Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman
said Tuesday that Israel
must make sure that the 1979 peace treaty
is upheld and not stay silent as Egypt's
military forces enter Sinai.
Israeli state officials expressed concerns over the fact that Egypt failed to notify Israel about the deployment
of tanks in Sinai - a move that clearly violates the peace treaty.
In a closed meeting with ambassadors in Jerusalem, Lieberman said, "We must make sure that every detail is upheld, otherwise we'll find ourselves in a slippery slope as far as the peace treaty is concerned."
Israel has asked Egypt to withdraw the tanks and state officials believe that the US will use its influence over Cairo, which depends on US aid, to compel it to remove them.
Egyptian tank in Sinai (Photo: MCT)
The request was conveyed within the last few days, an Israeli government official told the New York Times, adding that it was likely that the Obama administration had made a similar approach to Cairo.
Earlier on Tuesday, state officials told Ynet that the problem can only be solved if the US intervenes and puts pressure on Cairo. "Netanyahu
will need the Americans," one state official said. "He's got a beef with them. Things are getting more complicated by the minute."
The US, on its part, was careful not to denounce Egypt's move. "Without getting into our private diplomacy with one country or the other, I would make the general point that as the Egyptians work hard now to defeat terror and turn back other security threats in the Sinai, we've been supportive of those efforts," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday.
She nevertheless added, "We have encouraged them in those efforts not only to enhance security in Egypt but also to enhance security for neighbors, security in the region. And we have encouraged that lines of communication stay open in keeping with peace treaty obligations and that they make full use of the mechanisms that are available for transparency, for confidence- building."
Last week, the New York Times reported that the US and Egypt have begun negotiating an aid package
meant to help Cairo fight the growing terrorist threat in Sinai.
According to the report, the Pentagon is discussing a variety of options for sharing intelligence with Egypt’s military and police in Sinai.
Earlier, Israeli state officials said they were unimpressed with President Mohammed Morsi's efforts to prove he is fighting terror and noted there is no evidence to suggest he intends to handle the problem.
They noted that Egypt's problem in Sinai is not on the Israeli border but in other areas which terrorists use to smuggle weapons into the region. One official said that in order to prove that he's serious in fighting terror, Morsi needs to "move commando forces, not officers, into Sinai to secure the border with Israel," explaining that other borders, like the one with Sudan, are being used as smuggling routes.
While Jerusalem does not want to create a crisis with Egypt, it wishes to demonstrate that a violation of the treaty, even with a small number of tanks, will not be ignored.
Some state officials are concerned that Egypt is trying to test Israel's determination to uphold the peace accord. Cairo officials have already announced that the agreements will be reconsidered and it is possible Egypt's unilateral steps are part of an effort to create a conflict on the ground that will eventually lead to a reevaluation of the peace deal.
Arab media reported that Egypt's presidential bureau denied reports that Cairo had accepted a formal request by Israel to remove military equipment from Sinai including tanks and heavy machinery.
Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali told reporters that no message from the Israeli government had been received in relation to the matter but stressed that securing Sinai was a matter of national security for Egypt.
Meanwhile, state officials estimated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will need to reach a decision on a possible strike in Iran in the coming weeks. "The prime minister will have no choice but to hold a discussion and decide on a course of action," one source said.
Yitzhak Benhorin contributed to this report