<%@LANGUAGE="VBSCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> WorldTribune.com: Mobile Israel monitoring Egyptian buildup in the Sinai
Israel monitoring Egyptian buildup in the Sinai

Monday, November 3, 2008 Free Headline Alerts

TEL AVIV Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has publicly disavowed an assessment that Egypt has been assembling a military force in the Sinai Peninsula, in violation of the 1979 peace accord.

Officials said thousands of Egyptian troops, many of them under the guise of police, have been deployed throughout the Sinai.

"Egypt is waiting for the right moment to deploy its army in the Sinai, contrary to the peace agreement," former Strategic Threats Minister Avigdor Lieberman said.

"There are enough signs and enough estimations that the Egyptians are just waiting for their window of opportunity."

Hours after the interview, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert apologized for Lieberman's remarks.

"Those words should never have been said," Olmert said in a statement. "From the moment they were uttered those words were nothing but useless and harmful. Egypt and Mubarak are [Israel's] strategic partners."

Israeli sources said the military has been closely following the Egyptian buildup in the Sinai. The sources said that so far the military has determined that the Egyptian buildup was limited to internal security rather than combat operations.

"The peace with Egypt is a strategic asset for the state of Israel," Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said. "Egypt is a responsible and important factor in the Middle East."

In late October, Israeli Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad discussed Egypt's military presence. The sources said Gilad cited an Egyptian Navy exercise in October, reported to have been the largest ever and which cited Israel as the enemy. Egypt's navy has been deemed the largest in the Arab world.

"The provocation came in the form of the massive military exercise Egypt held several days ago, that identified us as the enemy," Lieberman said in a television interview on Nov. 1. "You have the smuggling of arms into Gaza and Hamas' hands from the Sinai. If Egypt genuinely wanted to put an end to it they could."

Israeli sources said the Egyptian buildup in the Sinai began in 2005 when Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip. At the time, the government of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon approved the Egyptian deployment of 750 special troops along the demilitarized Sinai-Gaza border.

Within months, Egypt proposed the stationing of another 2,500 troops in eastern Sinai. In early 2008, amid massive Palestinian infiltration and weapons smuggling, Egypt sent several thousand troops to the eastern peninsula as part of a counter-insurgency operation. The Israeli sources said Egypt did not ask for Israeli permission despite the violation of the peace treaty.

Former Mossad director Efraim Halevy agreed that Egypt was expanding its troop presence in the Sinai. But Halevy said Egypt's intentions were not hostile.

"I don't think that Egypt is planning war against Israel," Halevy said. "Egypt, like Israel, is preparing for any possibility. The same way we ask where Egypt is heading, they ask where Israel is heading."

   WorldTribune Home