Israel demands Egypt withdraw missiles, tanks from Sinai

Special to

TEL AVIV — Israel has urged the United States to halt Egypt’s
re-militarization of the Sinai Peninsula.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sent a message to Cairo
through the United States for an immediate withdrawal of Egyptian Army
missiles and main battle tanks from Sinai. The message, citing violations to
the 1979 peace treaty, also demanded that Egypt seek Israeli approval for
military deployment in central and eastern Sinai.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. /Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

“We have to insist on every detail [of the peace treaty],” Israeli
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said. “Otherwise, this will be a slippery slope regarding the preservation of the peace treaty.”

Officials said Lieberman ordered Israeli diplomats to make the Egyptian military deployment in Sinai a priority issue. They said the Israeli demand for Egyptian withdrawal was sent through the United States, which provides Cairo with $1.3 billion in annual military aid, after previous messages were ignored by the Arab state.

Officials said Egypt has deployed about 50 U.S.-origin and other MBTs in northern Sinai during Operation Eagle in August. They said the Egyptian Army also introduced surface-to-air missiles in operations near the Israeli border.

“Israel is concerned that the Egyptians will take advantage of the
current situation to increase their armored forces in Sinai for an unlimited
period, and thereby bring about a serious change in the terms of the peace
treaty,” the Israeli daily Maariv said.

On Aug. 13, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi replaced the senior
military command, including Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi. Officials said
that neither the Israeli government nor the military was close to Morsi’s
new defense minister and
chief of staff.

Officials said Israel was particularly concerned over the deployment of
Egyptian MBTs in Sinai. They said neither the tanks nor anti-aircraft
missiles were required in an operation against insurgents with little more
than rocket-propelled grenades.

“Israel is disturbed by the Egyptian MBTs in North Sinai, and this is a
flagrant violation of the peace agreement,” a senior Israeli source was
quoted as saying.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department expressed support for Egypt’s
CI operation in Sinai. But the department also urged Egypt to coordinate
with Israel.

“We have encouraged that lines of communication stay open in keeping
with peace treaty obligations and that they make full use of the mechanisms
that are available for transparency, for confidence-building,” State
Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Aug. 21.

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