Nothing might seem more normal: U.S. State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack told journalists at his daily briefing in Washington today that “We are confident that the Egyptians are capable of handling their own sovereign responsibilities along the border…From our perspective, up to the Egyptians to determine how they would like to proceed. They’re a sovereign nation and this is their border with Gaza and ultimately it’s their responsibility”.
Here is a map from the BBC World Service website:
The airport down in the lower corner, labeled “not is use”, has been destroyed once by Israeli forces, rebuilt, then damaged again so badly by Israel that it is now unusable.
Until now, Israel did not like at all the idea that Egypt alone should supervise its border with Gaza. Remember the very recent affair of the Palestinian pilgrims going to Mecca? Then coming back?
The 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel specifies that all of the Sinai, which Israel returned only gradually to Egypt in three stages ending in 1982, should be demilitarized. Only Egyptian “border police” are allowed there, not Egyptian military forces, and only in specified numbers.
Israel insisted on supervising everything that went on at that border, to the extent that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice stayed up all night on her birthday in November 2005 to work out an agreement on the Rafah crossing — it was to be operated by European Union personnel, who would be watched on camera by Israeli security personnel, in real time, not on delayed video. [See later post above]
In 2005, an increase in the number of Egyptian border police was agreed, and now up to 750 are allowed on the border.
Now, these remarks from the U.S. State Department spokesperson on Thursday suggest that the U.S. is open to a renegotiation of that arrangement.
And, Israel’s Debka File (which relies on its alleged good security connections to go “beyond” what the regular media are reporting), said on Thursday that “Early Thursday, Jan. 24, American forces and equipment withdrew from the Multi-force Organization base at Al Gura northeast of al Arish. This force monitors Sinai’s demilitarization under a key clause of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. Washington and Cairo are discussing evacuating the entire base and its 400 multinational personnel*. The Egyptian high command was informed that Hamas had begun moving some of its elite units to its new stronghold. [it is not clear what this means — but it certainly does not mean to this MFO base at al-Gura]
*Helena Cobban comments in her blog, here, that: “If true — and I have no reason to doubt that it is — then this is huge. The Multi-National Force and Observers (MFO) was created in 1979 as a US-led ‘coalition of the willing’ force tasked with monitoring implementation of the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. If the force is now being redeployed (=withdrawn) from the area bordering Gaza, that is already a major development. But now, in addition, Egypt and Washington are discussing evacuating the El-Gorah base, which is one of the MFO’s two main operating bases? The political crisis in Cairo provoked by yesterday’s bust-out of Palestinians from Gaza into Sinai seems to be much deeper than I had previously thought”.
Debka File continues: “Egyptian forces are not capable of contending with this strength or the hundreds of thousands of Gazan on the move between Gaza and Sinai since Hamas blew up the concrete border fence Tuesday. [n.b., If this is true, it is in part of course because the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty imposes limitations on Egyptian military moves in the Sinai.] Israeli officials continue to treat the crisis as a problem for Egypt to address, rather than emanating from Israel’s failure to pre-empt Hamas’ well-laid plan with timely and appropriate military action. Senior military sources told DEBKAfile that Hamas’ strategic feat is irreversible. By demolishing the 10-km concrete barrier dividing the Gaza Strip from Egyptian Sinai, Hamas has acquired a new stronghold outside Israel’s military reach while their missiles and guns retain access to Israeli targets from the Gaza Strip”. This analysis was posted on 24 January here.
Meanwhile, Israel has issued a travel alert for Israeli tourists in the Sinai to return home immediately, and it has closed Road 10 (is this the Philadelphi Road when it reaches the Gaza Strip?)…
This came after a day in which various Israeli military sources said they wanted Egypt to take over full responsibility for Gaza — Israel wants to give Gaza away to Egypt, to renew the situation as it was between 1948 and 1967.
But Egypt said no, thanks. Or, was it: No Way! Actually, however, it might be able to persuade Egypt…