A Border Authority on the Egypt Frontier

Israel is obligated to back the decision to erect a border fence by developing an overall approach to defending the border.

Gabriel Siboni
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Gabriel Siboni

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to build a physical barrier along the length of the Israeli border with Egypt, supported by technical means, is important, and is designed to address the problem of constant infiltration across the frontier. While these components are essential, they should be part of an overall solution, which requires a comprehensive approach to the threat and the development of an operational response to it, including what is required for its implementation. This should begin with operational doctrine and include the forces and methods to be used, as well as consideration of command and control issues.

The construction of a barrier and its accompanying technological support is a costly operation. Completion of the process through the development and implementation of a comprehensive approach, on the other hand, requires mostly thought and organizational coordination. The primary costs entailed have more to do with confronting egos at government ministries and organizations, and less with a need to find financial sources.

The principles of the approach to defense along the Israeli-Egyptian border took shape over the course of years of military confrontation as well as regular security operations conducted in between. The peace agreement has not substantially changed that approach, which continues to be based on military forces "holding a line" under the command of the military division in the area.

This operational approach has made it difficult to provide an effective response to border activity involving sophisticated smugglers who know the lay of the land and who act in cooperation with Israeli citizens. Israeli soldiers in turn have difficulties dealing with these citizens due to legal limitations. The threats are many and varied: the penetration of infiltrators and refugees on a large scale; attempts by terrorist elements to get weapons and dangerous substances through, in many instances via criminal activity involving the trafficking of women and the smuggling of goods; and finally concern over shooting attacks and sniping incidents across the border.

The State of Israel is obligated to back the decision to erect a border fence, by developing a more comprehensive response and organizational coordination, thus allowing for an overall approach to defending the border. Such an approach should be based on the understanding that the general response will combine both civilian and military capabilities. Integrated, inter-ministerial operations are necessary to provide the means required.

The capability to intercept both intelligence and operations is of the highest importance, as is the capture of smugglers and terrorist elements. Such capabilities rely on forces which are small and know the territory well. These forces will have to be given police authority so they can also deal with Israeli citizens. Such operational activity must also be supported by intelligence provided by the Shin Bet security service and, beyond that, involve the Immigration Administration, staff from the Interior Ministry and the Tax Authority, and others.

Experience shows that effective cooperation between various professionals requires an integrated operational framework. Creating a command structure with appropriate authority could run up against organizational barriers. An alternative approach could involve the establishment of a specialized authority or administration. This appears to be the best and fastest way to proceed. The body could be made up of existing personnel from the army, the Public Security Ministry and other government ministries; it could supply the necessary command structure to develop the professional know-how and increase familiarity with the territory, which is essential to the success of operations along this border.

This security network will make it possible to develop an optimal operational doctrine, train the necessary personnel and more effectively take advantage of the huge monetary outlays planned along the border. The body could also be given responsibility for the border with Jordan. It seems only the establishment of such a specialized plan can provide the best return on the investment to be undertaken in infrastructure and other means.

The writer is the head of the military research project at the Institute for National Security Studies.

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