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November 26, 2015 / 14 Kislev, 5776
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Critical Days with Egypt – On Eroding Force Limits

Egyptian border post

Photo Credit: Mendy Hechtman/Flash90

When you interact with a chess player you had better not think like a tic tac toe player.

And Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy is most definitely a chess player.

The decision to temporarily allow Egypt to deploy attack helicopters in Sinai very close to Israel’s border may very well be justified. But with emphasis on “temporary” and with a sincere hope that we were smart enough to formally establish just how unique the circumstances were.

Let’s be clear about the problem:

For years the Egyptians have been trying to erode the Sinai force restrictions set in the peace treaty they signed with Israel. Force restrictions that were a necessary condition for Israel agreeing to restore the Sinai to Egyptian control.

The Egyptians see the force restrictions as impinging on their sovereignty.

We always considered the force restrictions as critical for the Jewish State’s national security and, frankly speaking, with the Moslem Brotherhood leading Egypt, we need the force restrictions more than ever.

When the Egyptians argue for dropping the force restrictions they exploit Israel’s Achilles’ heel: an ongoing Israeli tendency not to chapter-and-verse our agreements and treaties in policy discussions. It’s a tendency to relate to the “spirit” of agreements rather than the actual texts.

In this case, we have the Egyptian narrative that the force limits – in particular in the zone closest to the border with Israel – make it impossible for them to maintain order.

The truth is that, as Mohamed Bassiouny, Egypt’s former ambassador to Israel from 1986 to 2000 told Al-Masry Al-Youm almost a year ago (25/08/2011) “the treaty allows Egypt to put any number of police personnel in this section.”

And the quality and training of those cops is at the discretion of Egypt.

Taken to an extreme: if Egypt wanted to, it could take its most elite commando units and do the paperwork to make them police and deploy them in the border area. A force with both the skill and discipline to be able to do the job without requiring equipment restricted by the treaty. And it could do this without even consulting with Israel.

Again: the treaty, as it stands, provides Egypt the tools to enforce order while still honoring the force restrictions.

And it would be best that Israel makes this point clear both to Egypt and to the relevant elements of the international community.

We simply cannot afford to allow ourselves to be sucked into a situation that these vital force restrictions are eroded.

Originally published at http://www.imra.org.il/story.php3?id=57812

About the Author: Dr. Lerner is the Director of IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis).

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