Israeli control of the corridor between Gaza and Egypt – as its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sought – would mean a de facto total reoccupation of the Gaza Strip.
Israel has said it wants to take control of the entire border area between Gaza and Egypt, signaling that its brutal war against Gaza is far from over.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a weekly news conference Saturday that the Philadelphia corridor “must be in our hands” and closed to ensure Tel Aviv’s desired security outcome.
Israel’s war against the besieged enclave has killed more than 21,000 Palestinians. With fighting now in its 13th week, how important is the corridor, why does Israel want to control it and what could be the implications?
What is the Philadelphia Corridor?
The Philadelphia Corridor, also known as the Philadelphia Highway, is a 14 km (8.7 mile) long strip of land that represents the entire border area between Gaza and Egypt.
It was established as a buffer zone controlled and patrolled by the Israeli armed forces as part of the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt that ended the Israeli occupation of the Sinai Peninsula and reopened the Suez Canal.
Its stated aim was to prevent weapons and equipment from reaching the hands of Palestinians inside the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip and to prevent people from moving between Palestinian lands and Egypt. without strict controls.
“It needs to be closed. It is clear that any other arrangement would not guarantee the demilitarization we seek,” Netanyahu said Saturday, also signaling that the war could last for several more months.
What is Egypt’s position on this?
In 2005, Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip under international pressure and transformed the densely populated Palestinian land into the world’s largest open-air prison.
Egypt has become the main actor controlling the corridor, representing the only link to the outside world not controlled by Israel – since Tel Aviv maintains a land, sea and air blockade of the strip from all other sides.
An agreement after Israeli disengagement from the area in 2005 allowed Egypt to deploy 750 troops and heavy weapons to patrol and protect the Egyptian side of the corridor, with responsibility for the other side transferred to the Palestinian Authority.
But Hamas was in full control of the Gaza Strip about two years after the Israeli withdrawal, and things changed.
Over the years, Egypt has said it continues to destroy tunnels dug by Palestinians to smuggle weapons and people, but Israel has questioned the effectiveness of Cairo’s measures.
Now Israel wants full control of the border area, which includes the crucial Rafah crossing, ostensibly to ensure its security. But this would amount to a de facto total reoccupation of the Gaza Strip, a subject on which Israel and the United States publicly disagree.
Egypt and Hamas oppose Israel regaining control of the corridor, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has repeatedly said that Cairo would not allow Palestinians to be moved from their country to Egypt.
What is Israel looking for?
Netanyahu wants to reassure his domestic audience – which has become angry and critical of his handling of the war and his failure to bring back dozens of captives still in Gaza – according to Rami Khouri, a journalist and distinguished scholar at the University American from Beirut. At the same time, Khouri said, the Israeli prime minister wants to sow more fear among the Palestinians and create new leverage for negotiations with the United States and Egypt.
“So everything he says has multiple audiences, multiple purposes, and should not be taken literally,” Khouri told Al Jazeera.
“We have to look at this as another element that he adds to the negotiating pot.”
Khouri said Egypt would not accept Israel regaining control of the corridor and establishing a military presence there decades after its departure.
He added that Netanyahu’s comments can also be seen in the context of Israel’s consistent pursuit of territorial expansionism since its founding in 1948 – even though this has not brought security to the country.
“The more they expand, the more they control land, the more they try to keep themselves safe by taking over people’s land and driving people out of their homes, the less secure they become because all they do is incite Palestinians to increasingly intense forms of resistance. and others, including Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Didn’t Israel want another corridor to the north?
Yes, Israel raised the idea of another “buffer zone” along its border with northern Gaza with Arab leaders and the United States last month as part of its plans for “after -Hamas.”
Tel Aviv would like to expand this corridor inside Gaza to ensure it does not suffer another attack like the October 7 attack by Hamas that killed around 1,140 people in Israel.
Earlier this month, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Washington opposed “any reduction in the geographic boundaries of Gaza.”
The United States has also said it wants the Palestinian Authority to take charge of security in the Gaza Strip, contradicting Israel’s aspirations to establish a direct presence there.
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