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A New Desert Storm Looms

Binyamin Rose

The Camp David Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt may still officially be in force, but the peace treaty that Israel has banked on as the linchpin of its security is starting to look a shaky as a reed in the Red Sea following multiple terrorist attacks launched against Israel from Egyptian soil and Egypt’s recent military movements in the Sinai.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Military operations are often assigned code names meant to disguise or even sanitize their true intentions. The operation in which close to a million allied troops were called up to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi control was dubbed “Desert Storm.” The campaign to develop the atomic bombs that reduced two Japanese cities to rubble was benignly called the “Manhattan Project.”

Egypt’s recently launched “Operation Eagle” may or may not portend the same global overtones or ramifications. Only time will tell whether the operation’s deployment of an estimated 2,500 troops and 250 armored vehicles, including tanks, to el-Arish, Sheikh Zuwayd, and Rafah deep into the Sinai Peninsula will be a short-term maneuver to defend its security and natural gas exporting interests, or the beginning of the end for the Camp David Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt.

The Sinai has been everyone’s land and a no-man’s land. Egypt controlled it until 1967 when Israel captured it from them in the 1967 Six Day War. Israel hung onto it after an initial scare in the early days of the 1973 Yom Kippur War and relinquished it, and oil fields worth billions of dollars, in return for a peace treaty with Egypt in 1978. It lay fallow for decades until recent years, when it has been infiltrated by, and essentially taken over by terrorists, using it as a land bridge to connect the dots between the various and sundry forces of Islamic jihad proliferating throughout the Middle East.

The foreign media only accorded Operation Eagle brief mention, but they did not escape the watchful eye of Steven Cook, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York: “Wait, the Egyptians did what? They sent thousands of troops into the Sinai? That’s not supposed to happen, right?”

“This is a huge story,” wrote Cook in a research brief for the CFR issued last week. “Besides a brief article in the Washington Post, a report on CNN.com and an article in Time, the media has largely ignored the deployment. Sadly, deep fried butter on a stick at the Iowa State Fair has received way more coverage over this weekend than a military move that has the potential to alter longstanding agreements between Egypt and Israel.”

Under the terms of Camp David, the Egyptian military is limited to incursions within an area about thirty miles east of the Suez Canal.

El-Arish is more than 90 miles from the Suez Canal. Sheikh Zuwayd and Rafah are within ten miles of the border with Israel and the Gaza Strip. Egypt launched Operation Eagle following a July 30 attack on an el-Arish police station and yet another attempted assault on the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Company — the consortium that buys gas from Egypt and sells it to Israel. The terrorists who attacked the Egyptian installations distributed leaflets calling for the implementation of Islamic law in northern Sinai.

The same terrorist groups responsible for the attacks on Egypt are the likely culprits in last week’s attacks that took place on Israeli soil, near Eilat, more than 100 miles away from el-Arish. This time, Egyptian troops failed to launch any operation even though they are responsible for border security, and may have even aided and abetted the attacks.

The terrorists fired the first shots around high noon at an Egged bus, barely missing the driver, but wounding more than ten people. Less than a half-hour later, tragedy struck when a hail of bullets fired at a private vehicle resulted in the deaths of two sisters and their husbands heading to Eilat for vacation. All this happened on a stretch of highway, about fifteen miles from Eilat, across the border from an Egyptian army outpost.

“Nobody should forget the reason for what happened is that the Egyptians failed to fulfill their responsibilities and Israel was attacked from Egyptian territory,” said Dr. Boaz Ganor, founder and executive director of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya. Dr. Ganor says that Egyptian soldiers are either lending direct support to infiltrators or turning a blind eye to what is transpiring, but Israel’s task was compounded by the fact that some of the terrorists were disguised. “This was intended so that if Israel would answer fire with fire, they would not be able to distinguish between the Egyptian soldiers and the terrorists that were disguised as Egyptian soldiers,” added Dr. Ganor.

 

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