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JERUSALEM – With U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday hailing the United Arab Emirates as a key ally trustworthy of managing American ports in spite of fierce opposition from lawmakers, some Israeli officials here are questioning her judgment and calling the Gaza border deal she brokered two months ago an “abject failure” that is now threatening the Jewish state’s national security.
The deal involved transferring Israel’s control at the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip to outside countries.
While Rice made statements to reporters dismissing concerns by Congress members the UAE government could be a threat to U.S. national security, a WorldNetDaily probe of the secretary’s recent border deal found it has allowed terrorists to cross between Egypt and Gaza unimpeded — with some militants possibly meeting Sinai-based jihadists. It also discovered regulations, some allegedly devised by Rice herself, have made it difficult for Israel to identify major breaches in border security.
Departing for a trip to the UAE capital Abu Dhabi yesterday, Rice hailed the controversial pending sale of shipping operations at six major U.S. seaports to an Arab company owned by the United Arab Emirates.
“[The UAE] has been a stalwart partner. And we believe that this is a deal, a port deal, that serves the interests of the United States, serves our security interests and serves the commercial interest as well,” Rice said at a news conference.
She brushed aside suggestions a Middle Eastern country cannot be trusted to manage American ports.
“This is supposed to be a process that raises concerns if they are there but does not presume that a country in the Middle East should not be capable of doing a deal like this,” Rice said.
Meanwhile, Israeli security officials say a deal Rice brokered in November regarding control of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza is now a growing threat to the Jewish state’s security.
“If the border is not secure, the Palestinians would be in a position to create a terror entity in Gaza neighboring Israel, poised and ready to start a war,” said an Israeli security official. “Indeed, that seems to be the case.”
In November, Rice extended a trip to Jerusalem to push through the Rafah crossing deal, which restricts Israel to monitor the area by camera, calls for a European presence at the border station, and gives the Palestinians some veto power on vehicles and persons entering Gaza.
The American pressure was reportedly crucial in Israel agreeing to the border regulations.
Rafah is one of the largest crossings between the Sinai and the Gaza Strip. It has been the scene of rampant Palestinian weapons smuggling the past few years. Prior to Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in August, the Gaza side of the border was entirely controlled by the Israeli Defense Forces.
After Rice’s deal was finalized, both Egyptian and Palestinian security forces deployed at the Rafah crossing, and a rotating team of European inspectors was stationed at the border.
New border rules stipulate Israel cannot restrict who leaves Gaza, but it can ask the European monitors to delay for several hours anyone entering the border if Israel provides immediate information indicating an entrant may be a security threat.
But the regulations, which sources close to the deal say were partially devised by Rice, restrict Israel to rely on security cameras at the border and a list of entrants supplied by the Palestinians.
Israeli security officials told WND this week the cameras at the border are not sufficient to identify entrants, and they said the Palestinians have been failing to supply accurate and timely lists of individuals crossing into Gaza.
“There have been many cases of Israel not getting lists at all,” said a security official. “Or we get them so near the time of arrival we don’t have nearly enough time to ask an entrant to be delayed.”
Israeli security officials charged the Palestinians have tampered with the names of entrants, accusing Palestinian border workers of deliberately disguising the personal information of terrorists crossing the border.
“The result,” one security officials said, “is that the border between Gaza and Egypt is nonexistent.”
Indeed several senior terrorists based in Gaza told WorldNetDaily the past few weeks they were able to cross into the Sinai and back without a problem.
One terror leader said he went to Egypt for “vacation.”
Hamas chief Mahmoud al-Zahar’s brother, Fadel, entered Gaza through Rafah just day’s after Rice’s border deal was implemented, reportedly bringing with him 13 other wanted terrorists. Fadel Al-Zahar had been deported by Israel to Lebanon in 1991 after he was accused of orchestrating attacks.
According to security officials, there is information indicating some Palestinian terrorists who crossed into the Sinai last month may have met with local jihad cells there before returning to Gaza.
Both Israeli and Palestinian security sources say the Iran- and Syria-backed Hezbollah terror group maintains a presence in the Sinai desert. Israel says Egypt has had difficulty eliminating al-Qaida cells in Sinai suspected of involvement in recent terror attacks, including the bombings in Sharm el Sheikh in July and Taba last year, which together killed more than 100 people.
“It is time to conclude Rice’s Rafah deal is an abject failure,” said an official close to the deal.
Asked if he is skeptical of the UAE port deal Rice is currently applauding, the official replied, “Just look at her deal in Gaza. Another country should never be trusted with your own security. The American port deal may be different, though, because it’s just a management position. Still, it’s certainly not the smartest move.”
He said he would not speak on the record because “it is not Israel’s business to tell America who should work at their ports.”
American lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum have been attacking the White House’ continued insistence on allowing the UAE company to manage the major U.S. ports, threatening legislation to ban the deal if the government did not immediately impose a delay so the situation can be re-examined.
Critics fear an increased risk of terrorist attacks on American soil, pointing out money for the Sept. 11 attacks was wired through the UAE’s banking system, according to U.S. officials. Two of the Sept. 11 hijackers were UAE citizens. Also, the UAE was one of only three countries in the world to recognize the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which harbored Osama bin Laden.