Israel and Egypt have united to protest a decision by the United States to reduce its contingent in the Sinai Peninsula multinational force by a third. It’s unclear whether opposition by the two allies will move anyone in the White House, however.
Washington officials are worrying about what they feel is the increasing likelihood that American service members could be targeted by Da’esh (ISIS) terrorists while participating in the MFO. The concerns come in the wake of recent losses elsewhere in the Middle East, and two recent incidents of Da’esh cyber attacks on American soil, including one targeting military personnel.
The role of the force is to monitor enforcement of the security agreement in the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, and to ensure no heavy weaponry enters the Sinai Peninsula in violation of the agreement. The origins of the MFO (ed. – multinational force) lie in Annex I to the 1979 Treaty of Peace between Egypt and Israel, in which the parties undertook to request the United Nations to provide a force and observers to supervise the implementation of the Treaty. When it did not prove possible to obtain Security Council approval for the stationing of a UN peacekeeping force in the Sinai, the parties negotiated a Protocol in 1981 establishing the MFO “as an alternative” to the envisioned UN force.
The directly interested parties in the multinational force — that is, Israel and Egypt — fund most of the costs of its operation. Australia and the United States provide funding for Force Protection purposes.
Since the election of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt and Israel have worked together to battle the massive presence of terrorist bases in Sinai that grew during the one-year reign of Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohammed Morsi. The multinational force has rarely been targeted by these groups, who are working to overthrow the el-Sisi government rather than waste their resources elsewhere.
But Washington has lost two American soldiers in the battle with Da’esh since March alone, including a SEAL who was shot and killed in northern Iraq near Mosul this week.
With the Democratic party facing an uphill battle to retain the White House in the upcoming presidential elections this November, President Barack Obama appears to be taking few chances on angering the American public with unpopular military losses.
At present some 700 American soldiers from special combat and logistical units serve in the northern Sinai, comprising a little less than half of the total multinational force.
The U.S. is pressuring Egypt and Israel to agree to the one-third reduction of its force, at the minimum; a move that would be seen in Egypt as a statement of no-confidence in the el-Sisi regime.
After discussions with Israel, Egypt has expressed willingness to move some of the peacekeeper forces to the center and southern sections of the region. Technical monitoring equipment would be used to replace the missing forces in the northern Sinai. It’s not clear how effective such a strategy would be, however.
Then again, it’s also not clear how effective the presence of the MFO has actually been as a deterrent against terrorist activity either. It is more likely that Israeli-Egyptian opposition to the move is aimed at the damaging political statement it makes in Egyptian society, and the not-so-subtle encouraging message it sends to radical Islamist terrorist in the Sinai Peninsula.
But then, Washington doesn’t use words like “radical Islamist terrorists” … so they don’t really exist, do they?