Israel, Egypt Object to American Proposal to Withdraw Troops from Sinai

Israel and Egypt have objected to an American proposal to reduce its presence in a multinational peacekeeping force in the Sinai Desert, Haaretz reported Wednesday.

The approximately 700 American troops make up about half of the force, which was set up as part of the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, largely to make sure no heavy weapons enter the Sinai without mutual agreement. Israel has approved of Egypt moving troops, tanks, and planes into the Sinai in order to fight ISIS. The United States is concerned about the possibility of American troops being targeted by ISIS’ Sinai branch, and so seeks to reduce their number by one-third.

Though ISIS has been targeting Egyptian security forces, it has generally not attacked the multinational force. Israeli officials believe that the multinational force has largely been left alone because they provide business to the local Bedouin tribes, Haaretz reported. But the U.S. is concerned that as fighting between ISIS and Egyptian forces continues, American soldiers could be injured in the crossfire or possibly taken captive.

While Egypt objects to a reduction of American forces, it may agree to having the troops relocated to calmer areas in the center and south of the Sinai as long as monitoring stations are established in the north, where ISIS is more active.

Haaretz‘s Amos Harel wrote that Israel and Egypt’s shared perspective on the American plan reflects the growing cooperation between the two nations, though “Israel tends to minimize its public discussions” of its security cooperation with Egypt. IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan said last month that the cooperation between the two countries, related to their shared concerns about both ISIS and Hamas, is “unprecedented.”

As part of the transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia last month, the Egyptian government made assurances to Israel that Israel’s maritime rights would be protected. Saudi Arabia reportedly made similar assurances through indirect channels.

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