Minister says Netanyahu stole credit for Sinai border fence
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Minister says Netanyahu stole credit for Sinai border fence

Ex-general Yoav Galant says he keeps hearing ‘lie’ that prime minister initiated NIS 1.6b, 400-km Israel-Egypt frontier barrier

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A section of the  border fence between Israel and Egypt, January 2012. (Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)
A section of the border fence between Israel and Egypt, January 2012. (Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)

Housing Minister Yoav Galant claimed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took credit for his idea in 2010 to overhaul the border fence along Israel’s border with Egypt, according to a recording published Tuesday.

“It did take me some time to convince the government to build it, and yes, Bibi put down the big money, but ever since then I keep hearing this lie that Bibi built the fence,” Galant, a former head of the army’s Southern Command, can be heard saying on a recording broadcast by Army Radio on Tuesday.

Netanyahu at the time touted the five-meter-high barbed wire fence as a means to curb the growing number of African migrants and refugees from entering Israel via Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

However, following the 2011 Egyptian revolution that resulted in an upsurge in jihadist terror activities across the border, Israel upgraded the steel barrier to include cameras, radar and motion detectors.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Housing Minister Yaov Galant (standing) seen during a ceremony of signing a final agreement on building 32,000 new housing units in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, on October 29, 2015. (Edi Israel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Housing Minister Yaov Galant (standing) seen during a ceremony of signing a final agreement on building 32,000 new housing units in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, on October 29, 2015. (Edi Israel/Flash90)

The prime minister has repeatedly touted the fence as a keystone of Israel’s security apparatus in the south.

In 2010, Galant was instrumental in creating the specialized Rimon commando unit, which was tasked with thwarting threats from Sinai.

“He realized before anyone else that there would be a need to deal with the southern border,” an officer who served under Galant told the Haaretz daily in 2011.

Galant had been a top candidate to take over the military in 2010, but withdrew his name following a scandal involving the use of public land for his own purposes outside his home.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu made headlines after he announced his intention to “surround the entire State of Israel with a fence,” including sealing off openings in the West Bank security barrier.

Speaking during a February 9 tour of the Jordan border area in the south, Netanyahu said the extensive, “multi-year” plan would also address the potential threat of cross-border tunnels into Israeli territory.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (L) visit construction work on the fence between Israel and Jordan. February 9, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (L) visit construction work on the fence between Israel and Jordan, February 9, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Netanyahu pointed to the 2014 conflict between Israel and the Gaza-based terrorist group Hamas, in which the group’s militants used a network of subterranean passages to infiltrate Israeli territory, launch attacks and in one case, kidnap the body of an IDF soldier.

“In our neighborhood, we need to protect ourselves from the predatory animals,” Netanyahu said in an apparent reference to extremist Islamist movements in the region.

Earlier this year, construction began on a long security fence along the Jordanian border, Israel’s only internationally recognized frontier currently without a full barrier.

In accordance with a 2015 government decision, approximately 30 kilometers (18 miles) of fence is initially being built, from the southernmost resort town of Eilat to beyond a new international airport currently under construction in the Timna Valley. This portion of the project is expected to be completed by the end of the year, and will cost approximately NIS 300 million ($77 million), which will be drawn from the Defense Ministry budget.

In 2013, the 400 kilometer (245 mile) Israel-Egypt border fence was completed at an estimated cost of NIS 1.6 billion ($400 million), making it one of the largest construction projects in Israel’s history.

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