Israel fences itself in with barriers

May 1, 2012 at 4:31 PM
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METULLA, Israel, May 1 (UPI) -- Israel is building a concrete security wall to protect its northernmost border town of Metulla from attacks by Hezbollah, adding to the accelerating fortification of its frontiers with Egypt, Syria and the Palestinians.

It's a defensive mindset that veteran Israeli commentator Alex Fishman suggests belies the threat of strikes against Iran. This obsession with security barriers has become "a national mental illness," he laments.

Metulla sits at the tip of a finger of Israeli territory that juts into southern Lebanon, a Hezbollah stronghold, and is surrounded on three sides by hostile terrain.

The 16-foot-high wall is 1 kilometer -- just more than half a mile -- long. But it's designed to strengthen the 1970s security fence that runs along Israel's entire 50-mile border with Lebanon.

And it symbolizes how, pretty soon, the Jewish state will be enclosed by steel and concrete, adding to its growing international political isolation over its apparent refusal to pull out of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, occupied since June 1967, and make peace with the Palestinians.

East of the Lebanese border security fence, another barrier runs along the heavily mined 1973 war cease-fire line with Syria from the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967.

It extends south to the border with Jordan to meet Israel's first security fence, built after 1967 to keep out Palestinian marauders. It stretches from the Sea of Galilee to the northern shore of the Dead Sea.

Only the southern border with Jordan between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, an arm of the Red Sea, is without a physical barrier.

But the word is that it, too, will be blocked off in the not-so-distant future because Jordan's monarchy, with which Israel signed a peace treaty in 1996, is looking shaky these days.

Fishman suggests the barrier-building says a lot about the state of Israel and its people amid the turmoil churning the Middle East right now, with the Jewish state facing unprecedented bombardment that by all accounts would makes Hitler's V1 and V2 blitz of London in 1944-45 pale into insignificance.

"We have become a nation that imprisons itself behind fences, which huddles terrified behind defensive shields," Fishman wrote in a bitter commentary in the mass-circulation Yediot Ahronot daily.

"We are again Diaspora Jews in our own country … Who would believe that once upon a time we spoke about integrating into the region? Now we are a tiny state with a large fence. How did this happen to us?...

"Such society, which loses its self-confidence, does not convey deterrence. With all the bombs and advanced aircraft, this is not a society that that conveys a sense of strength.

"The Americans and the Iranians can sleep well; this is not a society that will decide to strike in Iran and pay the price."

The current focus of all this barrier-building is the construction of a 165-mile-long, 16-foot-high electrified fence along the remote desert border with Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, a battleground from 1947-79.

It's made of galvanized steel bars and razor wire and runs northward from the resort of Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba to the already-fenced off Gaza Strip on the Mediterranean coast.

By the time it's finished in 2013, it will be studded with remote video cameras and electronic sensors to detect intruders, whether they be terrorists or African migrants who are pouring into Israel across Sinai by the thousands looking for sanctuary or work.

Construction was speeded up in August after militants, supposedly linked to al-Qaida, killed eight Israelis, the worst attack on that border in 30 years.

The fence between the Sinai and Negev deserts is part of Israel's stepped up security on its southern flank since peace partner Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a pro-democracy uprising.

Since then relations with Egypt have deteriorated to the point that the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt is in jeopardy.

In the occupied West Bank is the most notorious of all Israel's security barriers, 465 miles long, two-thirds built. It snakes across the territory, swallowing up large chunks of Palestinian farmland and lopping off 12 percent of the land Palestinians see as their future state.

The barrier comprises a towering concrete wall 30 feet high or sensor-laced steel fences with wide exclusion zones on either side.

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