Netanyahu in Ashkelon: Israel must take over the “philadelphi” buffer zone
January 8, 2009
After yet another day fighting and rocket fire Netanyahu visited Ashekelon, one of the closest cities to the Gaza strip.
Netanyahu reiterated the opinion he had expressed in recent days: “I think that we must finish the job in a way that we will not find ourselves in the near future with rockets fired to Ashkelon and Tel-Aviv. We need to hit Hamas on the head but also we need to take over the philadelphi route (a strategic buffer zone – see below), because if we won’t do it the cease-fire will again be an illusion that Hamas will take use to rearm itself”.
Netanyahu has also expressed this opinion to French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, (who is said to be a firend of Netanayhu) who has come to the region to try and mediate a cease fire. Netanyahu told Sarkozy that any cease fire that will not include the sealing of the “philadelphi” buffer zone to weapons smuggling will be short lived and eventually lead to another round of violence. Sarkozy said that he understands Netanyahu’s opinion and that perhaps Egypt will be able to seal the weapon smuggling.
Netanyahu on CNN (youtube)
|the “phlialdelphi “route or corridor:The “philadelphi” route is an Israeli military nick name to the route that goes along the Israeli-Egyptian border from the Mediterranean Sea (now under Hamas control) all the way to the Red sea near Eilat. When people refer today to the “philadelphi” route they mean the part of the route from the sea to Kerem Shalom – effectively it’s the border between Hamas ruled Gaza and Egypt. Israel has controlled this area in accordance with the Oslo peace agreement in order to create a buffer between Palestinian controlled Gaza and Egypt. With the beginning of hostilities in the 2nd Intifada (which started in September 2000) Palestinian terrorists dug tunnels under the buffer zone to the Egyptian side in order to smuggle weapons. The Israeli army’s presence and operations made it very hard for the terrorists to effectively smuggle in weapons. Because this buffer was such an inconvenience to the terrorists they attacked the Israeli outposts on the route on a daily basis.
As part of the “disengagement from Gaza” plan, former Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, wanted to decrease all the hotspots that have to do with the conflict with the Palestinians and he also wanted that Israel will not be held responsible for Gaza because it still controls a part of Gaza. Many in the military expressed great concerns about abandoning the buffer zone, among them was the commander of the army, General Ye’elon (who was subsequently sacked and is now in the Likud). Israel has also aloud the Egyptians to add more military units to their side of the Gaza border to halt the smuggling in a futile attempt to have Egypt take care of Israel’s problems. The Egyptian forces did very little to curb the smuggling.
The abandoning of the “philadelphi” route buffer zone caused a major shift in the balance of power in Gaza. Until the abandoning of the buffer zone, the PLO (under Mahmud Abas) was the leading power in Gaza and held most of the weapons. With the Israeli army gone from “philadelphi”, Hamas started to smuggle huge amounts of weapons supplied by Iran. The balance of power shifted and Hamas took over Gaza in a very violent coup, not before they threw several PLO members from tall buildings. Some in Israel called for the army to return to “philadelphi” in order to contain the threat and prevent further arming of Hamas but the government did not listen. Hamas grew stronger and stronger and started to smuggle longer rage rockets, anti tank missiles and mortar shells. The abandoning of the buffer put an extra million Israelis in the range of Hamas. Today there are hundreds of tunnels between Gaza and Egyptian side in comparison to a handful when the Israeli army was there.|