Friday, February 3, 2017

Comparing Trump’s Wall to the Israel-Egypt Barrier

Jon Hayes

{Editor's note - Jon is a young writer seeking to hone his chops a bit and is a founder of USS Sports Machine. Fresh and thoughtful voices are always welcome.}

Prime Minister Netanyahu has faced severe backlash by Israeli media after tweeting out his support for President Trump's wall along the border of Mexico, citing the effectiveness of the Israel-Egypt barrier. Though it was likely improper of Netanyahu to involve himself in such a messy situation considering the relationship between Israel and Mexico, it is important here to examine the accuracy of Netanyahu's statement. Did the Israel-Egypt barrier actually stop immigrants from entering Israel through the south? And if so, would it be as effective in the U.S.?

According to the Guardian, the Israeli-Egypt barrier cut illegal immigration from 2,295 in January to just 36 in December for a decrease of 98.4%. At first glance, this gives serious weight to the conclusion that building a wall would be the right move for the United States.

However, because the geography of the two areas are so different, something that worked for Israel may not necessarily work for the U.S.. It is certainly not an apples-to-apples comparison. In fact, in an interview with The Intercept, Magal, the company which helped build the Israeli border, claimed that the level of protection Israel uses is only effective in well-populated areas. Hagai Katz, who was speaking on behalf of Magal, went on to say that "If you’re in an open spaces, which is more like a desert in a way, not a lot of vegetation, and no nearby cities, then you know putting a fence for thousands of kilometers or miles it just doesn’t make sense”. The US-Mexico border, spanning both the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts, would fall squarely into the "doesn't make sense" category.

Despite Netanyahu's tweet, walls such as the Israel-Egypt barrier don't actually stop illegal immigration themselves, a major promise that Trump has made when speaking about the wall. Instead, what they do is slow down immigrants enough for patrolling border agents to catch them. This becomes increasingly evident by examining other barriers, such as the Israeli West Bank barrier. This barrier reduced lives lost by terrorist attacks from 117 in 2004 to only 45 in 2005, for a reduction of 60%. However, as reported by Haaretz, the Shin Bet and Israeli Defense Force actually contributed this reduction to their own improvement in their joint ability to act against terrorists.

Similarly John Kelly, chief of the Department of Homeland Security said in a recent Senate testimony that "A physical barrier in and of itself will not do the job. It has to be, really, a layered defense". He further stated, “If you were to build a wall from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico, you'd still have to back that wall up with patrolling by human beings, by sensors, by observation devices.”

Though it is not impossible for the U.S. to replicate Israel's success, the cost of building it and stocking it with the necessary personnel and technology will likely be much higher. And since unlike Israel, the U.S. isn't using it to stop terrorist attacks, they will need to decide if the price tag is worth it.


  1. One must always take these cost arguments with some consideration. Large numbers of large. And yet 10 or 20 billion dollars for the US is sometimes not a significant number. The soon to be launched first ship of the Ford class carrier will cost about 11 billion dollars FY2017. A flyaway cost for each and every F-35 is more than 130 million dollars. The proposed Califorinia high speed rail, is ALREADY more than 35 billion dollars over budget and they haven't done any work on it yet. The approximate cost of building the Hoover Dam today in today's dollars is in the vicinity of 700-900 million dollars. Similarly the construction cost of building the Eisenhower interstate highway system today is around 450 billion dollars with ongoing Federal costs of 90% of the maintenance burden through FY 1996 of another 120 billion dollars. Near my home in Raleigh NC, interstate I-540 is still one of the most expensive highways in America, at more than 30 million dollars, per mile. H-8 in Hawaii, T-Rex in Colorado, Mon/Fayette in PA and The Big Dig in Boston have that beat by light years though. BTW there are 6 PUBLIC schools in the US (3 of them are in LA) that cost between 150 million and 580 million dollars to build.

    If a wall of some sort costs 10 or 20 or 30 billion dollars or more then it's well withing the realm of other large infrastructure or DoD acquisition programs.

  2. BTW today it was announced that Obama gave the UN 9.2 billion dollars in 2016.

    1. $7.9 billion U.N. was for the peacekeeping budget.
      He also gave 500 million for the climate change budget.

  3. There are now some 64+ walls in the world now and by all accounts are all 'doing their job'

  4. Jon Hayes... by the way there is no such place as the West Bank. It is Judaea and Samaria.

    1. I absolutely agree with you, Shirlee. Y'know, I considered editing that line in the manner you suggest - although I would have used "Judea" rather than "Judaea" - because I prefer to avoid changing a writer's wording unless absolutely necessary.

      In this case, I would simply second the view that "West Bank" serves to veil over 3,000 years of Jewish history in that part of the world.