Israel and Egypt Oppose U.S. exit from Sinai
On April 12, the US military announced it is considering the possibility of replacing some of its 700 troops deployed in the Sinai Peninsula with remote surveillance equipment, and that it has officially informed Jerusalem and Cairo of its plans.
Speaking anonymously, American officials said installation of the equipment would allow hundreds of US troops who are part of a multinational peacekeeping force-MFO to be withdrawn at a later date.
The announcement was issued immediately after Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud left Cairo at the end of his five-day visit to Egypt in which the two countries laid the foundations for the establishment for a new Sunni bloc of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. (Please refer to the previous articles in this issue regarding the bloc)
Both Riyadh and Cairo viewed the timing of the announcement as an intentional means by the administration of US President Barack Obama to express reservations regarding the two countries’ plans. From their perspective, the US was telling them that if they establish a political and military alliance, they will not only have to defend themselves against any ISIS attacks, but will have to do it without Washington’s help.
Officials in Cairo do not believe the Obama administration will install an automated monitoring system in the Sinai, mainly because it has promised several times since 2014 to send Egypt such surveillance equipment to help fight ISIS, but has not kept its word and the equipment never arrived.
DEBKA Weekly’s counterterrorism sources report that amid this situation Egypt asked Israel for assistance in the war against ISIS, and Israel has provided it in four ways:
1. IDF special forces units, operating in the framework of the military intelligence branch, entered Sinai and installed a network of sensors to monitor the movements of ISIS.
2. Israeli military satellites and surveillance planes are collecting intelligence on ISIS movements in the Sinai and transferring it to Egypt.
3. According to reports that have never been confirmed by any Egyptian or Israeli source, Israeli air force drones occasionally attack ISIS bases or convoys in the Sinai.
4. Israel has permitted Egypt to deploy large military forces in the Sinai, including tanks and planes, which is forbidden under the 1979 peace treaty between the two countries.
This military cooperation is one of the two real reasons why the Obama administration decided to withdraw American forces from the peninsula. There is no point in maintaining the Multinational Force and Observers because its main role is to supervise implementation of the military agreements between Israel and Egypt, and the two countries agreed on the large-scale Egyptian deployment that is banned under the peace treaty. In other words, Egypt and Israel have made the MFO unnecessary.
The second reason is that the US does not believe that Egypt, even with Israel’s help, is capable of defeating ISIS, and fears that the terrorist organization has recently been increasing its efforts to penetrate into the southern part of the Sinai towards Sharm El-Sheikh. At this stage, the Obama administration is fighting ISIS on two main fronts, Iraq and Syria, and is not interested in opening a third one.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence and counterterrorism sources point out that all of the sides directly involved in the war against ISIS in the Sinai are trying to pass the responsibility for the war onto each other.
In any case, Egypt and Israel already agreed this week to oppose the withdrawal of American troops from the MFO because it would mean the collapse of the force and cessation of its operations. However, it remains to be seen whether Washington will maintain the MFO in its current form. Our sources in Washington report that Obama is determined to carry out the process for withdrawing the troops.