Egyptian military chief turned presidential candidate Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has given Israel a clear reminder of the danger its faces from militants in the Sinai Peninsula, against which Egypt provides a vital defense.
"Israel knows that if the lack of presence of the Egyptian military in Sinai poses a danger to it even more than it does to Egypt," al-Sisi said in an interview aired Monday.
In a pre-recorded interview shown by three Egyptian satellite channels, al-Sisi endeavored to explain previous statements he had made regarding the possibility of amending Cairo's peace accord with Israel, which did not allow for the deployment of armed forces into the Sinai Peninsula.
"The Egyptian army operates in Sinai as it sees fit, and if the consequences of terror in Sinai necessitate changing the accord, then we will and Israel will not object to that because it is aware of the gravity of the situation," al-Sisi said.
In the past year, Israel has given the Egyptian army an unusual leeway in deploying forces to to fight terrorism in the peninsula, out of which several Islamist attacks were launched that, among others, also claimed the lives of Israelis.
Egyptian army deploys forces in El-Arish (Photo: Reuters)
The Egyptian presidential elections will take place next week, and preliminary and unofficial results of citizens' votes from abroad show that al-Sisi has a considerable lead over his opponent, the left-wing candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, according to the al-Ahram newspaper.
During his campaign, al-Sisi was asked on the issue of Egypt's relations with Israel, and he has taken his first TV interview to assure that he will honor all international treaties, laws and agreements, among them the peace accord with Israel.
In a different interview to SKY in Arabic, al-Sisi discussed the situation in Sinai at length, saying that "the Israeli side accepts the Egyptian army presence there with understanding. If there is a need to change the Camp David Accord, we will."
The peace accord between Israel and Egypt limits the Egyptian military presence in the Sinai Peninsula, but in recent years these clauses have been eased for both sides' security needs. The Egyptians coordinated with Israel before they deployed forces into the peninsula to fight terror groups there.
Egyptian army deploys forces in El-Arish (Photo: AP)
The Egyptian military's presence in Sinai is considered an Israeli interest, and sources in Jerusalem said the cooperation with the Egyptian army is better than ever. Ties with the Egyptian army improved even when the Muslim Brotherhood was in power and diplomatic ties suffered.
Diplomatic sources added that the close cooperation comes from an Egyptian understanding that they cannot ignore the regional terror and that it threats Egypt itself as well, that suffers a decline in tourism as a result of that.
The Egyptian military presence in Sinai also helps in the fight against Hamas and other Gaza terror groups that use the peninsula to smuggle weaponry in the Strip.
At the same time, Jerusalem sources said, Egypt's ability to deal with terror organizations is limited and suffers from weak intelligence. Israel aides the Egyptians on the matter, and al-Sisi's comments are merely statements on the Egyptian interest to cooperate.