After 13 attempts to blow up pipelines supplying fuel to Israel and to Jordan from Egypt, a worsening security situation in Sinai, Gaza-based political commentator Talal Okal explains that it’s become difficult to maintain control over the area. In an exclusive interview with Bitterlemons International, Okal relays how this has affected residents of the Gaza Strip.
BI: What do the conditions in the Sinai Peninsula have to do with you and others in the Gaza Strip?
Okal: The border that separates Sinai in Egypt and the Gaza Strip is the only border that is open for our use. The town of Rafah [where the main crossing is located] is actually split across the border between the two sides and many of Egyptian Rafah’s residents are relatives of those who live on the Gaza side of the town. The connections there are extensive. Moreover, the tunnel network operating out of Gaza opens onto the Sinai.
In general, one can say that the Sinai area has not been under control for a long time. Recently, there have been additional security officers allowed into the area to police it [on the Egyptian side] but this has not really made a difference. Egypt has still not been able to control the area and conditions there appear to be worsening.
The region is vast and the trade that takes place there is largely elicit. The Bedouin tribes that live in the Sinai are mostly armed and have played a role in the worsening situation. Even a wide security operation in the area would likely not be able to bring the area under control.
How has the situation changed since the fall of the regime of Hosni Mubarak?
Actually, there hasn’t been a great change. The new government hasn’t been able to bring the area under its control and this is apparent through the 13 different explosions that have taken place on pipelines supplying fuel to Israel and to Jordan from Egypt.
Israel is building a barrier along the Israel-Egypt border. How do you think this will affect the situation, both for Israel and in general?
This is one of Israel’s security misconceptions. Through its concentration on security answers, Israel has become a country of walls. But the truth is that walls don’t create security.
Israel is building the wall in part to try to stop the flow of immigrants from Sudan and Somalia, which is really a civilian issue. It might be successful at doing this. But then what? The wall will not solve the general security problem. Using security methods to control any other field, whether it is economic or otherwise, is doomed to fail.
In your view, is the problem in the Sinai a security problem or a human rights problem?
It is difficult to sort this out, but in this situation, I would say that the security perspective has totally failed.
What is the relationship between the Sinai area and the power outages that Gaza is facing at this time?
The relationship is extensive. The tunnels open onto the Sinai, where the Egyptian government is not the main party in control. The entire region is built on the illicit trade connected to the tunnels.
The Egyptian authorities – although we should say that they are not the party that is really backing this policy – want to close these tunnels. They want to create a formal, legal relationship where the goods that flow through the tunnels [including fuel] are trafficked legally.
The problem is that those materials that are trafficked through the tunnels are essential to the daily lives of Gazans, who need them to build, to cook, to run their power plant. –This interview was first published by Bitterlemons International on March 29.