Egypt-Israel peace treaty 'must be revised' to stop Sinai terror

Upsurge in Islamist violence in supposedly demilitarised Sinai desert is a tricky issue for old enemies

LAST UPDATED AT 10:48 ON Wed 8 Aug 2012

EGYPT has fired missiles in the Sinai Peninsula for the first time since the 1973 Yom Kippur war with Israel, following an upsurge in Islamist attacks in the region.

Egyptian helicopter gunships and troops killed 20 people in the village of Touma. The operation was in response to Sunday's attack by Islamist militants on a police station in which 16 Egyptian border guards were killed and assaults last night by gunmen on checkpoints in al-Arish and Rafah on the border with Israel.

Egyptian authorities say they killed 20 "terrorists" in today's assault on Touma and destroyed three armoured cars.

Al-Jazeera reports that lawlessness in the Sinai Peninsula has spread since the fall of Hosni Mubarak last year. One of the checkpoints attacked by gunmen last night has come under fire 28 times since the February 2011 uprising.

Egypt and Israel say northern Sinai is home to both Egyptian Islamists and their Palestinian allies from the Gaza Strip. They claim both groups are attacking Egyptian armed forces and making raids into Israel.

Egypt's president Mohamed Morsi, who represents the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood party, and is friendly with Hamas, the Gaza Strip rulers, faces a delicate balancing act in Sinai.

AFP reports that Morsi did not attend the funeral of the 16 soldiers killed on Sunday. Some mourners chanted slogans against the Muslim Brotherhood and tried to assault Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, who is also an Islamist.

A spokesman said Morsi did not go to the funeral because the security that would have been required would have impinged on the "popular character" of the ceremony.

The BBC's Kevin Connolly explains why the situation is also so delicate for Israel, observing that the country "wants tighter security in the Sinai, but it does not want that to be achieved with a large increase in numbers of Egyptian troops near its border".

Under the terms of a 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt the Sinai desert is supposed to be a demilitarised area with a minimum military presence permitted.

However, Israel has reportedly agreed to Egyptian requests to increase its military presence in Sinai.

Yaron Friedman, writing for YNet News, believes that a more formal renegotiation of the 1979 peace treaty is required, allowing both Israeli and Egyptian forces to tackle the Islamist insurgency in Sinai.

"The lack of a significant Egyptian military presence has left a dangerous void in Sinai," says Friedman. "Islamist terror groups became aware of the region's potential more than 10 years ago, and the financial means at their disposal have allowed them to strike deals with local Bedouin tribes - the real rulers of the desert."

Friedman believes the "eradication of terror in Sinai" will only be achieved "if the Israel-Egypt peace treaty is revised in such a way that would allow for the mobilisation of forces from both sides of the border to fight the jihadists". · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.