Thursday, August 9, 2012

Israel Approves Of Egyptian Operations In Sinai

In the wake of a spate of attacks in the Egyptian Sinai, including one today on a police station, the Egyptian government has responded in a rapid and strong manner.  President Morsi asked Field Marshall Tantawi, head of Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to replace the commander of the military police.  Morsi himself fired the commander of his presidential guards and ordered new chiefs for police in Cairo, as well as the police's central security.  He also fired the governor of North Sinai.

In addition, Egypt has responded with military activity in the Sinai.  Besides being the first airborne attacks on Sinai-based insurgents in decades, the military operations are outside of activity allowed by the 1979 Camp David Accords with Israel.  The Framework Agreement of the peace treaty states, "No more than one division (mechanized or infantry) of Egyptian armed forces will be stationed within an area lying approximately 50 km (30 miles) east of the Gulf of Suez and the Suez Canal.  In other words, the terms of the agreement limit Egyptian military action in areas from which insurgent activity is now being launched.  The ongoing Egyptian military operations in these areas, technically, are a violation of these agreements.

However, throughout this activity, Israel has been supportive of these Egyptian activities.  On Tuesday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced Israel would allow the deployment of an extra 3,500 Egyptian troops to the Sinai.  Today, Israel also approved the use of helicopter gunships as part of a "temporary easing of terms" of the Camp David Accords.  Both actions, had they been unapproved, would have constituted major violations of the Egypt-Israel peace agreement.

The takeaway from these actions is that Israel and Egypt's mutual interest in pacifying the Sinai is evident.  By approving Egyptian military operations in the Sinai, Israel is signaling in a very clear understanding of the need for cooperation.  By obtaining consent from Israel, Egypt is now signaling an intent to preserve the peace which has existed between itself and Israel for 33 years.  For Egypt, the issue comes down to government control and preventing flare-ups with Israel.  For Israel, the issue is border security and preventing the decay of Israel-Egypt relationship.  For both countries, a Sinai which is not a safe haven for insurgents is a mutual interest.  In addition, the alarmism of those claiming Morsi's victory in the Egyptian elections was a nightmare scenario for Israel is refuted directly by this careful and rational coordination between the two states to achieve their mutual interests.