The 'Second Line' Option For Rafah

Though Israel has lost much of its previous influence along the Philadelphi route, it can take advantage of the new reality to promote a new Egyptian security approach to Gaza's border.

Even prior to Hamas' breach of the border between Egypt and Gaza, the agreement on Movement and Access (Rafah Agreement, 11/05) did not operate in practice. However, it effectively empowered Israel with an official 'veto' on the exit and entry points to the Gaza Strip.

It remains difficult to tell what the future border arrangement between Gaza and Egypt will look like. However, some principles are very likely to shape it:

  • Israel Loses Its 'Veto Power' - Although the existing Rafah Agreement has never been fully implemented, Israel preserved and effectively exercised its right to order the closing of the border for security reasons. In light of Hamas' new role, Israel seems to have lost that 'veto power.'

  • Hamas is the Key - In the existing Rafah Agreement, both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Egypt (although the latter was not a party to the agreement) held responsibility over the border crossing, while Hamas played no role. Following Hamas' takeover of the Strip and the recent Rafah events, Hamas has become the central actor in designing and implementing the next border agreement. There can be no agreement without implicit or explicit consent by Hamas.

  • The PA's Future Involvement in the Border Depends on Hamas' Consent - Even though the PA offered to take control of the border between Egypt and Gaza, as well as the other crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel, any such arrangement will materialize only with Hamas' approval.

In light of this new reality, Israel can promote an alternate approach for the next security arrangement in the border, known as the Second Line Option. This approach calls for a second Egyptian security perimeter outside of the Egyptian town of Rafah spanning the roads leading to it in addition to security checkpoints at the actual border between Egypt and Gaza.

This option may present a partial solution to the issue of underground-tunnel constructions, which are much easier to build in the urban area between Gazan and Egyptian parts of Rafah than in open areas.

Nevertheless, this solution may force Israel to revisit the constraints on the scope of the Egyptian military presence in Sinai that were established by the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Agreement.