The US-led Multinational Force and Observers began its mission on April 25, 1982, the day Israel restored Sinai to Egyptian sovereignty under their 1979 peace treaty. That mission was – and still is – to supervise the implementation of the security provisions of that treaty and employ its best efforts to prevent any violation of its terms.
Yet, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and Washington sources, the MFO has appealed to the White House, the state department and the Pentagon to urgently consider recalling the US contingent and restoring the other units to their countries.
The largest contingency of the eleven-nation peacekeeping force is American – as is its director general, Ambassador James A. Larocco, late of the US Foreign Service.
Larocco explains: Israel and Egypt have come to an agreement for Egypt to deploy in Sinai a force that will expand in time to two brigades. Therefore, the demilitarization of Sinai mandated by their peace accord will come to an end and the MFO’s supervisory mission becomes redundant.
The US officer was referring to the military protocol the Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon hopes to sign with Egypt for the deployment of 750 Egyptian border guardsmen on the Philadelphi border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, to enable the withdrawal of Israeli troops.
This draft protocol has been challenged by 80 members of Knesset as changing the 1979 peace treaty by annulling the demilitarization of Sinai. They therefore argue it cannot be implemented without parliamentary sanction for redrafting the treaty. If overruled by the government attorney general, the lawmakers are prepared to bring their case to the vote in parliament and fight it at Israeli High Court.
The MFO director also has a warning for his principals in Washington. From the force’s long experience in observing, verifying and reporting on events in Sinai, its observers determine that the troops Egypt is preparing to introduce to the peninsula are quite incapable of halting the arms smuggling to the Gaza Strip, or the terrorist operations across the territory, especially close to the Israeli border. Even two and a half Egyptian brigades would not be up to dealing with these problems, he warns.
Our military sources add: The MFO maintains two American paratroop battalions in Sinai – one at el Gorah in the north, where before Sinai’s return to Egypt, the Israeli air force maintained its Eitam air base; the other at Sharm el Sheikh.
The Pentagon has for some time looked for a way to dismantle the force because it needs the troops for Iraq. Therefore, an affirmative response to Ambassdor Larocco’s request is likely to be quick.
When that happens, the el-Gorah base will be handed to the Egyptian air force.
Israel’s pull-out from the Gaza Strip will thus benefit Cairo militarily with both a large air base and a naval base at el Arish. But not much of substance will be left of the military constraints the peace treaty laid on Egypt.