The heads of the local councils in areas bordering the Gaza Strip recently asked Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon for a new security fence to be built on the border as an initial response to increasingly frequentattempts by Gaza residents to cross the border into Israel.
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“Since the end of Operation Protective Edge, Gaza border communities have been dealing with frequent infiltration attempts on a daily basis,” the local officials said in a letter to Ya’alon, referring to the situation since last summer’s Israel Defense Forces operation against Hamas and its allies in Gaza. “We demand action without delay to advance the construction of the new border fence, which constitutes a primary and substantial tool of the defense facilities for the communities.”
The plan would call for a fence about 60 kilometers (37 miles) long that would run from Kibbutz Zikim south of Ashkelon until Kerem Shalom near the Egyptian border. It would be similar in design to the fence that has been built along the Egyptian border to prevent infiltration into Israel.
“Gaza border areas need a strong and stable fence that cannot be crossed with wire-cutters, as happens now,” Sha’ar Hanegev regional council head Alon Schuster said. “We are witness on a daily basis to incidents of Gazans crossing the border into Israeli territory and easily managing to get through the fence.”
Several weeks ago, Schuster added, heads of regional councils bordering Gaza had a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, IDF Southern Command chief Sami Turgeman and other defense officials to discuss “how the state would defend its sovereign territory not only with forces patrolling with cameras, but also with a fence, as has been built on the Egyptian border and in the north. This was the recommendation from the Southern Command,” said Schuster.
Since the end of last summer’s hostilities, Gazans have attempted to infiltrate into Israel on a daily basis. In most cases they are unarmed and are coming in search of work. Some, however, attempt to cross in an effort to gather intelligence, testing the IDF’s readiness at various locations. Last month in the Eshkol region alone about 15 such attempts were recorded and in most instances security coordinators caught the infiltrators near populated areas.
“There have always been attempts and have always been people caught, but there’s a sense that the number of cases is increasing compared to what we anticipated following [last summer’s] fighting,” said Eshkol region security officer Niki Levy. In some cases, a number of people have crossed over together, he said. “Usually they are not armed. We assess their identities and why they crossed. We think some do it to improve their [living] conditions and some to get caught and go back to gather information,” he added.
Three infiltrations last week
Staff at the southern district of the Prosecutor’s Office note that more than 15 infiltration indictments have been filed against Gazans caught crossing the border. Just last week, there were at least three infiltration incidents. On Wednesday, IDF forces spotted two suspects near the border fence at Kerem Shalom. Using flares, the Israeli forces got them to leave the border. On Friday evening, the discovery of tracks led to the apprehension of three suspects who had managed to cross the border fence. They were transferred to the Shin Bet security service for questioning.
Although the local council heads stated in their letter to Defense Minister Ya’alon that defense officials advocate the building of a new fence as the best way to stop the infiltrations, IDF officers in the area say such a plan cannot be carried out, adding that the existing fence has operational advantages due to the manner in which forces in the area operate.
The Defense Ministry responded as follows: “We are committed to the security of the area’s residents and operate a wide range of means, involving both infrastructure and operational means, to address the threats from the Gaza Strip. The defense establishment continues to improve protection of Gaza border communities and this is taking place in the course of ongoing discussions with the council heads and the residents: Witness the defense minister’s decision to maintain the positions of civilian security coordinators as well as the continuous operations of the defense establishment vis-à-vis the communities.”
In recent months and following the lessons learned in last summer’s war, officials at the Defense Ministry and the IDF have been working on defensive components within the border communities, that include the construction of perimeter fences, emergency access roads and the installation of lighting. The first phase of the plan has been completed and funding for the second stage has been approved.
The local council heads are also concerned about the upcoming Knesset election, which could freeze the allocation of funding to the border communities. “From the moment in which the government becomes a transitional one, a situation is liable to be created in which budgets for development and demographic growth [population expansion] as well as for community resilience could be frozen until July or August, depending on the new government,” Sha’ar Hanegev’s Schuster said. “We are in touch with the Prime Minister’s Office and the Accountant General [of the Finance Ministry] in an effort to take some of the funding out of the 2015 budget so the funds can be transferred to the Gaza border [communities] so politics doesn’t damage the rehabilitation [effort].“