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Sinai Terrorists Endanger US-Led ‘Peacekeepers’

The little-known US-led Multi-National Force in the Sinai is fighting terror from weakness, fortifying its bases as Sinai terrorists reign.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 8/19/2012, 8:00 AM

Egyptian soldiers standing guard on the Egyptian side of the Rafiah borde
Egyptian soldiers standing guard on the Egyptian side of the Rafiah borde
Reuters

The little-known US-led Multi-National Force and Observors (MFO) in the Sinai is fighting terror from weakness and self-defense, fortifying its bases as Sinai terrorists staged another attack on Saturday against Egyptian forces. The MFO was established more than three decades ago “to supervise the implementation of the security provisions of the Egyptian-Israeli Treaty of Peace and employ best efforts to prevent any violation of its terms," according to its website.

Three Egyptian policemen and a soldier were wounded in a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) attack on their convoy. Two weeks ago, 17 Egyptian border guards were killed by Sinai terrorists who stole two army vehicles, barged through an Israeli border crossing and unsuccessfully tried to carry out a mass suicide bombing attack on Israeli soldiers and civilians.

Following Saturday’s attack, Egyptian soldiers arrested two Palestinian Authority suspects near El-Arish.

Egypt has been trying to show that it is determined to re-take control of the Sinai Peninsula, which is bordered to the north by Israel and to the west by Gaza. Many Israel government officials are concerned that Egypt may be exploiting the anarchy in the Sinai to convince Israel and the United States it must maintain an armed presence with weapons and manpower beyond the limits stated in the 1979 peace treaty.

Egypt said it needs the weapons to eliminate the terrorist infrastructure, but a history of broken promises supports fears that Egypt could turn the same guns against Israel in the future.

The United States also is concerned. The little-known MFO of 1,650 troops is led by U.S., Colombian and Uruguayan soldiers. They are "peacekeepers' more than counter terroist commandos, and the rise of terrorism in the Sinai has forced them into even a more defensive position 

“We’re now confronted by a population that was once passive and peaceful and has now turned belligerent,” Agustin Espinosa, the Uruguayan ambassador in Cairo, told the Washington Post. “For a force that has not been used to these type[s] of external pressures and that is not configured as a strike force, this has created a new set of challenges.”

The United States also is not sure of Egypt's intentions, and has deployed tracking systems to monitor Egyptian forces’ deployment, ostensibly to learn the MFO can more effectively hunt down terrorists, whom Egypt presumably would be targeting.

Al-Qaeda-linked and Hamas terrorists, Bedouin and Islamic terrorist cells have carved out fiefdoms in the Sinai for drug smuggling, arms and organ trafficking, besides staging attacks against Israel and now Egypt.

“We made it clear to Egypt that they should do something about this,” Yitzhak Levanon, who was Israel’s ambassador in Cairo until last year, told the Washington newspaper. “Those people were out to destroy the future relations between both countries. But they decided not to act forcefully.”