Why does Israel want to retake the Philadelphi Corridor between Gaza and Egypt?
Last Sunday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a press conference that Israel must retake a narrow strip of land marking the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
“The Philadelphi Corridor - or to put it more correctly, the southern stoppage point [of Gaza] - must be in our hands,” Netanyahu declared.
“It must be shut. It is clear that any other arrangement would not ensure the demilitarisation that we seek,” he added.
Though Netanyahu did not elaborate further, The New Arab explains what the Philadelphi Corridor is and why Israel might want it.
What is the Philadelphi Corridor?
The Philadelphi Corridor, also referred to as the Philadelphi Route, is an 8.7 mile (14km) long strip of land that constitutes the entirety of the border between Gaza and Egypt.
It was established as a buffer zone as part of Egypt’s controversial 1979 peace treaty with Israel, with the Israelis arguing that it was necessary to stop weapons and other materials from reaching Palestinians inside Gaza and stop Palestinians from getting out.
In 2005, Israel withdrew its military forces from Gaza, meaning that Egypt became the sole party responsible for policing Philadelphi. An agreement struck with Israel allowed Egypt to maintain 750 troops and heavy weapons to patrol the area, with responsibility for Gaza coming under the remit of the Palestinian Authority (PA).
However, in 2007, after winning elections and fighting a bitter conflict with President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement, Hamas took full control of Gaza, and the situation changed.
Israel imposed a crippling blocade on the Palestinian enclave, with the most basic items often being banned. This meant the corridor became Gaza’s last remaining link with the outside world, with Israel maintaining a land, air and sea blockade on the strip from all sides.
As a result smuggling, via tunnels dug by Palestinians in the corridor area, becoming vital for Gaza, much to the anger of Israel, which continues to claim the tunnels were being used by Hamas for smuggling weapons.
Over the years, Egypt claims to have continuously destroyed such tunnels, but Israel claims that Cairo is not doing enough to nullify the corridor as a vital supply route for Palestinians.
Why does Israel want to retake the Philadelphi Corridor?
Israel wants full control of all Gaza’s borders and Philadelphi, which includes the vital Rafah crossing controlled by Egypt, remains out of its reach. Israel claims this is necessary due to security concerns, but analysts argue it’s about Israel attempting to reoccupy the entirety of Gaza once again, with it maintaining full control over the movement of its population.
There are legitimate fears that Israel seizing control of Philadelphi could be part of an Israeli plan to expel Gazans to Egypt. It is known that Israel previously seriously considered the mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Gaza into the Sinai Peninsula, but this plan was strongly opposed by the US, Egypt and all Arab states. However, fears persist that Israel has not completely given up on the plan.
Even if this seems unlikely, by controlling Philadelphi, Israel could potentially push its siege on Gaza to new levels of control and collective punishment, while also pushing its goal of territorial expansionism. In terms of Israel's vision for Gaza, having increased control over what was already considered the world's largest open-air prison could be a key component of its plans.
Where does Egypt stand on this?
The Egyptian government is yet to make any official comment on Netanyahu’s remarks about Philadelphi and Cairo is notoriously tight-lipped about sensitive topics concerning possible infringements on its peace deal with Israel, which saw Israel return Sinai to Egypt, although with strict controls on the numbers of Egyptian troops which could be deployed there.
Some analysts believe that Netanyahu is using the Philadelphi situation to gain leverage in potential negotiations with the US, which would almost certainly oppose its reoccupation by Israel, and Egypt and further instil fear in Palestinians, millions of whom have already been displaced.
It is widely thought that Egypt would not accept Israel expanding control over the Philadelphi Corridor and maintaining a military presence there.
Mustafa Bakri, a Nasserist member of Egypt’s House of Representatives and a loyalist of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, claimed Netanyahu’s “threats” over Philadelphi were an attack on Egyptian sovereignty and a violation of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. He further urged Cairo to wield its military might to prevent the scheme.
Bakri took to social media platform X to warn “insolent” Netanyahu, writing: “Don’t come close. The Egyptian border is a red line. It seems that you do not know the power of our army and the ability of our people.”
Bakri also said that Israel retaking Philadelphi would further add to "the suffocation of Gaza”, while warning it would enable the displacement of Palestinians into the Sinai.