The Israeli Cabinet voted on Thursday evening to approve an Egyptian request to send in helicopters to the Sinai Peninsula. The approval was given for a period of several days and allows five aircraft to enter the region. The move is designed to assist Egypt in its military operation against terrorist elements in the Sinai.
Under the peace agreements signed between Israel and Egypt in 1979, the Sinai Peninsula is to be a demilitarized zone and Israeli approval is required for Egypt to send in military forces to the region.
Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem told Channel 10 News on Thursday that Israel has told Egypt that it has no problem in principle with the Egyptian army periodically entering Sinai, but at the same time the Egyptians must act to thwart the smuggling of weapons from the Egyptian border with Libya and Sudan, before these weapons arrive near the border area between Egypt and Israel.
The sources added that Israel has recently told Egypt that it would be wise to allow the Bedouin in Sinai to resume engaging in tourism, after parts of the tourism industry were taken from them. A senior Israeli official quoted by Channel 10 explained that since they have not been allowed to work in the tourism business, many of the Bedouin have turned to smuggling weapons. The official explained that they do so as an alternative way of making a living.
While this is not the first time that Israel has allowed Egypt to hold military operations in the Sinai, it is the first time that Israel has granted such an approval since Mohammed Morsi was elected Egypt’s president.
Residents of El Arish in northern Sinai reported Thursday that the Egyptian military has sent reinforcements of "unprecedented" size into the peninsula.
The forces reportedly include 60 tanks on 30 tank-transporters, 12 armored personnel carriers, 15 additional armored vehicles, more than 20 armored jeeps and 10 Military Police jeeps.