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Last August, five rockets were fired from Sinai at the Israeli resort town of Eilat; one, the only one to cause damage, instead hit the adjacent Jordanian town of Aqaba, killing one and wounding five. Global jihadists were believed to be behind it. Another rocket, also probably fired from Sinai, had hit Aqaba in April without causing casualties.
Severe bombing attacks have also struck Egyptian targets in Sinai: in 2006, one in Dahab that killed at least 23; in 2005, one in Sharm el-Sheikh that killed 88; and a double bombing at the Taba and Ras al-Shitan resorts in 2004 that took at least 34 lives.
The mounting terror threat from Sinai puts Israel in a difficult dilemma. Under the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, Israel withdrew from Sinai while Egypt agreed to leave it demilitarized, deploying only police and border guards there. But after the first gas-pipeline bombing last February 5, Israel—for the first time since the peace treaty’s signing—allowed Egypt to move military forces into the peninsula.
Though the two Egyptian battalions were supposed to put a lid on the growing anarchy, just days later, Israel turned down an Egyptian request to deploy additional forces, fearing “a complete breakdown of the peace treaty with Cairo.”
Upholding the peace treaty, then, means a growing presence for Al-Qaeda and other global terror in Sinai, without adequate Egyptian—or any other—forces to counter it. Derogating from the treaty means allowing Egypt—in the post-Mubarak era that has seen rising extremism there—back into the peninsula, which borders Gaza to the north and Israel itself to the south, and from which Egypt attacked Israel in 1948 and 1967.
Above all, the situation underlines the fragility of the peace-process paradigm, which has become axiomatic in international diplomacy and assumes that Israel can gain peace in return for territorial concessions.
As long as the Mubarak government—which, while violating almost all the other terms of the peace treaty, never militarily attacked Israel—ruled Egypt, it could be claimed that the paradigm was at least succeeding in the Egyptian case. Today, with Sinai becoming a terror haven that threatens both Egypt and Israel, and with Israel rightly judging that letting Egyptian forces enter it is even more dangerous, the days—1967 to 1979—when Israeli forces controlled Sinai can only be regarded with nostalgia.
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