Sinai of discord: Egypt, Israel growing impatient over border security

An Egyptian soldier stands guard at the Egyptian Rafah crossing, north of Sinai, August 22, 2011 (Reuters)
Egypt “will cut off an arm of any foreign or internal aggressor,” a top military official tells an Egyptian daily, as Cairo boosts military presence in Sinai over militant threat. Israel is rumored to be planning a strike on the disturbed peninsula.

­Reports that Israel is planning an own operation in Sinai to counter militant incursions into Israel’s territory are taken “very seriously” in Cairo, an anonymous member of Egypt's Higher Military Council told the al-Masry al-Youm newspaper.

Egypt is closely following the recent developments on the border, the unnamed official continued warning Israel against any “provocations.” He slammed Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for refusing to review the Camp Davis Accords.

Sinai has grown into a hornet’s nest since the toppling of long-term Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, with constant explosions on a pipe transporting gas to Israel. In recent months, Islamic militants have turned from diversions to massive armed attacks on Egypt’s security forces, killing at least 16 Egyptians in August. Then the Islamists crossed the border into Israel. The latest attack on Friday launched from Sinai resulted in a death of an IDF soldier.

Cairo had to send more troops to Sinai in a crackdown on militants. This included dispatching heavy weaponry and helicopters, though Camp Davis agreement permits only a limited military presence in the land.

Egyptian miltary trucks loaded with light tanks line up in el-Arish ahead of an operation to restore security in northern Sinai on August 9, 2012 (AFP Photo / STR)
Egyptian miltary trucks loaded with light tanks line up in el-Arish ahead of an operation to restore security in northern Sinai on August 9, 2012 (AFP Photo / STR)

On Sunday, Lieberman said he would not allow any modifications of the 1979 pact, which saw Israel hand back the peninsula they had been occupying since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

"There is no chance that Israel will agree to any kind of change" to the peace deal, Lieberman stated while speaking on Israeli radio.

"The Egyptians shouldn't try to delude themselves or delude others and they should not rely on this demand," he said, adding that security in Sinai had nothing to do with troop numbers, but with Egypt’s “readiness to carry out the job as needed."

The exchange between the two countries comes as an Egyptian court upholds the death sentence for 14 Islamists convicted of the murder of seven people in the Sinai Peninsula in June and July the previous year. Six men will be hanged. The eight others were tried in absentia.

­Israel allowing Egypt to move in more forces into Sinai to deal with the spike in extremism shows some good will on the behalf of the Jewish state, says Yaakov Lappin, a journalist at The Jerusalem Post. But having reinforced battalions permanently stationed in the peninsula is a completely different story.

“We are in a very unstable phase in the Middle East and we don’t know who exactly will be operating in Sinai, what effects it will have on future Israeli Egyptian forces. All of these question marks mean that the government in Jerusalem is reluctant at this stage to open up the treaty,” Lappin explained to RT.

Lappin says there is a debate in Israel over the issue with several experts proposing that the Camp Davis pact should be signed anew. The refreshed treaty could permit Egypt to have more forces in the region while recommitting the country’s new leaders to peace.