5:55am

Thu August 9, 2012
Middle East

Israel Monitors Egypts Call To Modify Treaty

Originally published on Sun August 12, 2012 8:44 am

Israel is welcoming Egypt's military efforts to stamp out Islamist militants in the Sinai following the recent border attack there that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers. The Jewish state has long been concerned over the situation in the Sinai, where there's been an upsurge in violence.

But calls in Egypt to modify the peace treaty with Israel — allowing Egypt to strengthen its security in the Sinai — has also led to concern in Israel.

At the section of the border between Egypt and Israel where Sunday's attack took place, soldiers from the two countries are separated by less than a football field in length. There's no fence left; the militants blew it up.

On Wednesday, the soldiers are extremely jumpy. As soon as we arrive, we are asked to leave, even though we're on a pre-arranged, coordinated trip. We're told it's a closed military area, and that we should leave because of the events that just happened.

But Col. Miri Eisin, an Israeli reserve intelligence officer, says it's not just Sunday's incident that has left Israel wary.

"For the last year, this border has become a much more tense border than it was in the past. It used to be a border that you came along, you took your car, and you drove along for a scenic route," Eisin says. "And now you go along, you see the tension that the soldiers themselves are in. This was a very big, well-planned, even well-executed, attack."

And Israelis say they are expecting more infiltrations from the area.

Military officials in Israel publicly welcomed Egypt's Sinai offensive. But privately, they question if there is real resolve in Egypt to get the job done.

Of increasing concern are calls in Egypt to renegotiate the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. Originally signed in 1979, the military portion of the agreement came into effect in 1982. It stipulates how many troops and heavy armor the two sides can maintain in the Sinai and the border region.

Until last year, Itzhak Levanon was Israel's ambassador to Egypt.

"What is the need and the benefit in opening this?" he asks. "If the objective is to have more forces, more policemen, on the ground, Egypt [already has] it."

Levanon says that Israel has approved every request so far to move security forces and equipment into the Sinai. He says there is good coordination between the two countries on an operational level and thus no need to change the military annex of the bilateral agreement.

A current Israeli diplomatic official tells NPR that Israel is worried that if any portion of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty is renegotiated, the entire agreement could come up for discussion — and that could unravel what has been a linchpin of regional security for more than 30 years.

Michael Hanna is an Egypt specialist with the Century Foundation. He says talk in Egypt of renegotiating the agreement is motivated by domestic politics. He says the agreement is not the problem in the Sinai.

"It's unclear to me that that has been the main stumbling block, as opposed to the question of political will. And that seems to me to be the more problematic obstacle at the moment, with respect to Egypt dealing with this issue," Hanna says.

Levanon, the former ambassador, says the expectation in Israel is that Egypt will forcefully clean up the Sinai once and for all, without making any changes to the accord.

"My hope is that the Egyptian military, the Egyptian officials, the Egyptian presidency and government will continue on, because this is the mutual interest of the Israelis and the Egyptians to restore the [Sinai] peninsula as a safe base and a stable base," he says.

In the meantime, though, Israel has bolstered its defenses along that troubled border.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And now let's report on a trial by fire. It's on the border between Egypt and Israel, on the Sinai Peninsula. Militants on the Egyptian side this week attacked that border, killed Egyptian soldiers and made it into Israel before they were hit by Israeli forces. Egypt's armed forces responded to the assault with airstrikes against the militants. Israel is welcoming that, though Israelis are still concerned about the intentions of Egypt's new government. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from just over the Israeli side of the border.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: On one side are the Egyptian soldiers, dressed in black. On the other are Israeli security forces. The two are separated by less than a football field in length. Here on this section of the border between Egypt and Israel there's no fence left after militants blew it up on Sunday night.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I'm standing at the border between Egypt and Israel, where the attack took place only a few days ago. And what we are seeing at the moment are soldiers that are extremely jumpy. Even though this was a coordinated trip, the soldiers are asking us to leave because it's still extremely tense here.

COLONEL MIRI EISIN: It's a closed military area and he wants us to go on out because of the events that happened here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Israeli Reserve Intelligence officer Colonel Miri Eisin says though that it's not just Sunday's incident that has left Israel wary.

EISIN: For the last year this border has become a much more tense border than it was in the past. It used to a border that you came along and you took your car, and you drove along for a scenic route. And now, you go along, you see the tension that the soldiers themselves are in. This was a very big, well-planned, even well-executed attack.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Israelis say they're expecting even more infiltrations from the area.

Military officials here publicly welcomed Egypt's Sinai offensive. But privately they question if there is real resolve in Egypt to get the job done. Of increasing concern are calls in Egypt to renegotiate the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty. Originally signed in 1979, the military portion of the agreement came into effect in 1982. It stipulates how many troops and heavy armor the two sides can maintain in the Sinai and the border region.

ITZHAK LEVANON: My question is: What is the need and the benefit in opening this. If the objective is to have more forces, more policemen on the ground, (unintelligible) they have it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Itzhak Levanon was Israel's ambassador to Egypt up until last year. He says that Israel has approved every request so far to move security forces and equipment into the Sinai. He says there is good coordination between the two countries on an operational level, and so no need to change the military annex part of the agreement.

A current Israeli diplomatic official tells NPR that Israel is worried that if any portion of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty is renegotiated the entire thing could come up for discussion. And that could unravel what has been a lynchpin of regional security for over 30 years.

Michael Hanna is an Egypt specialist with the Century Foundation. He says talk in Egypt of renegotiating the agreement is motivated by domestic politics. He says the agreement is not the problem in the Sinai.

MICHAEL HANNA: It's unclear to me that that has been the main stumbling block, as opposed to the question of political will. And that seems to me to be the more problematic obstacle at the moment, with respect to Egypt dealing with this issue.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ambassador Levanon says the expectation in Israel is that Egypt will forcefully clean up the Sinai once and for all, without making any changes to the accord.

LEVANON: My hope is that the Egyptian military, the Egyptian officials, and the Egyptian presidency and government will continue on. Because this is the mutual interest of the Israeli and the Egyptian, to restore the peninsula as a safe base and a stable base.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In the meantime, though, Israel has bolstered its defenses along that troubled border.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro NPR NEWS

INSKEEP: We're also tracking a milestone in Libya. The National Transitional Council gave up power last night. That's the group of former Libyan rebels who've been running the country since Mohammar Gadhafi was driven out of the capital and later killed. In a ceremony, the Council transferred control to Libya's first elected assembly. This is the first peaceful transfer of power in the history of the country. Instead of hostile gunfire, fireworks lit the sky. The head of the Transitional Council went out with a conciliatory speech. Though Libyans recently fought a civil war, he declared, we forgive those who harmed us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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