Egypt has deployed forces to the Sinai Peninsula several times since the start of this year without prior coordination with Israel. The violation of the two countries’ peace treaty was confirmed to The Tower by Israeli security officials. In other cases, according to Israeli security sources, Cairo has “coordinated” troop entry, but only retroactively.
The U.S.-mediated 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty places strict limits on Egyptian deployments inside the strategic peninsula, which separates bulk of Egypt from Israel. Egyptian military activity in the region is to be coordinated with Israel. This year, however, Egypt has deployed infantry to Sharm el-Sheikh in the southern Sinai and tanks and infantry in the western part of the peninsula to secure the Suez Canal without coordination.
Most Egyptian requests for Sinai troop deployments receive Israeli approval. On the eve of President Hosni Mubarak’s February 2011 resignation, Jerusalem allowed Egyptian forces to conduct Air Force reconnaissance and intelligence flights over the area, to activate its Coast Guard in the southeast Mediterranean, and to deploy troops at the Egypt-Gaza border.
But following the August terror attack that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers near the Gaza border, the Egyptian army deployed infantry and tanks to Sinai without prior coordination. The deployment was leaked and published, prompting an exchange of messages between Israel, Egypt, and the United States. Egypt subsequently resumed security coordination with Israel.
These revelations come despite close security coordination between Israel and Egypt.
Israel has thus far responded to the violations with restraint. As one Israeli official told The Tower, the moves are likely more reflections of Egyptian instability than intentional malice toward Israel. The troop numbers are not large, the official added. Egypt is believed to have 3,000 soldiers deployed opposite Israel and Gaza, with more activated further west in the Sinai.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office said in a statement, “Egyptian military activity is coordinated with Israeli security authorities and approved by the Israeli political echelon in order to counter security challenges in Sinai that pose threats to both countries.”
Two Grad rockets were fired yesterday at Eilat, causing damages but no injuries. A jihadi group calling itself the “Mujahideen Shura Council of Jerusalem” claimed responsibility and released a video showing its operatives carrying out the strike.
Oren Kessler contributed to this report.
[Photo: Gigi Ibrahim / Flickr]