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August 29, 2011
Ever since the collapse of the Mubarak regime earlier this year, Israeli government officials have expressed concerns about the long-term viability of the peace accords between Egypt and Israel. The issue of Egyptian troop deployment in the Sinai Peninsula has received a lot of attention, particularly since last week’s incidents following Israeli military action across the Egyptian border. Not much seems to have changed during the weekend.
On the contrary; following intelligence reports that Islamic Jihad might be planning additional terror attacks from south Gaza or Sinai, Anshel Pfeffer writes on Haaretz, “IDF chief Benny Gantz ordered the deployment of reinforcements around both the southern Gaza Strip and the Egyptian border on Sunday night, due to intelligence reports suggesting an imminent attack by the Islamic Jihad. The reinforcements were coordinated with the Egyptian army. Although security sources estimate that the Islamic Jihad is planning the possible attack, a security official made clear that the IDF will hold Hamas responsible for any terrorist attack originating from the Gaza Strip.”
The volatile border situation and Israel’s inability to handle the cross-border incursions without any tightening of security by Egyptian forces, has raised the question of whether the 1978 peace treaty should be revisited to make provisions for a significant presence of Egyptian military forces on the peninsula. Marwa Al-Asar asserts on Daily News Egypt that, contrary to earlier reports, “Israel [is] unlikely to allow Egypt to deploy more forces in Sinai now…. Press reports had earlier said Israel and Egypt reached an initial agreement to allow Egypt to deploy more troops along the border to prevent the infiltration of militants. An Egyptian intelligence official told Reuters last week that Israel had been more responsive recently to Cairo's demands for increasing its troops at the Sinai border, after rejecting such requests in the past….The source added that Israel and Egypt have been holding discussions on altering security arrangements in Sinai, with Egypt boosting the number of its troops there. However, one day later, Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak said Israel has no intention at this time of approving extra Egyptian troops in the eastern Sinai Peninsula.”
Regardless of Israel’s intentions, some are arguing, as Emad Gad does on Al Ahram, that “Tel Aviv can no longer demand that Egypt's hands be tied in controlling its border, while then complaining that Egypt is failing to provide security…. Israel should comply with the Egyptian demand to increase its military and security presence in this area to levels that would enable Egypt to assert its full control over the border area, [which], ultimately, will serve the interests of both sides. Certainly, a favourable Israeli response on this question will go a long way to putting the current crisis behind us. Conversely, Israeli obstinacy and evasion tactics will only exacerbate the situation. It is time for Israel to wake up to the fact that it can no longer hamper Egypt's ability to control its borders and then blame Cairo if anything goes wrong. That old game was up the moment that the Mubarak regime fell.”
On the Israeli side, today’s Haaretz editorial shares, albeit for slightly different reasons, the view of its Egyptian peers: “It is time for a new order in the Sinai…. The terror attack north of Eilat a week and a half ago demonstrated what was already known for a while: Israel's limitations on the Egyptian military presence in the Sinai could also be to Israel's detriment....Egypt's desire to send more forces into the Sinai to deal with the growing — and mutual — threat posed by the Bedouin living there, global jihad organizations and Palestinians coming from Gaza has met with Israeli hesitation....The mutual threat against which the Egyptian infantry plans to act endangers Israel and Egyptian-Israeli peace. A string of terror attacks and retaliations is liable to deteriorate into a clash between the two countries' armies. On balance, it's preferable to allow a limited, lightly armed Egyptian force into the Sinai now to avoid a confrontation with a much larger, heavily armed force in a battle that could be sparked by an escalation on the border.”
Ynet poses the question of whether the Egypt peace deal should be modified or not. Yakir Elkariv believes the answer is yes, since “If the Camp David Treaty forbade the deployment of Egyptian forces in the Sinai for fear of a ground invasion into Israel, the time has come to change this clause and allow Egypt to freely operate in the Sinai against the terror cells active there. And if we are already creating a new clause, there is no reason not to sharpen it and obligate the Egyptians to bear responsibility for the safety of Israeli tourists.”
Nechama Duek disagrees: “Ever since the treaty was signed by Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat 32 years ago, with US President Jimmy Carter as mediator, the agreement has functioned and the strict terms set within it have been adhered to.... Following the recent events in the south, and given that the long Egyptian border is completely vulnerable, with Cairo not doing enough to put an end to arms smuggling or infiltrations into Israel, the sides must sit down and discuss the required actions. That is, how to handle specific scenarios. As opposed to the position articulated by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, I do not think that such a move would require the Knesset’s approval. We can relax and not think that the solution is to destroy the old in order to adjust to the new.”
Whether the treaty will eventually be altered or not, for Ramzy Baroud recent actions by Israel have proven completely counterproductive, at least from the point of view of the relationship between Israel and Egypt. In an article published on the Palestinian news site Amin, Baroud asks, “Why is Israel bent on discrediting Egypt, exploiting the most sensitive period of its modern history, and destabilizing the border area so as to show Egypt’s failure to ensure Israel’s border security, as stipulated in the Camp David treaty?...Why the attempt at embarrassing, provoking and perhaps dragging Egypt into a border confrontation at a time when Egypt is attempting a transition towards democracy? It ought to be said that ‘new Egypt’ was also credited for facilitating Palestinian unity, a first step towards taking Hamas out of its international isolation. Is it not then possible that Israel’s ‘nice little war’ was a response to such a dangerous shift in Egyptian policy towards Hamas — and Palestine in general?”
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