-Awsat, the risk of displacement of Gazans to Egypt is of great concern to the Egyptian authorities.

Since the beginning of the conflict, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who acts as a mediator between Hamas and the Israeli government, has opposed the idea of ​​allowing Gazans to flee the war and crowd the Egyptian border. . In mid-October, he also urged them to “stay on their land”, believing that forcing Palestinians to leave their land was “a way to end the Palestinian cause”.

“From now on in Rafah, any bombing or attack against the refugees will surely cause them to flee to Sinai, speculates Salah Goma. Consequently, if Egypt allows this, it will mean that it accepts the liquidation of the Palestinian question while Israel’s extremist ministers are openly in Gaza. Advocate the return of settlers and the ‘relocation’ of Gaza to its Egyptian neighbour.

In addition to the predicted humanitarian disaster, Benjamin Netanyahu therefore also risks starting an open diplomatic crisis with Egypt if he orders the capture of the “Philadelphia Corridor”.

In mid-January, Israel informed Egypt of its intention to launch a military operation to take control of the border axis, the Wall Street Journal revealed, citing Israeli and Egyptian sources. On January 16, the head of the Egyptian Information Service (SIS), Diya Rashwan, reacted by warning of a “violation of the peace treaty” that binds the two countries, if the Israeli army were to enter the “Corridor of Philadelphia”.

“Many Israeli politicians have said that the specific purpose of occupying the corridor was to allow Palestinians, under the pressure of bombing, to migrate to Sinai, and this is the heart of the problem with the announcement of an “imminent attack on Rafah.” Salah Goma explains, the same reason. That is why the president of the SIS gave a stern warning and why Egypt considers the reoccupation of this axis a red line, which also adds to the question of population displacement.”

And to conclude: “Egypt informed Israel through diplomatic channels and Israel through the United States that this option would never be authorized by Egypt.”

(TagsToTranslate)Middle East

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