Some people are comparing Trump’s vision for a fence along the Mexico-U.S. border with the Security/Separation Fence that runs along the West Bank in Israel. A far better example that more closely reflects the respective borders is a very different fence. It’s in a place where ISIS enjoys its second largest stronghold in the world. It’s where the oldest working Christian monastery is located and where Moses allegedly trekked during the Exodus. We are talking about the Sinai Peninsula where, in more recent history, as part of the 1979 Peace Agreement, Israel returned to Egypt territory it had taken in the Six Day War. Before the treaty, this area and the borders with Egypt were relatively quiet.
When problems in the Sudan began to escalate in 2003, thousands of refugees marched – on foot – northward through Egypt, through the Sinai desert towards Israel, the only democracy in the region, seeking sanctuary.
The Israel Interior Ministry reports the number of African immigrants mostly from Eritrea and Sudan arriving illegally to Israel at 26,635 through July 2010, and over 55,000 in January 2012. Israel would not deport these refugees back to Egypt because Egypt would have returned them to their country of origin.
By this time, security conditions in the Sinai had disintegrated. Criminals, smugglers and terrorists took advantage of security gaps that had resulted from the handover. The trek through the Sinai for African refugees was violent and dangerous; they were often attacked, raped, tortured and held for ransom. Terrorists were making incursions on settlements throughout the peninsula. In 2012, eight people were killed in Eilat by terrorists who crossed in from Sinai. In 2012, an attack on an Egyptian post killed 15 border guards. Egyptian state TV said the attack on the checkpoint had been carried out by Islamist militants coordinated between Palestinians who entered Egypt from Gaza and Egyptians in Sinai.
In 2014, the ISIS branch active in the Sinai was formed after Ansar Bait al-Magdis pledaged allegiance to ISIL. This group is called ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah fī ‘l-ʿIrāq wa-sh-Shām – Wilayah Sīnāʼ, or ISIL-SP [where ‘SP’ is Sinai Peninsula].
Things shifted after Morsi fell and El-Sisi took power in Egypt in 2013-14, as he came to join the effort with Israel to defeat ISIS-SP. The adage my enemy’s enemy is my friend may well apply here.
One big shift came in terms of the 1979 Peace Accord that prohibited the Egyptian Army was from bringing forces into the Sinai, a threat to Israeli security. Yet, the shared goal of ridding the Sinai of terrorists and stabilizing their respective borders persuaded Israel to allow Egypt to break that agreement and deploy Egyptian helicopters and heavy equipment in the anti-terror effort.
So What About the Fence?
Construction of the border fence was begun by Israel in 2012 to stem and control the flow of illegals trying to enter Israel and also to prevent terrorism from leaking into Israel. The fence was constructed along Highway 10, the longest highway in Israel, reaching from near Eilat on the Red Sea north to Gaza, on the Mediterranean Sea. The fence is actually similar to those that line other borders between Israel – Lebanon, Israel – Jordan and Israel – Syria.
Although the length of this border (150 miles vs 1,900) is obviously different, its geography is similar to that of the Mexico-U.S. border not only in that both areas are remote and rough but both are also situated between bodies of water, with a sparse population distribution along it. The peninsula consists of dry, mountainous, brutal terrain that is sparsely populated with little human traffic. Guess which of the photos above are Israel-Egypt and which is Mexico–U.S.?
Across the globe, at most borders, guards on either side face the fence. They face each other. Not so in this case, where Egyptian border guards face the same direction the Israeli guards do, towards the southwest, towards the Sinai and Egypt. Because for both sides, that’s where the trouble is.
Along the border fence is a dirt road that will not be paved. Roughly translated, it’s called a ‘blurry road.’ Every morning the dirt road is smoothed out with rakes. Any disruption to the smooth surface of the road is analyzed by the Bedouin trackers who work with Israel patrols to investigate incursions and fence triggers.
The use of Bedouin trackers illustrates an important point. Electronics, SIGNIT, sensors and satellites are in place. But the fence and all the security technology would not work if not for the presence of defense forces, constantly patrolling and ready to fight if needed. It is the human element that makes the fence effective. In fact, one of the biggest differences in the ways a border is defended in Israel versus the U.S. is the military. The IDF’s primary mission is to defend the state and its inhabitants. Using military and paramilitary personnel at borders is part of that mission. (The forces deployed at the Israel-Egypt border are from the Caracal battalion, the IDF’s first coed combat unit. Read more about them here: Female Fighters in the 21st Century http://wp.me/p5FFvE-P3)
The U.S. military is not deployed in the same way. In the U.S., law enforcement works to secure the borders. Given the differences between the Border Patrol makeup, numbers and protocols, having military aid in securing the U.S. border would surely have a dramatic impact. Political poison, no doubt. But who could bet against fewer illegals and less counter band getting across were soldiers deployed there? Food for thought.
On its most recent Israel Security Model seminar, the Chameleon group visited the Kibbutz Kerem Shalom, at the point where Gaza, Egypt and Israel meet. Seminar attendees had the opportunity to see the border and the terrain first-hand, learn about the historic problems of the area and about the modern solutions Israel is using to counter them.