Will the Egyptian military be permitted to remilitarize the Sinai? Since Palestinian and Egyptian terrorists crossed into Israel from Sinai on August 18 and murdered eight Israelis this has been a central issue under discussion at senior echelons of the government and the IDF.
Under the terms of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, Egypt is prohibited from deploying military forces in the Sinai. Israel must approve any Egyptian military mobilization in the area. Today, Egypt is asking to permanently deploy its forces in the Sinai. Such a move requires an amendment to the treaty.
Supported by the Obama administration, the Egyptians say they need to deploy forces in the Sinai in order to rein in and defeat the jihadist forces now running rampant throughout the peninsula. Aside from attacking Israel, these jihadists have openly challenged Egyptian governmental control over the territory.
So far the Israeli government has given conflicting responses to the Egyptian request. Defense Minister Ehud Barak told The Economist last week that he supports the deployment of Egyptian forces. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Sunday that he would consider such deployment but that Israel should not rush into amending the peace treaty with Egypt.
Saturday Barak tempered his earlier statement, claiming that no decision had been made about Egyptian deployment in the Sinai.
The government's confused statements about Egyptian troop deployments indicate that at a minimum, the government is unsure of the best course of action. This uncertainty owes in large part to confusion about Egypt's intentions.
Egypt's military leaders do have an interest in preventing jihadist attacks on Egyptian installations and other interests in the Sinai. But does that interest translate into an interest in defending Israeli installations and interests? If the interests overlap, then deploying Egyptian forces may be a reasonable option. If Egypt's military leaders view these interests as mutually exclusive, then Israel has no interest in such a deployment.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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