Int'l force in Sinai quiet amid concern of violations

Observers abstain from publicly addressing Israeli concerns that Egypt may be violating treaty by moving weaponry into Sinai.

Egyptian soldiers in Sinai 370 (photo credit: reuters)
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 matter.
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 Israel.”
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 communication.”
Israel is walking a tightrope on this matter, on the one hand wanting the Egyptians to act more aggressively in combating Sinai-based terrorism.
Indeed, immediately following the terrorist attacks earlier this month that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers, the security cabinet approved an Egyptian request to use attack helicopters to go after those responsible.
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 armored vehicles.
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...”
Infringements 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 advance.
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.
An 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.