It didn’t take long for Egypt to get the message. After Israeli ministers openly talked about transferring responsibility for Gaza’s energy and humanitarian needs to Cairo for not closing the blown-up Rafah border, Egypt responded today by forcing the border closed. They put up barbed wire and shot water cannons at Gazans who attempted to defy the closure:
Egypt began closing its breached border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Friday, using barbed wire and water cannons to keep Palestinians from crossing into Egypt in defiance of an Israeli blockade.
Israeli air strikes overnight killed four Palestinian militants in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, where Hamas blasted open the border wall on Wednesday, letting tens of thousands rush across to stock up on goods in short supply.
Pressed by the United States and Israel to take control of the situation, Egyptian forces in riot gear lined the border and began placing barbed wire and chain-link fences to prevent more Gazans from entering Egyptian soil.
Tensions flared as some in the crowd threw stones at the Egyptian police, who responded with batons and water cannons. As tensions rose, Hamas began to deploy its own forces on the Gaza side of the border.
The move appeared to take Hamas by surprise. They complained that Egypt needed to create a mechanism for Gazans to lawfully cross the border at Rafah. That complaint came after Hamas blew up the border, of course, making their protestations about lawfulness somewhat empty. The terrorist group arrayed some of its fighters across the gap, but wisely have not chosen to engage, at least not yet.
Egypt did not want to get saddled with Gaza again. Many have suggested that as a solution to the political standoff over the small parcel, overcrowded with more than a million Palestinians. Egypt lost Gaza in the 1967 conflict and has no particular desire to reacquire it, with its radicalism and high-maintenance population. Israel’s threat to close all the other borders permanently and let Hosni Mubarak deal with the problem undoubtedly clarified that choice.
Of course, Egypt may find the Rafah crossing harder to close than Hamas did opening it with bombs. If Hamas makes trouble, Mubarak may find himself in a military alliance with Israel in dealing with the terrorists in Gaza. That could create even bigger headaches than he has now.