Despite the deteriorating security situation along the Egyptian-Israeli border, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has rejected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s request to reconsider the terms of the 1979 Camp David Accords. Morsi wants a substantial increase in the number of Egyptian tanks and armored divisions to patrol what has seemingly become the lawless Sinai Peninsula.
“It is important for the Egyptians to get a handle on their security troubles, but there isn’t a chance that Israel will change the [Camp David] military protocols. The Egyptians should not delude themselves by repeatedly insisting on this request,” Lieberman told Kol Yisrael Radio.
News outlets in Israel and the U.S. have reported that Morsi intends to press White House officials to renegotiate aspects of the Camp David Accords during this week’s UN General Assembly meetings in New York. Morsi also reportedly sought a face-to-face meeting with President Obama during his U.S. trip, but was rebuffed after Obama allegedly upbraided Morsi less than two weeks ago in a tense phone conversation. The exchange took place following the violent attacks by protestors on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
The Camp David Accords stipulate that, “no more than one division [mechanized or infantry] of Egyptian armed forces will be stationed within an area lying approximately 30 kilometers east of the Gulf of Suez and the Suez Canal.” After terrorists murdered 15 Egyptian border policemen in August during an intended attack on Israeli forces and civilians, the Egyptian High Command ordered several armored and infantry divisions into Sinai to hunt down the terrorist cells operating in Sinai.
While Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave tacit approval to the Egyptian move, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz has informed Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the Egyptians seem to be in no rush to weed out the terrorist cells and instead are continuing to upgrade their forces in the region – a clear violation of the Camp David Accords.
A senior member of the Egyptian parliament warned the IDF against pursuing terrorist cells within Egyptian territory in the event of another cross-border incident. But General Tal Russo, commander of the IDF Southern Command, told the Israeli media that the army will bolster its forces along the border and respond to any terrorist incursion. The IDF recently added armed reconnaissance UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) – which can fire into Egyptian territory from inside Israel – as well as mechanized border patrols and at least one elite infantry division to the region.
Several Arab and European newspapers have reported that several jihadist cells operating in Sinai are comprised of Hamas soldiers who were trained in Gaza by operatives of the al-Quds Brigades. The force is Iran’s so-called foreign legion, as it is greatly influenced by the Revolutionary Guards.
Israeli political commentators have expressed the view that while Morsi is determined to show his Muslim Brotherhood allies that he is willing to challenge strategic aspects of the Camp David Accords, he must also confront radical Islamic terror organizations in Sinai (one columnist wrote that Sinai has turned into “a latter- day Wild West).”
The Sinai terror attacks have greatly impaired Egypt’s tourist industry in el-Arish and Sharm el-Sheikh, major sources of revenue for the country’s economy. The Sinai’s increasingly dangerous atmosphere has prompted Israel’s security services to recommend the closing of the Eilat-Taba border crossing to Israelis and foreigners wishing to enter the Sinai coastline. While the crossing remains open for now, Israeli border guards are discouraging their countrymen from entering the region.Steve K. Walz