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(photo credit: AP [file])
Egypt wants to deploy more security personnel in Sinai to patrol both the Gaza-Egypt and Sinai-Negev border, but it is a hot-button issue that Israel won't touch until after the election, government officials told The Jerusalem Post.
Under the Israeli-Egyptian military protocol hammered out in August following the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, it was agreed that 750 Egyptian border patrolmen would be deployed along the Egypt-Gaza border, enabling Israel to withdraw from the Philadelphi Route.
The Egyptians have since then asked to increase the number, arguing that they could better patrol the long border from Kerem Shalom to Taba if they had additional forces. The Sinai-Negev border is a favorite smuggling route from Egypt into Israel, and then into the West Bank.
While Israel would like to see the Egyptians do more to seal off the borders, it is hesitant about letting the Egyptians introduce more security personnel into the area that was demilitarized under the 1978 Camp David Accords.
The issue is expected to come up during Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz's scheduled visit to Egypt in the coming weeks.
According to Israeli security officials, the voices in Egypt calling for more security personnel in the Sinai increased following an incident along the border with Gaza on January 4 when two Egyptians were killed as Palestinians bulldozed through a barrier on the border and hundreds of people swarmed into Egypt.
According to security officials, this incident convinced the Egyptians that as anarchy reigned in the Gaza Strip, the number of security personnel in the area was insufficient to guard the 14-km border with Gaza.
Hamas's victory in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections is believed to have increased the Egyptian motivation to control the border better, with Cairo increasingly concerned that Hamas elements could move freely into Egypt and link up there with Egypt's own fundamentalist Islamic radicals.
Israeli officials admit that Egypt's demand for more security personnel placed Jerusalem in a difficult predicament.
On the one hand, Israel wants to see the Egyptians do a better job fighting smuggling along the borders than is currently the case, although Israeli officials say the Egyptians are taking serious steps. However, every time Israel comes to the Egyptians with complaints, either about the situation along the Gaza-Egypt border or along the Sinai-Negev borer, the Egyptian reply is that if they had more men, they would be able to do a better job.
Israel is reluctant to approve more personnel because this would undermine one of the main components of the Camp David accords, the demilitarization of Sinai. Political sources said acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would only be inviting withering criticism from Likud head Binyamin Netanyahu if he approved such a move before the elections.
Foreign Ministry officials denied that the issue of additional Egyptian security personnel came up in the talks Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni held in Egypt on Wednesday, though they said that the overall situation along the Gaza-Egypt border was addressed.