WASHINGTON – Despite its low-profile position in the crisis now facing Muslim Brotherhood-backed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian military is considering remilitarizing the Sinai Peninsula, which not only will change the strategic balance but could go counter to the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
In effect, sources say, the Sinai buffer that has helped ensure Israel’s security all these years could be threatened.
Ironically, that remilitarization effort may be done with help of the United States.
Egypt initially placed more troops in the Sinai after jihadists began flooding into the area following the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last year.
The jihadists were using the area to launch rocket attacks on Israel, with the help of Bedouin tribesmen who both despised Israel and the Mubarak government.
Then Hamas and al-Qaida began to increase their presence and use the buffer zone that up until now had helped ensure Israel’s security for launching armed attacks into Israel.
With Israel’s tacit agreement, the Egyptians began to move more troops into the area after Egyptian police stations and some military posts came under similar attack.
Now, the Egyptian military, with the backing of Morsi, has decided to place more of its forces into the Sinai at a level which is beyond what was agreed to in the Egypt-Israeli Peace Treaty.
Currently, there are American military forces in the Sinai as part of the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai, or MFO. They’ve been there since 1981.
They “supervise the implementation of the security provisions of the Egyptian-Israeli Treaty of Peace and employ best efforts to prevent violations of its terms,” according to the MFO mission statement.
The U.S. is part of a 12-nation MFO contingent comprising almost 1,700 troops. The MFO operates checkpoints, undertakes reconnaissance patrols and observation posts. It also monitors the deployment of border guards along the Egyptian side of the Gaza/Egyptian border.
While the MFO is not a fighting force but undertakes a peacekeeping role, Shoshana Bryen, who is senior director of the Jewish Policy Center, recently commented on “how odd” it is that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently announced that the U.S. “is providing additional military assistance to peacekeeping forces in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula to strengthen security in the region.”
Bryen previously was senior director of Security Policy at JINSA, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
“To change the mission of the MFO from monitoring the Israel-Egypt peace treaty to helping Egypt secure the Sinai from terrorists, jihadists, al-Qaida is a change that cannot be undertaken lightly – and should not be taken unilaterally,” Bryen said. “To change the force from the touchstone from both Israel and Egypt into an ally of Egypt in military operations will undermine its status in the future.”
Bryen believes that the rules of engagement in the Sinai are changing.
“Secretary Panetta is not talking about how the force protects itself while it does the job it was designed to do,” Bryen said. “He is talking about helping Egypt do something forbidden by the Camp David Accords – bring large-scale military forces into the Sinai.”
Bryen points out that Israeli officials were not all that unhappy that Egyptian military forces initially moved into the Sinai in an effort to blunt increasing Islamist militant attacks.
But now, the Egyptian military appears to be suggesting that they actually plan to not only remain in the Sinai but increase those forces.
Mohammed Gadallah, a legal adviser to Morsi, recently reinforced this concern when he talked about “amending” the Camp David Accords “to ensure Egypt’s full sovereignty and control over every inch of Sinai.”
Bryen said that it is hard to imagine a circumstance in which the U.S. should support the restoration of what Gadallah refers to as “full sovereignty and control” of the Sinai, including military control, especially under the auspices of an Egyptian government in the control of the Muslim Brotherhood.
She doesn’t see where even with U.S. help such support will improve Israel’s security position and believes it actually will jeopardize it.
Other sources agree that if Morsi can change the direction of the original intent of the MFO and indeed allow more troops into the area, even with U.S. help, Israel’s security could be greatly affected.
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