Philadelphi Route: From Military Threat to Political Risk?

The Reut Institute contends that the army's permanent presence along the Philadelphi Route may renew Israel's complete responsibility over the Palestinians. Therefore, while engaging in military actions, Israel must simultaneously prepare the ground for a political solution to this issue.

In light of the substantial rise in arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip, there are increasing calls within Israel to renew its control over the Philadelphi Route (Ynet, 10/24/06). The IDF withdrew from Philadelphi, after a week-long presence there, though it will likely renew its military activity there shortly (Army Radio, 10/24/06).

The Reut Institute contends that the army's permanent presence along the Philadelphi Route may renew Israel's complete responsibility over the Palestinians. Therefore, while engaging in military actions, Israel must simultaneously prepare the ground for a political solution to this issue.

What is the Issue?

After Disengagement (8/05), Israel waived its control over the border between Gaza and Egypt (Philadelphi Route) and transferred responsibility for security arrangements to Egypt, the EU and the PA under the Agreement on Movement and Access (Rafah Agreement) (11/05).

However, arms smuggling into Gaza has increased substantially. While Egypt and the PA do not have the will or the capacity to prevent smuggling, the EU observers do not have the mandate to do so.

Israeli military activity along the Philadelphi Route is intended to prevent the "Lebanonization" of the Gaza Strip by the smuggling of strategic weapons into its territory.

Why is this Important? Why Now?

Currently, it seems that military means are the only option available to Israel for preventing arms smuggling into Gaza. However, renewing control over the Philadelphi Route has a number of implications:

Renewed responsibility: There is wide-spread agreement within Israel that ending control over the Palestinians is in its vital interest. Thus, the withdrawal from Philadelphi after Disengagement was designed to give Israel de-facto recognition of "end of responsibility" in Gaza.

Renewed control over the Philadelphi Route contradicts the Agreement on Movement and Access and invalidates Israel's argument of having ended its responsibility in Gaza.

Moreover, the possible outbreak of a Palestinian civil war that may lead to the dissolution of the PA and to the withdrawal of international humanitarian organizations, may re-establish Israel's responsibility over the Palestinians as the "occupier" in the West Bank and Gaza.

Erosion of the unilateral option: Israel's return to Gaza less than one year after Disengagement may be interpreted as proof that Israel does not have a viable unilateral option. Without such an option, Israel is dependent upon Palestinian consent for any political agreement designed to end Israel's control over the population.

Renewed responsibility and the erosion of the unilateral option will undermine Israel's ability to end its control over the Palestinians.

Policy Options

Currently, it seems that Israel's only means of stopping the arms smuggling is military action. However, in the long run, permanent presence in Gaza will undermine Israel's basic foundations as a Jewish and democratic state. Therefore, while engaging in military activities, Israel must simultaneously prepare the ground for a political solution by:

Altering the Rafah Crossing model: The current model applied at the Rafah Crossing is not capable of preventing arms smuggling. Therefore, Israel should consider an alternative model for direct control of Philadelphi based on:

  • Expansion of the mandate of the international forces along the entire Philadelphi Route and not only at the Rafah Crossing.
  • Increased Egyptian responsibility: Although Israel agreed to the deployment of additional Egyptian forces, beyond what was agreed between the two countries in the peace agreement, Egypt has failed to make a real effort to seal the breaches in its border with Gaza. Israel should exert political leverages on Egypt so that it will be obligated to act against arms smuggling from within its territory.

Avoid undermining the PA's capacity to govern: Israel's ability to create a sustainable separation with the Palestinians depends on the existence of a Palestinian political address that can provide services to its citizens and can act to prevent terrorism against Israel.