Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi is studying the possibility of keeping tanks in the Sinai Peninsula on a permanent basis, according to a senior Egyptian military official. A military buildup would violate a key provision of peace accords signed with Israel in 1979 that calls for the total demilitarization of the peninsula.
Over the last two weeks, there have been reports of Egypt sending in light tanks, armored vehicles and attack helicopters in the Sinai purportedly to fight Islamic groups blamed for a spate of attacks and attempted attacks against both Israel and Egyptian police.
Israel has kept largely quiet about the Egyptian military deployments, choosing instead to let Cairo’s military attempt to root out the jihadists that have taken up positions throughout the Sinai.
The Egyptian military leadership has long been considered a quiet ally of Israel’s own defense establishment.
However, Morsi’s most recent unilateral sacking of the Egyptian military brass has now sent alarm bells ringing across Israel. The move signals the centralization of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood coalition and his presidency’s dominance over the military, which has long been seen as an independent force.
Muslim Brotherhood leaders over the years have called for Egypt to abandon the peace treaty signed with Israel. The treaty was the basis for the opening of billions of dollars in U.S. aid that built the Egyptian military into one of the strongest forces in the Middle East today, perhaps second only to Israel.
Asked on Tuesday about calls to amend or cancel the peace accords, Morsi’s spokesman, Yasser Ali, told reporters, “The state respects international accords but at the same time serves the interest of the nation and Egyptian citizens.”