Netanyahu lets Egypt build up its Sinai army to 4,000 troops
Without serious aforethought, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have waved through another 3,000 Egyptian troops into North Sinai, topping their number up to 4,000 and virtually scrapping the key demilitarization clause of the 1979 peace treaty. debkafile's military sources report that the men belong to the Egyptian army's 18th mechanized infantry division.
Earlier this month, Israeli permitted the first 1,000 Egyptian troops to enter Sinai to guard Sharm el-Sheik and the hotel and resort strips of eastern Sinai. Senior Israeli military officers report that Israel posed no conditions for its permission then or now – not even demanding a timeline for their withdrawal so that Sinai might revert to the military-free buffer status which buttressed the peace for 32 years.
Neither were limits placed on the Egyptian troops' operations and movements.
There is little doubt in the IDF's high command that the Egyptian troops are in Sinai to stay, whereas Israel's forces on the their side of the border are seriously undermanned for dealing with an unforeseen cross-border flare-up.
Some of the Egyptian units have taken up positions along the main coastal highway from El Arish in northern Sinai to Qantara on the eastern bank of the Suez Canal, debkafile's intelligence sources report. Other units have taken control of the Philadelphi corridor between the Gaza Strip and Sinai, as well as the Rafah, El Arish and Sheikh Suweid police stations which Hamas and Bedouin gunmen overran and torched during the riots in Cairo. Their officers warned the Bedouin chiefs of northern Sinai that their orders were to shoot all lawbreakers.
Israel's easy and unconditional consent to an Egyptian military presence in Sinai paved the way for Cairo to ignore Israel's concerns about permitting an Iranian war flotilla pass through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean and up to Syrian military ports, even when an Israeli request to deny Tehran permission was routed through and supported by Washington. The military rulers brushed Israel's request aside and did not bother to reply.
By Friday, Feb. 18, Jerusalem had discovered that Cairo's explanation for its North Sinai deployment was the need to guard from further attacks the pipeline supplying Israel and Jordan with gas, which was blown up by Hamas on Feb. 5, was nothing but a pretext. For now, Egypt is not repairing the damage or offering to resume supplies. The Netanyahu government missed its chance to make consent for the troop deployment contingent on the resupply of gas.