Erez Industrial Zone
The Erez Industrial Zone (the EIZ) was established in 1972 on a large plot of land in the northern Gaza Strip. Until recently, the EIZ had approximately 200 factories and businesses, of which approximately half were Arab owned. Between 4,000 and 5,000 Palestinian Arabs were employed in the EIZ at the height of its success. Due to frequent terror attacks and shelling in the EIZ, some Israeli owned businesses began relocating inside Israel, and there were a number of temporary closures of the site. On June 8th , 2004, then Industry and Trade Minister Ehud Olmert announced the intention of the Israeli Government to permanently close the EIZ. Compensation packages were offered to Israeli business owners who relocated, as a means of encouraging the process of leaving the EIZ, in anticipation of the Disengagement Plan. The number of operating businesses dwindled to less than 25 by August 2004, and the EIZ has been officially closed since August 31, 2004, although some reports show a few businesses still operating. As a rule, however, the Palestinian owned businesses were unable to sustain activity without the presence of complementary Israeli businesses providing materials, know-how, and most of all, the Israeli market.
Gaza Strip Airport and Seaport
The Gaza International Airport was opened in Rafah, a town on the Gaza Strip-Egyptian border, in November of 1998, during the Netanyahu administration. Prime Minister Ehud Barak closed the airport in October 2000 after the second Intifada began, but shortly thereafter re-opened it. As the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority forces heated up and arms smuggling became rampant, the Government of Israel decided to shut down both ports. On January 11, 2002 the IDF sent in bulldozers to tear up the main runway of the airport.
One event in particular that precipitated the Israeli Government's decision to take such severe action at the seaport was the Karine A incident on January 3, 2002,
http://www1.idf.il/DOVER/site/mainpage.asp?clr=1&sl=EN&id=7&docid=34484 although Israeli also made two interceptions in 2001.
(The KarineA was a fishing vessel that was intercepted on the high seas by the Israel Navy, smuggling tons of war materiel worth over $100 million, including suicide bomber belts, from Iran and the Hizbullah, destined for the PA in the Gaza Strip
On January 12, 2002, the seaport was attacked, and the Israeli Navy destroyed the two ships docked there.
The official term established by the Oslo Accords, pending the creation of a Palestinian State. NB: UN Observer status was accorded under the title of "Palestine".
The Philadelphia Route
Perhaps the single greatest asset the Israeli Army has in the Gaza Strip is what as known as the “Philadelphia Route”. This thin swath of land, typically 50-100 meters wide, runs the length of the (southern) Gaza Strip-Egyptian border. This Egyptian-Israeli line of defense was agreed upon by Egypt and Israel, in the Egypt-Israel peace treaty signed in 1979. Immediately after the provisions of the treaty were implemented, Palestinian Arabs on both sides began digging tunnels, with entrances often hidden under private homes in the town of Rafah, which straddles the Israeli-Egyptian border.
At that time, the tunnels were primarily used for the purpose of smuggling drugs. However, after the Oslo Accords were implemented in 1994, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad began to exploit the tunnels for the smuggling of weapons, including: missiles, mortars, RPG's, assault rifles, and other weapons forbidden under the provisions of the Oslo Accords. Personnel, including terrorists, have also been smuggled through the tunnels.
Under the aegis of the Palestinian Authority, and with the passive complicity of the Egyptian forces (if not, the Government), tunnel digging and massive smuggling have become an extremely serious tactical problem. Weapons smuggled in have been used in the murder of hundreds of Israelis and the launching of thousands of mortars and missiles on Israeli homes and towns. Prior to the announcement of the Disengagement Plan in November of 2003, the IDF had drawn up plans to widen the Philadelphia Route by hundreds of meters, including a proposal for a trench some 20 meters deep (which was largely rejected for ecological problems), but the main plan appears unlikely to be implemented, with the future of the Philadelphia Route uncertain, in the context of the unilateral Disengagement Plan.
Paramount to Israel's security, the Route remains a contested issue – while it will not go to the Palestinian security forces, and Egypt has offered to secure the border, Israel faces a dilemma:
- On the one hand, Israel has suggested remaining along the Route, because she alone is interested in sealing cross-border tunnels to arms or other smuggling activities; but to remain along the Route would mean that Israel would still be in the Gaza Strip, with its forces pretty much a sitting duck, without back-up.
- On the other hand, even with letters of protocol to the Egypt-Israel accords, to make such a change legally possible, it is unlikely that Egypt will offer a seriously pro-active approach to making the border "water-tight" against terrorists and their supplies.
Road-tripping in the Strip, by Amos Harel