Israel, in reversal, OKs additional Egyptian troops in demilitarized Sinai

Friday, February 18, 2011   E-Mail this story   Free Headline Alerts

TEL AVIV Israel, in a sudden reversal, has agreed to further expansion of the Egyptian military in the Sinai Peninsula.

Officials said the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved an Egyptian request for an additional troop deployment in the demilitarized Sinai. They said the decision was reached by a Cabinet forum after the strong recommendation by Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

"Barak and others have warned that this is not the right time to be seen as engaged in a spat with Egypt," an official said.

Officials said the Israeli decision would result in the deployment of nearly 1,000 Egyptian troops in northeastern Sinai, demilitarized under the 1979 peace treaty. They said some of the soldiers would be allocated to protect a natural gas terminal that supplies both Israel and Jordan. On Feb. 5, Palestinian insurgents linked to Al Qaida blew up the terminal, which halted gas exports.

On Jan. 30, Israel approved the Egyptian deployment of at least 1,500 troops in Sinai in a gesture to the then-besieged Mubarak. At the time, officials said, the Egyptian regime did not have sufficient security forces to battle Bedouin insurgents. They said Egypt has already deployed all of the troops granted under the first request.

Israel has been concerned that the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak would result in a hostile Egyptian policy toward the Jewish state. Officials said the greatest danger was that the new military regime in Cairo, prodded by the opposition, would demand the end of the demilitarization of Sinai, a key element of the peace treaty. The opposition has already called for the halt of gas supplies to Israel.

The Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot reported that the Egyptian military deployment, which could reach a total of 3,000 troops, would be temporary.

But officials acknowledged that the Egyptian military was expected to resist any pressure to withdraw the newly-deployed troops.

"The agreement is for Egyptian forces to remain in the peninsula till things quiet down and till Egyptian security succeeds in controlling and stemming the violence in the area, caused by Bedouin tribes," Yediot said.

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