Maj. Gen. Ismail Othman of Supreme Military Council: Egyptian forces will be deployed as needed in Sinai • Says Israel agreed to an increase in Egyptian military presence • IDF, Egyptian army coordinating manhunt for Islamic Jihad terror cell believed to be in the Sinai preparing an attack across the Israeli border.
Egypt will not carry out any unilateral amendments to the Camp David Accords, the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, an Egyptian military official said Tuesday.
Maj. Gen. Ismail Othman, a member of the ruling Supreme Military Council in Egypt, said in an interview with the Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Sabaa, that Israel has agreed to the recent increase in Egyptian military forces in the Sinai Peninsula and has not rejected any request made by Egypt so far.
The new military rulers of Egypt were forced last week to send reinforcements to the Peninsula to reassert Cairo's control over the increasingly lawless region, after Islamic gunmen overran an Egyptian police station in el-Arish, repeatedly attacked a gas pipeline delivering gas to Israel and Jordan, and have set up terrorist networks with Palestinian and al-Qaida terrorists. Egyptian military officials have also met with top Bedouin tribal leaders in the Sinai to coordinate the new push by the Cairo authorities.
Othman clarified that any deviation from the Camp David Accords, which marked the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab nation, will be made only in negotiations with Israel. Othman mentioned that additional Egyptian forces will be deployed as needed in Sinai, to thwart any attack on Israel from within Egyptian territory.
Israel for its part was said to emphasize that each additional request made by Egypt will be studied, and that calm in the Peninsula is of primary importance to both Israel and Egypt.
In an interview with The Economist published last Friday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that Israel would agree to let Egypt station thousands of soldiers in the Sinai in order to strengthen security in the Peninsula, which has been the site of increased lawlessness since the fall of Hosni Mubarak.
“Sometimes you have to subordinate strategic considerations to tactical needs,” Barak told The Economist.
The defense minister said he would agree to the deployment of soldiers and that the Egyptians would be able to "have helicopters and armored vehicles, but no tanks beyond the lone battalion already stationed there." The new deployment, if it happens, will require modifications to the Egypt-Israel peace accord, which stipulates that the Sinai Peninsula remain a demilitarized zone, with precise and limited numbers of Egyptian forces. It also details the types of weapons they are allowed to bear.
Meanwhile, Israel and Egypt were coordinating efforts on each side of their border Tuesday to thwart a terror attack in southern Israel by a group of at least 10 Islamic Jihad terrorists believed to be in the area of the Egypt-Israel border, Israeli officials said.
Acting on a “concrete and credible intelligence alert,” the Israel Defense Forces continued preparations on Tuesday for a terrorist incursion from the Sinai border.
Defense Ministry Policy and Political-Military Affairs Director Maj. Gen. [res.] Amos Gilad told Army Radio on Tuesday morning that Israel had “a concrete terror alert based on quality intelligence” that a terror cell from Gaza was in the Sinai Peninsula and was planning to perpetrate an attack in southern Israel. Israel and Egypt were coordinating efforts to thwart the attack, Gilad said.
The terror alert in the south was announced on Monday on all Israeli media outlets in the hope that revealing the plot might succeed in thwarting it. Israel's Political-Security Cabinet convened for a special meeting Saturday night and voiced its concern that terrorists would try to repeat the “success” of the Aug. 18 attack in which Palestinian Popular Resistance Committees terrorist cells crossed into Israel from Sinai and ambushed Israeli vehicles, killing eight people and wounding dozens. “Their goal is to damage the Israel-Egypt peace treaty. The desire [to ruin the treaty] is greater than their desire to kill ‘only' Israelis,” a senior defense official told Israel Hayom on Monday.
Touring the border region on Tuesday, Homefront Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said Israel had intelligence that an Islamic Jihad cell comprising 10 members was currently in the Sinai preparing to perpetrate an attack inside Israel. Vilnai added the terror cell was seeking to time their attack with the Muslim Eid El-Fitr holiday, a time when Muslims celebrate the end of the Ramadan month of fasting. Vilnai said that the 240km border between Israel and Egypt was "wide open," but that the government was working to build a fence to keep out infiltrators and terrorists. Betzalel Shreiber, deputy director-general of the Defense Ministry, told Israel Radio on Tuesday that the border fence would be completed by the end of 2012.
On the Egyptian side of the border, army and police ramped up their campaign, which began Monday, to hunt down extremist Islamic groups in north Sinai.
Egyptian security sources told the Al-masry Al-youm daily that the army and police have deployed 1,500 soldiers, supported by tanks and armored vehicles, to comb the border cities of Rafah, Sheikh Zuwayed and El Arish.
The Egyptian army has also called on tribal elders in the Sinai to urge potential terrorists not to engage in violent acts, the newspaper reported Tuesday.
Vice Premier and Minister for Strategic Affairs Moshe (Bogey) Ya'alon confirmed on Tuesday that the two countries, whose relations have chilled significantly since the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, were cooperating on thwarting the latest terror attack emanating from Gaza and the Sinai. Ya'alon said there were at least 10 terrorists in the cell planning the attack.
Despite intelligence showing that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization in Gaza had dispatched a cell to strike in southern Israel, the IDF Spokesperson's Unit on Monday stressed that Hamas, the Islamist terror organization that took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, was responsible for any terrorist activity that took place in or originated from Gaza.
Based on the intelligence alert, Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz on Monday ordered the deployment of additional soldiers along Israel's borders with Gaza and Egypt. In addition, the Defense Ministry on Monday issued instructions prohibiting civilian traffic on Routes 10 and 12 in the south, the main arteries leading to and from Eilat. The restrictions apply to external consultants, contractors and construction workers hired by the ministry to work on the border fence with Egypt. Israel Radio reported on Tuesday that all work on the border fence between Israel and Egypt had stopped due to the terror alert.
According to Defense Ministry instructions, those now wishing to drive on Routes 10 and 12 or enter the area for construction work and the installation and maintenance of operational systems must coordinate in advance with the ministry's security unit.
“We are on high alert. The terrorist group [that perpetrated the Aug. 18 attacks] is not the only one,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Monday. Barak said it was Israel's view that as the party in charge of Gaza, it was Hamas' responsibility to prevent terrorists' passage to Sinai. Barak also said a third Iron Dome anti-rocket battery would be deployed in the next 10 days to defend Ashdod. The anti-rocket system successfully intercepted dozens of rockets fired at Beersheba and Ashkelon in the past two weeks.
Meanwhile, Israel had approved the entry of a 1,500-strong Egyptian commando brigade into the Sinai. The one-time approval is meant to allow the Egyptians to reassert control over the Sinai Peninsula and prevent terrorist incursions into Israel. “Israel and Egypt's interest is an Egyptian presence in Sinai to combat the terror threat that both nations face,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.
The resort town of Eilat has been swamped over the past few days with large army and police forces. Eilat is expecting to receive many Jordanian tourists this weekend to celebrate Eid el-Fitr, which marks the end of the Ramadan fasting month. Additional tourists are set to visit Eilat for an annual Yemenite music festival.
Commenting on Israeli security preparations in southern Israel in light of the terror warnings, Brig. Gen. (res.) and former Southern District Commander Zvika Fogel told Army Radio that the best way to prevent attacks was to “put pressure on the heads of all the terrorist organizations in Gaza, to make sure they fear Israeli [retaliatory] actions.”
“We won't hesitate to use force against anyone who threatens us,” he said.
Referring to the closing of roads in the south, Fogel said, “There is no way we can protect 260 kilometers of territory [along the Israel-Egypt border] 100 percent except by closing roads. We have to avoid driving on these routes as much as possible until there is a security fence.”
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