Egypt's Steel Wall: An Attempt to Placate the U.S.?

A Middle Eastern country is building a massive thick steel wall as a barrier between themselves and a Palestinian regime. The country is being condemned for its actions across the Arab world, denounced by Islamist figures like Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, and facing angry demonstrations at its embassies around the world.

Signs with the president's face daubed with a Star of David are waved, and furious slogans are chanted. The new construction project, written about critically in the world press as "choking" Gaza, has been dubbed the "iron wall" and the "wall of shame."

Sound familiar? Nothing new? In fact, the situation is very new. The country that is being berated and condemned is not Israel. The wall is being build by the Egyptian government to separate territory controlled by Egypt and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Israel is routinely charged with inhumanely and heartlessly fencing off Palestinian Gazans in a "prison," despite the fact that Egypt's official crossing to Gaza is also clamped shut, with the exception of a few days each month. But with the construction of this new wall, Egypt is taking some powerful hits from within the Arab world.

The wall being constructed is designed to stop the flow of smuggling between Egypt and Gaza through the border town of Rafah, an underground economy that is not limited to -- but certainly includes -- major weaponry and ammunition being stockpiled for terrorist attacks and to help Hamas rearm for the next war between Gaza and Israel. Along with the weaponry brought in to replace the stockpiles decimated in Operation Cast Lead, millions of dollars worth of other commerce flows through the tunnels on a daily basis. Everything from food, to gasoline, to machinery, to farm animals. The tunnels are a major source of revenue for Hamas, which charges a premium for the construction and use of the tunnels and puts a tariff on any goods that are brought in.

The planned 10 kilometer-long wall will include steel sheets that will reach 60 meters underground -- an attempt to cut off the tunnels and the commerce that flourishes there. In addition to weaponry, the tunnels are also a conduit for terrorists, both reasons that the tunnels themselves were targeted in Operation Cast Lead.

Construction of the wall began in early December, with the Egyptian government doing its best to keep news of it quiet for as long as possible. By mid-December, it became impossible to hide such a massive project, and news of the construction broke and began to spread. Even as reports began appearing in the media, Egypt refused to acknowledge its existence.

An AP article dramatically described the construction in the same judgmental terms normally reserved for accounts of Israel's building of barriers:

A jackhammer pounded large steel beams side by side into the sandy soil on the Egyptian side of Gaza's border, putting in place an underground wall that could shift the balance of power in this volatile area. Once completed, the steel barrier would cut off blockaded Gaza's last lifeline.

In the wake of the media attention, demonstrations condemning the Egyptian action have ensued, beginning in Jordan, where an organization of unions and professional associations protested construction of the wall. Some 150 people gathered outside the Egyptian embassy in Amman earlier this month and burned photos of President Hosni Mubarak. The photos depict Mubarak with a Star of David stamped on his forehead.