Israel lets Egpyt move its troops into Sinai


REDEPLOYMENT: EGYPTIAN TROOPS have redeployed within the Sinai peninsula for the first time since Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979.

About 800 soldiers arrived in the area of Sharm el-Sheikh, at the southern tip of the Sinai, and along the Gaza border on Sunday after Cairo received the green light from Israel.

Under the terms of the 1979 peace agreement, Israel returned the Sinai, which was captured during the 1973 Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur war, and only a limited Egyptian military presence was permitted in the area.

An Israeli military official said the Egyptian move, which was fully co-ordinated with Israel, was a “necessary response to the current instability”.

The Israeli permission for the redeployment of Egyptian troops followed reports of chaos in the Sinai and armed clashes between Bedouin and Egyptian security forces. There were also reports that Islamic activists, who escaped from a number of Egyptian prisons, managed to flee across the Sinai, entering Gaza via underground tunnels.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he was concerned that radical Islamic groups will seek to take advantage of the mass demonstrations in order to seize control of Egypt. “The sources of the instability, the central source, does not stem from radical Islam, not in Tunisia or Egypt,” Mr Netanyahu said yesterday in Jerusalem at a joint press conference with German chancellor Angela Merkel.

“But it is true that in a situation of chaos, an organised Islamist entity can take over a country. It’s happened in Iran, and at other places as well.”

On Sunday Mr Netanyahu had said Israel was “anxiously monitoring” the developments, but he banned ministers and officials from making any public comment.

However, President Shimon Peres summed up Israel’s official position yesterday when he said that despite his faults, Mr Mubarak upheld peace with Israel for 30 years.

“No matter what they say, we owe Mubarak true thanks for always being a rock and working for peace and stability in the Middle East.”

Alluding to the possibility that Egypt could go the way of Iran, Mr Peres warned that “a fanatic religious oligarch is not better than lack of democracy”.

Eli Shaked, Israel’s ambassador to Egypt from 2003 to 2005, predicted that an Islamic government, hostile to Israel and the West, would come to power if the Mubarak regime was toppled.

“There will be no democracy in Egypt,” he said. “If there will be democratic elections in Egypt in the near future, they will be the first and last democratic elections in Egypt.”

The Ha’aretz newspaper reported yesterday that Israel urged the US and European Union states to curb criticism of Mr Mubarak in an effort to maintain stability in Egypt.

According to the report, Israeli ambassadors were instructed, in a secret cable, to press western leaders to ease up on public attacks on President Mubarak, and stress the importance of “maintaining stability in Egypt”.