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Israel approves more Egyptian troops in Sinai

July 16, 2013|By Batsheva Sobelman
  • An Egyptian military tank is deployed in the northern Sinai town of Arish.
An Egyptian military tank is deployed in the northern Sinai town of Arish. (STR / AFP/Getty Images )

JERUSALEM -- Egypt is sending more troops into Sinai to quell militant activity in the demilitarized area, according to Israeli officials who have veto power over such troop movements under the peace treaty between the two countries.

According to Israeli reports, the additional forces include two infantry battalions to be deployed near the towns of Arish and Raffah in the peninsula's northern tip.

The move followed a recent attack in Sinai, where militants fired rocket-propelled grenades at a bus carrying workers, killing three people.

The latest increase in military force is part of an ongoing Egyptian operation against militants and rogue circles in Sinai, a concern shared by Israel and Egypt.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon confirmed that Egypt had requested authorization to deploy troops in the area. Israel is willing to let Egypt fight challenges from radical Islamists in Sinai so long as they "direct these forces at fighting terror ... and do not violate the peace agreement," Yaalon said Tuesday. 

Signed in 1979, the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty came with security annexes designating Sinai as a demilitarized zone, prohibiting military forces and largely restricting Egyptian security presence to lightly armed police forces.

Despite the clear stipulations of the peace treaty, Israel has periodically approved requests for Egyptian military troops in Sinai, starting in early 2011 when it first agreed to Egyptian army boots on the ground.

On a number of occasions since, Egypt reportedly has been allowed to send in armored and engineering corps, special forces and helicopter gunships. 

As turmoil in Egypt challenges the peace treaty and relations, the growing military presence in Sinai reveals pragmatism aimed at keeping the peace treaty intact while making allowances for a common interest.

Sinai is full of terrorists, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday. "Jihadists, Al Qaeda, Hamas. You name it. They're all over the place," he said. 

Netanyahu stressed that formal contacts with the Egyptian government continue, as they have in the past two years. Sources on the ground report security cooperation is good.

In the past, reports suggested Egypt had overstepped approved military presence in Sinai, drawing Israeli rebuke. For now, concern appears focused on curbing security threats in Sinai more than an erosion of Sinai's demilitarization. 

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