Egyptian soldiers in Sinai 370.
(photo credit: reuters)
The 1,650-strong Multinational Force and Observers team in Sinai is keeping a
low public profile amid growing Israeli concern that Egypt may be violating the
1979 Camp David Treaty by bringing heavy weaponry into Sinai without first
coordinating with Jerusalem.
A representative for the force – when asked
via email whether Egypt obtained permission to move the weaponry in, and whether
Israel granted it – replied that “we are unable to respond to queries from the
media at this time.” The MFO, made up of contingents from 12 different
countries, is in Sinai to monitor and verify the demilitarization of the
peninsula under the treaty accords.
The response came as both the Israeli
and foreign media reported that Jerusalem has turned to the US to mediate in the
When asked about this, a US State Department official said he
“could not get into private diplomatic discussions.”
The official added,
however: “We understand that the Israelis and Egyptians remain in communication
on the issue of security efforts in the Sinai. Egyptian military leaders have
reaffirmed Egypt’s commitment to the peace treaty with
Washington, the official said, “will maintain our frequent
contacts with the Israelis and the Egyptians on this issue and continue to
closely monitor the situation, and we also encourage them to remain in close
Israel is walking a tightrope on this matter, on the one
hand wanting the Egyptians to act more aggressively in combating Sinai-based
Indeed, immediately following the terrorist attacks earlier
that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers, the security cabinet approved an
Egyptian request to use attack helicopters to go after those
On the other hand, there is concern that the new Islamic
government of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy may position heavy weaponry in
Sinai, and then neglect to remove it.
“There is no precedent for armored
vehicles being deployed in Sinai, and certainly not without any coordination,”
an Israeli official said.
Egyptian security sources said this week they
were preparing to deploy aircraft and tanks in Sinai for the first time since
the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and there were reports that they had already sent in
Demilitarization of Sinai is a key principle of the
Camp David accords, signed by the US, Egypt and Israel. On the same day the
treaty was signed, Israel and the US signed a memorandum of agreement
stipulating that “should it be demonstrated to the satisfaction of the United
States that there has been a violation or threat of violation” of the agreement,
the US will “take such remedial measures as it deems appropriate, which may
include diplomatic, economic and military measures...”
concerning limitation of forces in Sinai is one example mentioned in the
memorandum as a violation of the treaty.
Perhaps it is because of the
widespread ramifications of any unilateral Egyptian introduction of heavy
weaponry and additional troops into Sinai, that neither Israel nor the US is
talking publicly about whether the recent Egyptian moves were coordinated in
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign
Ministry have been adamant over the last two days in refusing to issue any
formal comments on the matter.
Meir Rosenne, a former Foreign Ministry
legal adviser who was involved in the negotiation of the treaty, told Israel
Radio that if the Egyptians were acting without Israel’s agreement, it would
constitute a “grave infraction of the peace treaty.”
“In the event that
an Egyptian force goes in permanently into Sinai without Israel’s agreement,
there is no doubt that is a casus belli, and that Israeli could use military
force to prevent the infringement of the agreement in the event that force stays
there,” he said.
In Cairo, Yasser Ali, a spokesman for Morsy, said
security measures in Sinai were “crucial” to Egypt’s security.
Egyptian military source said the Sinai security sweep was in keeping with
agreements reached with Israel a year ago after eight Israelis died in a
cross-border attack.“We don’t need to issue a daily report to Israel on the
operation as it is a matter of sovereignty and national security,” the source
went on to say.
In 2007 Israel allowed the Egyptians to introduce
additional troops into Sinai to fight weapons smuggling.Reuters
contributed to this report.