The US withdrew its forces from the Sinai Peninsula last weekend in retaliation for Egypt’s transfer of sovereignty over Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia, according to debkafile’s military and intelligence sources. They also report that the move came after Washington protested to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi over its exclusion from the consultations and military coordination between Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel regarding the islands.
The US message was clear. Since Riyadh, Cairo and Jerusalem do not report their military steps in the Sinai Peninsula, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea to Washington, the US sees no need to inform them of its military steps in the Sinai.
That message was conveyed by the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph F. Dunford, to the Egyptian president during their meeting on Saturday, April 23 in Cairo.
On Tuesday, debkafile’s military sources reported that several days earlier the US military secretly withdrew about 100 of its officers and enlisted men from the multinational peacekeeping force in the northern part of the Sinai. As far as Riyadh, Cairo and Jerusalem are concerned, there is no doubt that it was a retaliatory measure.
US sources refused to specify the current location of the troops. The American force was withdrawn from El Gorah base, located next to the town of Sheikh Zuweid. Gen. Dunford told al-Sisi that the Obama administration is no longer willing to maintain forces in the northern Sinai following the recent shelling of the base by the ISIS affiliate in the restive area. The incident marked the terrorist organization’s first attack on US troops in the Sinai, but its second on an American force in the Middle East.
On March 19, ISIS shelled Fire Base Bell, a US marine base in Makhmur, northern Iraq, about 77 kilometers southeast of the terrorist organization’s de facto capital of Mosul. One marine was killed.
It was not by chance that shortly before he visited Cairo, Gen. Dunford made a visit lasting no more than 90 minutes to the US forward base to award purple hearts to four marines for their bravery during the ISIS shelling.
But while Washington is determined to maintain Fire Base Bell, where it has deployed HIMARS rocket launchers that can fire GPS-guided rockets known as GMLRS capable of reaching Mosul, and awards medals to soldiers serving at the base, it is not ready to treat its soldiers in the Sinai in the same manner because they have the status of multinational observers. Rather than giving out medals, it withdrew those soldiers immediately after the first ISIS attack.
At the same time, US sources launched an unprecedented personal attack on Egypt’s president over his decision to hand over the two islands to Riyadh. Articles attacking El-Sisi’s policy started to appear in the American media, with one saying “The decision to transfer the islands to Saudi Arabia may be the final nail in Sissi’s coffin.” It also described Egypt as being on the verge of a revolution against al-Sisi.
Two other Middle Eastern figures who were involved in Cairo’s decision regarding the islands were Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman and Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who said recently that Cairo consulted Jerusalem regarding the transfer of the islands. However, his comment was not mentioned in US media reports, as if the development was not related to Saudi Arabia or Israel.
debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report that one of the main reasons for Washington’s rage was the fact that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel decided to establish and coordinate by themselves a regional defense mechanism covering the Suez Canal, the gulfs of Suez and Aqaba, and the Red Sea.
The Obama administration prefers to ignore the fact that the US withdrawal of its naval and air forces from those areas over the last three years has enabled the Iranian fleet to start operating in those waters.