Advanced discussions with Egypt on improving security arrangements on the Sinai border, plus Egyptian efforts to train Palestinian security personnel and broker an understanding between the various Palestinian factions, significantly bolster Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan. They may also help to implement the plan to put an end to the Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip next year.
There is great importance in involving the largest and most influential Arab country in the disengagement plan. It would be better if a withdrawal could be implemented in agreement with the Palestinian Authority, whose representatives would take responsibility for security after the IDF leaves. But at the moment there is no such representative. Egypt cannot and does not want to replace the Palestinians and retake control of the Gaza Strip. But it does have a clear interest in ensuring quiet and stability across its border, and is prepared to assist in the Israeli withdrawal.
The government did well to begin thorough discussions with Cairo on its contribution to disengagement. Egypt is demanding that Israel completely withdrawal from the Strip, including the Philadelphi Route along the border at Rafah, and the opening of a sea and airport for the Palestinians. Israel has asked that the Egyptians step up their guarding of the border to impede the smuggling of weapons to the Gaza Strip and drugs and women to the Negev. This is the reason Sharon agreed to changes in the security arrangements in the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, which allow for Egyptian police only to be stationed along the border.
Egypt has proposed deploying two border police battalions on the border, consisting of 750 troops equipped with armored vehicles, by the beginning of next year. After the terror attacks in Sinai, the Egyptians stressed their desire to strengthen their military presence in the peninsula. An end to smuggling will be an important component in the success of disengagement and will allow it to be completed.
Egypt has also started training Palestinian security personnel, readying for the day after Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. It has also proposed the establishment of an anti-Qassam unit. Training is moving ahead slowly - Israel has vetoes some candidates for membership in the unit because of their involvement in terror, and has demanded the Palestinian security apparatus undergo reform that will ensure its efficiency. Egypt's involvement in security and its efforts to effect a cease-fire among the Palestinian factions increase the chance that disengagement will bring about a reduction of terror and fighting in the Gaza Strip.
The Egyptian activity has slowed down in recent weeks due to Sharon's political difficulties with regard to disengagement. The upcoming visit of the Egyptian ministers of intelligence and foreign affairs, Omar Suleiman and Ahmed Aboul Gheit, set for November 11 after the Knesset approves disengagement, shows that Cairo has not withdrawn its support or its willingness to assist. Suleiman also made this clear to visiting U.S. members of Congress and the administration. The visit of the Egyptian ministers must be used to strengthen the understandings between the two governments to move ahead on disengagement and to resolve outstanding security issues.
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