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Sharon Secretly Rewards Egypt with Naval Control of Gaza’s Territorial Waters up to Ashkelon
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report
August 27, 2005, 10:47 PM (GMT+02:00)
Failing a government or Knesset veto of the still unsigned Israel-Egyptian military protocol, the Sharon government will make Egypt two if not three strategic gifts: naval control over the territorial waters off the Gaza Mediterranean coast up to Ashekelon, for one. A second unpublished clause will place within range of Egyptian air force surveillance Israel’s big air forces bases in the Negev and its armored and ground forces’ deployment around the evacuated Gaza Strip.
These clauses have been withheld from the public, cabinet ministers and Knesset members. Sunday, August 27, the cabinet will be asked to approve the protocol; the Knesset’s ratification will be sought Wednesday, August 31.
These sweeping Israeli concessions are set forth in a secret appendix to the military protocol. They are the price prime minister Ariel Sharon and defense minister Shaul Mofaz are willing to pay Cairo for relieving the Israeli army’s of its security missions on the Gaza-Egyptian border.
Egyptian border guardsmen are ranged on their side of the Rafah border ready to cross over upon the protocol’s signature.
For Israel, these concessions signify the end of the Sinai Peninsula’s demilitarization, one of the most valuable defense assets the Begin government attained in return for withdrawing from Sinai under the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty.
For Egypt, they are a military bonanza: its navy and air force are restored to Sinai’s air space and eastern Mediterranean shores.
But that is not all. Our exclusive sources learn that Israel is also willing to let Egypt build a new 300-meter naval pier for six 300-ton naval ships on the shore of Rafah, the town divided between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. The craft are roughly the same size as Israel’s “Storm” missile vessels. Command and storage structures will be built on the wharf.
There are only two limitations: no missiles may be mounted on the Egyptian warships and not breakwater built to enclose the waterfront.
DEBKAfile’s military experts say the Egyptian navy has two types of vessel that fit the secret appendix’s specifications: The fast, 60-meter long Ambassador Mk.III with a crew of 35, newly supplied by the US. Its advanced electronic equipment makes these vessels resistant to radar detection. The second craft is the fast US-made Bertan built for US SEAL commandos to perform intelligence gathering and other tasks. They can land troops on shore and pull out to sea at great speed.
Israeli naval experts fear that, in no time, the Egyptians will bring into the Rafah facility one of their six Ramadan class missile corvettes. Their 350 tons can be shaved down to 300 tons without too much difficulty.
It is a little-known fact that the Egypt has one of the largest and strongest navies in the Arab world; it is considered by experts to be superior to the Israeli navy. A place to moor war ships in Rafah will greatly enhance the Egyptian fleet’s tactical edge, especially in conjunction with the air cover provided by the helicopters accompanying the Egyptian border troops earmarked for the Philadelphi border strip inside Gaza.
According to our sources, Israel’s air force commander and AMAN military intelligence chief have both warned the prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff that the Rafah naval facility will afford Egypt control over Gazan waters and its shore. This control threatens to drive a hole in the Israeli naval presence along the southern stretch of its Mediterranean coast. Ships from Lebanon or other hostile countries will be free to put into Gaza port without undergoing Israeli inspection of their passengers and cargos. The Egyptian navy will be in place for blocking any attempt by an Israeli vessel to inspect or interdict a suspect terrorist vessel entering Gaza waters.
Furthermore, should Cairo violate its undertaking and arm its ships with missiles, Israel’s strategic ports of Ashdod and Ashkelon where main power stations, harbors, oil port and naval bases are situated, will be in easy range of those ships’ missiles.
It would take no more than a few hours to mount the missiles from hiding places in warehouse on the quays of Rafah or El Arish in Sinai further down the Mediterranean coast. The secret appendix makes no stipulation that would entitle Israel to inspect the Egyptian warships and ascertain there are no violations.
Israel commanders are under no illusion that Cairo’s commitment to refrain from building a breakwater at Rafah will hold up for much longer than necessary to allow Sharon and Mofaz to protest that the Rafah facility holds no security hazards for Israel. Eventually, with or without asking Israel, the Egyptians can be expected to build a breakwater and locate intelligence apparatus and guns there.
Under another secret clause, Egypt’s Gaza border force will be provided with a fleet of 8 military helicopters - not just light reconnaissance craft as claimed by Sharon and Mofaz. The helicopters will carry missiles and sophisticated surveillance instruments. Their deployment along the 14-km Philadelphi strip means the helicopters will be placed at 1.75 km intervals along the route.
The Sharon government has left pending for discussion at a later date Cairo’s demand for permission to deploy military troops the full length of the Egyptian-Israeli border – from the Mediterranean to Eilat. But it has not been rejected. Egypt will undoubtedly expect this force, if approved, to be armed with military helicopters in the same ratio as the Philadelphi unit, i.e. 140 military aircraft strung down Israel’s western land border.
AMAN chief Maj-Gen Aharon Zeevi has repeatedly cautioned Sharon, Mofaz and chief of staff Lt.-Gen Dan Halutz of a still more immediate peril.
The Egyptians make no bones about the helicopters patrolling the Gazan border being equipped with sophisticated electronic instruments capable of picking up high-value intelligence on Israel’s aerial movements and activities at its important Negev air bases. They also mean to keep a close eye on Israel’s post-disengagement deployment around the Gaza Strip. The danger here, according to general Zeevi, is acute: in the event of an outbreak of Palestinian terror from Gaza against southwestern Israel, any IDF counter-terror action in the Gaza Strip would be wide open to surveillance from these Egyptian helicopters. They will be able to forewarn the Palestinian terrorists of every step the Israeli troops are taking and their routes to targets. Israeli forces would lose the tactical advantage of surprise and Palestinian terrorists would know exactly where to lie in wait for them.