Israel-Egypt crisis may have positive results, says analyst

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CAIRO: The current diplomatic crisis between Egypt and Israel following the killing of Egyptians on the border could have positive ramifications related to the amendment of the 1979 peace treaty, analyst Emad Gad told Daily News Egypt Monday.

"There is an article in the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty about border security that will allow for adjustments to the terms related to this issue as per the request of either party," said Gad, a senior researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies specialized in international relations.

According to Gad, Egypt is only allowed to deploy 750 troops in Zone C covering 220 kilometers along the Egyptian border with Israel and the blockaded Gaza Strip.

No helicopters, heavy artillery or boats are allowed in this zone to protect the border, which is believed to have led to the infiltration of militants from Gaza as well as arms trafficking.

Last week, however, around 1,000 joint Egyptian army and police forces were deployed for a special operation targeting militants in North Sinai who carried out several attacks in the province last month. Reports said Egypt had sought the approval of Israel before deploying extra troops.

Israel daily Haaretz newspaper reported Monday, quoting senior Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officials, that the country should consider amending its peace treaty with Egypt to allow the Egyptian army to significantly increase its presence in Sinai in light of the deteriorating security situation there.

"In the past, there was complete opposition to this, but new voices are being heard of late and the issue is no longer being rejected out of hand," a senior IDF officer said.

Five policemen, including an officer, were killed on Thursday as Israeli and Egyptian troops combed the Eilat-Taba border area following three attacks that killed eight a few hours earlier in Israel.

Meanwhile, Israeli president Shimon Peres unofficially apologized to Egypt for the killing of Egyptians on the border, saying the incident was not deliberate, Egypt’s official Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported on Monday.

In a phone call with Egypt’s ambassador to Israel Yasser Reda, Peres said that Israel was keen to maintain its ties with Egypt, describing the bilateral relations as being a major pillar of regional stability.

"Such consecutive Israeli measures are positive, though they don’t calm down the Egyptian public. Neither are they up to the level of an official apology," Gad said.

Political leaders, however, expressed dissatisfaction with the Israeli reaction.

"Peres’ belated apology is inappropriate and insufficient," general coordinator of the National Association for Change (NAC), Abdel-Geleel Moustafa, told DNE, reiterating demands to amend the peace treaty.

"There is no such thing as an eternal agreement that cannot be amended or even called off if necessary," he added.

Rashad Bayoumy, deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest political group, shared Moustafa’s view.

"A verbal apology is insufficient. There must be an investigation into the incident where Egyptians were killed inside Egyptian territory," Bayoumy told DNE.

"Egyptian blood is not cheap as it was during the time of the overthrown regime when similar incidents would be ignored or remain unknown," he added.

Several political forces, including activists who had started an open sit-in outside the Israeli embassy a few hours after the incident, called for holding a public Ramadan iftar banquet outside the Israeli ambassador’s house in Cairo’s Maadi district to pressure for his expulsion.

Egyptians also vented their frustration with Israel’s actions in cyberspace.

Egyptians hacked into Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s website and the official Israel Radio webpage, Israeli-based Jerusalem Post reported on Monday, citing an International Middle East Media Center report.

The hackers loaded a picture from the October 6, 1973 War (referred to by Israelis as Yom Kippur) of Egyptian soldiers in Sinai raising their country’s flag on the prime minister’s homepage, the report added.

They hackers wrote "Anti-Zionism" and “Egypt is the greatest civilization, established more than 7,000 years ago, but the terrorist state of Israel stole the Palestinian lands, and killed children.”

Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak had earlier blamed the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip for the triple assault carried out in Israel and criticized Egypt for losing control over security in North and South Sinai.

However, Barak said Israel regretted the border deaths.

Press reports said Egypt’s charge d’affairs was invited to a Ramadan iftar banquet at Peres’ home during which the Israeli president paid his condolences.

"A diplomat should not reject an invitation since the two countries are not in a state of war," Gad explained.

In another development, the Jerusalem Post reported that Netanyahu and his cabinet ministers decided in the early hours of Monday not to respond to the attacks from Gaza with a large-scale operation.

Diplomatic sources expressed concern that escalation in the south could upset Egypt and hurt Israel at the UN vote for Palestinian statehood in September, the paper said.



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