Knesset Subcommittee Warns Against Egyptian Presence in Sinai

Allowing the Egyptians to bear arms in Sinai for the first time since '67 would be a grave and dangerous error, warns the Knesset Subcommittee on Secret Services. Finance Minister Netanyahu agrees.

, | updated: 10:35

Government representatives have reached a preliminary agreement with Egypt stipulating that 750 Egyptian soldiers will guard the Philadelphi Route, in the event of an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Their job will be mainly to stop the strong current of weapons-smuggling from Egypt into Gaza.

However, the deployment of Egyptian forces in the Sinai is an abrogation of the peace treaty signed between Israel and Egypt in 1979.

"The Egyptians are not interested in preventing smuggling," says a letter to the mini-cabinet security ministers from the Secret Services Subcommittee, "but rather in breaking the taboo of the Sinai as an unarmed buffer zone."

The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee conducted a session on the matter today. The meeting was initiated by Committee Chairman Yuval Shteinitz, who has long warned that Egypt's designs on Israel are far from friendly.

Shteinitz invited several legal experts to today's session, as he feels that such a substantial abrogation of the peace treaty must be ratified by the Knesset - the body that ratified the original treaty. He is supported in this opinion by the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee's legal counsel, Miri Frankel-Shorr.

Shteinitz has support in the committee even among left-wing MKs for his bid to bring the matter for Knesset approval. MKs Tommy Lapid and Eliezer Zandberg of Shinui, Ran Cohen of Meretz/Yachad, Ehud Yatom of the Likud, and Eli Yeshai of Shas favor bringing the matter for a Knesset vote - and in fact, by an 8-2 vote, the Committee voted to call upon the Attorney-General to instruct the government to bring the proposed change in the peace treaty with Egypt to the Knesset for a vote.

Among those scheduled to speak at the session were international law expert Prof. Ruth Lapidot; Dr. Meir Rosenne, who was the Foreign Ministry's legal counsel during the formulation of the peace treaty; and former Cabinet Minister Prof. Shimon Sheetrit.

Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, too, said this morning that Egyptian soldiers will not rush to kill or be killed merely to stop arms-smuggling into Israel. "We cannot rely on the Egyptians," he said, "who are already building a giant army, the biggest among the Arab countries. In the event of tension, their soldiers on the border are liable to act against Israel... We must implement another solution, and it exists."

The letter, based on majority consensus in the subcommittee, warns of the members' "grave fear" that the Egyptians merely want to get their foot in the door in the Sinai Peninsula. The only other time such a warning letter has been issued was over a year ago, when the subcommittee cautioned against releasing hundreds of terrorists in exchange for Elchanan Tenenbaum and the bodies of three soldiers.

At present, Egypt is insisting strongly that 750 soldiers will not suffice for the mission. Its insistence on several times that amount of soldiers strengthens Israeli fears as to Egypt's true intentions.

The Palestinian Authority reported last night that it was Egyptian pressure that made it free two Hamas terrorists from prison yesterday. The PA had arrested the two terrorists on Monday after they fired at PA policemen at a PA checkpoint in Gaza, and were found to be carrying weapons and Kassam rocket launchers.

Committe Chairman Shteinitz objects to allowing Egypt an active role in the diplomatic process. "Before the Egyptians come and try to bring regional peace," he said recently, "they should do what they're supposed to in their own back yard... Not only Syria and Iran have dispatched weapons for terror; Egypt has allowed tremendous amounts of weapons to pass through to Gaza terrorists, and has turned Sinai into a Paradise for smugglers. Egyptian intervention is bad for us and for the Palestinians - they have caused more harm than good."

Shteinitz has also noted with great concern the very acerbic incitement on Egyptian media against Israel and Jews, as well as Egypt's strong military build-up.




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