MIDEAST: Big Powers Moving In on Gaza
CAIRO, Apr 3 (IPS) - Nine NATO member states agreed last month to utilise naval, intelligence and diplomatic resources to combat the alleged flow of arms into the Gaza Strip. Some Egyptian commentators see the move as a surreptitious means of cementing foreign control over the region.
"These new protocols aren't really about halting arms smuggling," Tarek Fahmi, political science professor at Cairo University and head of the Israel desk at the Cairo-based National Centre for Middle East Studies, told IPS. "Rather, they aim to establish foreign control over the region's strategic border crossings and maritime ports."
On Mar. 13, a major conference was held in London aimed at "coordinating efforts" to stop alleged arms smuggling - by land or sea - into the Gaza Strip, governed by Palestinian resistance faction Hamas. Participants at the conference included high-level representatives from nine member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), including the U.S., Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Italy and Norway.
Although Egypt reportedly received an invitation to attend the London gathering, it disdained to send a delegate. Palestinian representation, too - from either Hamas or the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority - was conspicuously absent. Israeli officials, meanwhile, reportedly attended the meeting as "observers".
But Egyptian analysts say the agreement represents a furtive attempt to "internationalise" the longstanding siege of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
The Denmark and London conferences come on the heels of an earlier U.S.- Israel security pact, signed in mid-January only days before the departure of then U.S. president George W. Bush.
Like the recent anti-smuggling conferences, the agreement outlined general procedures aimed at stopping alleged weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip. The document also commits Washington to "accelerate its efforts to provide logistical and technical assistance and to train and equip regional security forces in counter-smuggling tactics."
Egypt, however, which shares a 14-kilometre border with the embattled territory, rejected the accord as an infringement on its national sovereignty. "When it comes to Egyptian land, we are not bound by anything except the safety and national security of the Egyptian people and Egypt's ability to protect its borders," Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit told reporters at the time.
Independent Egyptian commentators also harshly criticised the U.S.-Israeli agreement.
"Even though Egypt shares a border with Gaza, it was not a party to this security pact," said Fahmi. "What's more, a close reading of the document shows it is not in Egypt's interests and could even end up providing Israel with access to intelligence on Washington's Arab allies.
"Similarly, Egypt wasn't involved in the recent anti-smuggling conferences in Europe, which were convened - in the absence of any Arab participation - with the express purpose of establishing foreign control over the region's strategic border crossings and maritime ports," added Fahmi.
Mazloum agreed that the international pact signed recently in London was less about fighting arms smuggling and more about the realisation of geo- strategic objectives.
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