The Sinai Situation

By EWI EXCLUSIVE | by J. Millard Burr
Friday, September 9th, 2011 @ 4:42AM

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(September 7, 2011: This is the second report on the Sinai prepared by J. Millard Burr*)

Israel Prim Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reported to have made it clear to attendees at a Likud party forum held on 28 August that despite recent incidents in the Sinai Peninsula Israel should not seek to amend its 1979 peace treaty with Egypt.  Netanyahu remarked that the accord, which is considered to be of essential strategic importance to Israel, has served to keep the peace in the Sinai Peninsula for more than thirty years.

In the wake of Egypt’s “Arab Spring”, a number of recent attacks have threatened the peace and frayed nerves in military circles in both Egypt and Israel. The most recent occurred on August 18 when a group of Gaza based terror group members of the Popular Resistance Committees, attacking from Egyptian Sinai engaged in a string of terror strikes on Israeli buses and civilian vehicles 20 kilometers north of the resort city of Eilat, Israel.  The attackers killed eight Israelis and wounded more than two dozens, including three Egyptian security troops.

Aside from Netanyahu’s comments, Israeli Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Barak, added that by dint of the 1979 Camp David Agreement the Sinai Peninsula would remain a demilitarized zone.  However, he added a comment on the 1979 Treaty that heretofore has never been admitted publicly:  In the case of a national “threat”, if both parties agree, then military forces may be increased in the Treaty’s restricted zones.  Barak thus downplayed reports that Egypt had acted unilaterally and increased illegally its military presence in the Sinai Peninsula.  He further clarified that Israel had agreed to permit Egypt to move military personnel into the Sinai in numbers greater than that called for in the 1979 treaty; it did so with the understanding that the troops were needed to carry out an anti-terror campaign in the region near the Rafa entrance to Gaza, and against the militant cells supported by Al Qaeda. A high-ranking Egyptian security officialconfirmed this statement.

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On 30 August AP stringer Tia Goldenburg reported that Israel had sent two warships to the Egyptian border in the Red Sea.  Apparently, neither the author nor editors at Fox and Forbes had an Atlas handy, or had spent time in the Middle East because there is, of course, no Israel border with Egypt in the Red Sea.  The author obviously was referring to the Gulf of Aqaba (Eilat).

Though their task was not explained, it was obvious the vessels would attempt to block any terrorist attack on Eilat from the southeastern Sinai Peninsula.  Why the naval deployment was found necessary was not explained.  In fact, Israel has been very reluctant to reveal any aspect of its naval operations at Eilat, the Israeli seaport in the Gulf of Aqaba.  Still, the IDF did announce that the movement of ships was part of a larger reinforcement meant to block another terrorist attack.  It followed reports that the IDF had been placed on alert following the 18 August cross-border raid.  Roads were closed and the “pourous” border was patrolled as it had not been in decades.

Tangentially, the journalist noted that just as Israel was sending two more warships to the “Egyptian border,” Iran TV reported that the Navy’s “15th fleet” was being sent to “the Red Sea.”  This added to the confusion, because it can only be devoutly hoped that whoever transcribed the report into English was not in error.  It is bad enough to have Iranian vessels patrolling the Red Sea — let alone the Gulf of Aqaba. Fortunately, Iran Navy Commander Rear Admiral Sayarri clarified that the fleet’s role was to “thwart pirate attacks” in the Red Sea.

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Just how the United States intends to respond to this growing tension on the Sinai Peninsula and in the Gulf of Aqaba is still unclear.  Since the signing of the 1979 Peace Treaty the United States has been an essential element of an Israel-Egypt-United States ménage a-trois, and it has financed the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) that patrols the Sinai.  The Pentagon supports the MFO through the office of the USMOG-W, an “Army component” approved by the Secretary of Defense in December 2004.  USMOG-W provides administrative support for all U.S. military personnel serving in “United Nations Missions” and the MFO.   The Commander of the USMOG-W is an Army Colonel whose task is to coordinate activities with the designated representative of the offices of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretaries of the various military Departments.  However, USMOG-W, is concerned with mundane logistics and personnel issues, and just what Pentagon office and who is responsible for U.S. military policy in the Sinai is unknown.

According to one senior military officer, since the signing of the 1979 peace treaty the Department of State has played the major policy role in the Sinai, providing its personnel to the MFO and to its administration. However, one searches in vain for a recent statement that might give an observer a guideline to United States policy.  On 18 August US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton responded to the attacks in the Sinai by expressing her concern regarding security in the Sinai Peninsula.  She urged an amorphous Egyptian government “to find a lasting resolution” to the problem.  It was pure tapioca.

Just what role the State Department has recently played, is playing now, and will play in an historic the ménage a-trois that now seems poised to rupture is entirely unclear.  Given our historic interest in the region, it should not be.

J. Millard Burr, a Fellow at the Economic Warfare Institute, authored with Robert Collins, Alms for Jihad,, Revolutionary Sudan and many other publications, and is a former State Department official.


Categories: Middle East Conflicts, Muslim Brotherhood, U.S. Policy

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