‘Egypt tells Israel tanks needed in Sinai’

Under 1979 peace accord, Egypt is allowed to have only lightly armed policemen in the zone along border with Israel.

Last Updated: Aug 26, 2012, 16:28 PM IST

Cairo: In the first direct contact with his Israeli counterpart since taking office, Egypt`s new defence minister defended his country`s increased military presence in the Sinai Peninsula, saying it is needed to fight terrorism and assuring him it is only temporary, Egyptian officials have said.

The officials, one from Egyptian intelligence and another from the military, said Abdel-Fa ttah el-Sissi called Ehud Barak on Thursday in their first conversation since el-Sissi became defence minister earlier this month.

The phone call followed grumbling from Israeli officials about not being consulted before Egypt`s leaders deployed tanks to the Sinai Peninsula, the strip of Egyptian land that borders Israel and the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli defense ministry refused comment. An Israeli defense official said no conversation took place between el-Sissi and Barak.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the extreme sensitivity of the matter.

But as the new defense minister, el-Sissi at some point would have to speak with senior Israeli officials, particularly after they publicly expressed their concerns about Egypt`s deployment of heavy weaponry to Sinai.

Under the 1979 peace accord between the two countries, Egypt is allowed to have only lightly armed policemen in the zone along the border with Israel. The treaty stipulates that significant military moves by Egypt must be coordinated with Israel.
Egypt used attack helicopters and armored personnel carriers in coordination with Israel to go after militants suspected of being behind the Aug. 5 killing of 16 Egyptian soldiers in Sinai.

Later, however, Egypt deployed US-made M60 tanks to Sinai without consulting with Israel, which drew objections from the Israel despite the fact that it has long encouraged Cairo to crack down on militants in Sinai.

Israel does not view the Egyptian military buildup there as a strategic threat. The problem, Israeli officials said, is with Egypt setting a precedent by moving troops to Sinai without coordinating the move with Israel first.

Israeli officials stressed that significant military moves by Egypt must be run by Israel first, giving it a veto of sorts over Egyptian security strategy.

Israel has the most powerful military in the Middle East, and Egypt`s new military deployment in Sinai is not viewed as a threat.