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Egypt’s former ambassador to Israel warns that Sinai vulnerable

In an interview with Ahram Online, Hassan Eissa gives his expert insight into how Israel views and could react to regime change in Egypt

Ahmed Eleiba , Tuesday 8 Feb 2011
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Hassan Eissa, Egypt’s former ambassador to Tel Aviv, warned in an interview with Ahram Online against Israel’s ambitions in Sinai. “Israel’s ambitions in Sinai are unwavering and constant for those who are familiar with them,” said Eissa. He underlined this threat by noting that he has corroborated information that the last minute military shuffle which brought in General Benny Gantz and sidelined Yoav Galant, after the latter was accused of corruption, was a result of ongoing political events in Egypt.

Eissa, who was a member of the Egyptian team which was handed Taba after international arbitration in 1984, is an expert on Israeli domestic affairs and their effect on the region, especially Egypt. “I am not comfortable at all by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s statements every time he has discussed Egypt since 25 January, and how he talks about Sinai’s strategic importance for Israel.”

Eissa believes that Israel is panicking over security conditions because it considers the peace treaty signed with Egypt in 1979 as the security axis for Tel Aviv over the past three decades. “They were confident that President Hosni Mubarak is safeguarding this treaty, and they map their regional and perhaps even international foreign policies on this basis,” he explained. “Accordingly, they fear an Islamic regime will follow Mubarak and now must consider a variety of scenarios for the future.”

According to the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak will travel to the US to find out why Washington handled Mubarak as it did by demanding an immediate transfer of power. The newspaper reported that Barak asked for an immediate meeting with Obama, but is still waiting for a response.

The newspaper added that Barak’s visit to the US came at the behest of Mubarak when the Egyptian president called each of Barak, Netanyahu and the minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer. It goes on to add that Tel Aviv has offered Cairo any assistance, including deploying Israeli troops in northern Sinai and Sharm El-Sheikh, and supplying it with anti-riot equipment, all of which violate the Camp David agreement.

Eissa doubted the truth of press reports that Mubarak asked Tel Aviv to talk to Washington, saying that Israel is doing this out of fear of the security situation. “The one time there was a crisis between Egypt and the US during my tenure in Israel, the Jewish lobby volunteered to intercede without Cairo asking them,” he stated. “We deal with this lobby in a preemptive way because of its role in the US Congress and influence on decision making.” The ambassador continued that “Egyptian-US ties do not need Israeli mediation,” and that Mubarak “would never ask Tel Aviv to play such a role.”

Eissa continued that Israel is closely monitoring events in Egypt more than anyone else, and he is worried that it may at some point attempt to venture into Sinai while the Egyptian army is preoccupied with domestic affairs and securing vital sites. He warned Israel against any such manoeuvre.

On the other hand, military expert Safwat El-Zayyat believes it is not probable, if not impossible, that a single Israeli soldier could set foot on Egyptian soil even if the army is distracted by domestic events. There are international observation forces led by the US military which are located at El-Gora airport on the border between Egypt and Israel, which would not allow any movement which violates the treaty.

El-Zayyat revealed that in a telephone conversation, the commander of US CentCom contacted Barak about deploying an Egyptian military unit beyond Point A which Egypt’s Defence Minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi had discussed in a telephone conversation. Accordingly, the UN troops oversee every move by soldiers on either side and monitor their combat weapons to prevent any violation of the agreement.

El-Zayyat added that Israeli troops are very close to the border at the point where UN forces are operating at a depth of three to four kilometres, which is in favour of Israel but does not allow the Israelis to advance. “Were it not for President Mubarak's bad military policies, the Egyptian military could have been much better,” he added. “He did not invest in developing the army’s arsenal as much as he did with the arsenal of domestic security.”

Discussing future scenarios, Eissa said that “any regime which comes to power in Egypt will not initiate war on the Israeli front, and no more Egyptian blood will be shed in Sinai except to protect its soil for which he have paid a high price.”

“I doubt very much that the next regime [in Cairo] will tamper with the peace treaty because it is an Egyptian strategic decision and outlook, and violating it would mean war,” argued Eissa. “I doubt anyone wants to become embroiled in a war in this day and age, and under current conditions. War is destruction.” He also doubted that Israel would ask any regime to alter the treaty, “because even replacing the troops on the 14kilometre long border with the Gaza Strip from Central Security soldiers to border police is a very difficult process.”

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