Israel’s Sinai Dilemmas (FrontPageMagazine.com) by P. David Hornik 08/08/12)
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On Sunday night, terrorists at the Egyptian-Israeli border stormed a
checkpoint and massacred 16 Egyptian border guards there. They then
drove two vehicles toward Israel with the aim of perpetrating a mass-
casualty attack against Israeli civilians—thwarted by the combined
efforts of the Israeli ground forces and air force.
Yet, according to official statements of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood
and of Hamas, the rulers of Gaza, the attack was carried out by—
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor denounced such claims
as “nonsense” and added: “Even the person who says this when he looks
at himself in the mirror does not believe the nonsense he is
There’s evidence that Palmor is right. Immediately after the attack,
Hamas sealed off tunnels from Gaza into Sinai—since it’s suspected
that small, non-Hamas, Gaza-based terror groups took part in the
attack. Hamas, of course, does not really think Israeli operatives
somehow got into Gaza, reached Sinai through the tunnels, and
massacred Egyptian policemen before trying to ram one or two suicide
vehicles full-speed into Israeli border villages.
And as for Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president, on
Tuesday he visited the site of the attack and said that “those who
committed this criminal act of terror are enemies of the Egyptian
nation and they will pay dearly…. There is no room for appeasing this
treason, this aggression and criminality”—without making any mention
Early Wednesday morning Egyptian attack helicopters reportedly fired
missiles at suspected Islamic terrorists who had attacked three more
checkpoints in northern Sinai, 30 miles from the Gaza-Israel border.
The missile fire, apparently a spontaneous response to the attacks,
seems to have killed at least 20.
Boaz Bismuth, an astute Israeli commentator, asks whether Morsi’s new
Islamist government will realize that “Israel and Egypt have a mutual
interest in maintaining a peaceful border and protecting it from
Islamist terrorist organizations that don’t hesitate to kill their
Morsi, says Bismuth,
needs to understand that a quiet border means minimizing hostile
incidents. Minimizing incidents means more tourism, as opposed to the
current situation of more pyramids than tourists. Tourists help bring
back foreign investors, who in turn help rehabilitate the economy.
All of this is crucial to Egypt, which has 85 million mouths to feed.
Yet the question, as Bismuth goes on to acknowledge, is more
complicated than that. At present—with Israel’s permission—Egypt has
about seven army battalions in Sinai, more than allowed by the 1979
Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty. So far this force has done next to
nothing to clamp down on Sinai terror. Egypt, meanwhile, claims it
needs still more troops in Sinai to do the job effectively.
That, notes Bismuth,
is perhaps the most worrying aspect of this entire story: Israel
expects Egypt to confront what is happening in Sinai and regain
control over the area…. No one knows though what the future will hold
and what events can unfold in a region that is turning into a powder
[Morsi] can assign the army the “dirty deed” of cooperating with
Israel, which is its job anyway. We can still trust the Egyptian
military tomorrow, but no one can promise us we’ll be able to two
days from now.
In other words, by allowing the Egyptian military—if it is so
inclined—to clean up the Sinai terror gangs, Israel could help create
an even worse threat, especially if Morsi’s Brotherhood eventually
wrests control from the Supreme Military Council.
Israeli officials are, however, reportedly skeptical that Egypt will
systematically crack down on the terror. If not, then Israel could
find itself facing a different dilemma if the attacks continue and
especially if some of them succeed: whether to keep relying on
defensive measures that may prove inadequate, or invade Sinai (like
Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008-2009 when terror from those locales
became intolerable) and risk—again—war with Egypt, which is what the
terrorists are trying to provoke in the first place.
And the final irony is that these close-to-irresolvable dilemmas
Israel now faces stem from the 1979 peace treaty, under whose terms
Israel withdrew all of its forces from Sinai in the hope that this
would enable peace rather than terror. A body known as the
Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) was created and stationed in
Sinai to make sure things went smoothly. It’s still there—though
hardly mentioned anymore and basically forgotten.
All this at a time when some are still obsessed with the idea of
Israel withdrawing from the West Bank and setting up—with security
guarantees, of course—yet another Arab state there. Take the
strategic threat Sinai now poses to relatively scantly populated
southern Israel, think of the axis of central Israel running from the
coastal plain to Jerusalem, and multiply by a few dozen. (Copyright ©
2012 FrontPageMagazine.com 08/08/12)
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